Thomas Hardy incorporates many elements of the classical Aristotlean tragedy in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). In an Aristotelian tragedy, the most important element is the experience of catharsis, the arousing of pity and fear in the audience. The effect of catharsis on the audience depends on the unity of the plot and the effective presence of a tragic hero. The plot in an Aristotelian tragedy consists of the reversal, the recognition and the final suffering. In the protagonist's following a pattern of decline and alienation, Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is similar to the Greek tragedies, in particular Sophocles' Oedipus the King. Both literary works use three elements — catharsis, a complicated plot containing a secret, and the presence of a tragic hero — to create the effect of tragedy. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, however, Hardy uses these three characteristics to create a modern Aristotelian tragedy played out in mid-nineteenth century England.
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy use of coincidence implies that he shares Aristotle's belief that the plot is important in the creation of a tragedy. In much the same way as Aristotle, Hardy attaches special importance to the three elements of the plot in a tragedy: the reversal, the recognition, and the final suffering. He unites the events in The Mayor of Casterbridge with these elements to portray the "paradoxical rise and fall" (Seymour-Smith 20) of former hay-trusser and corn-factor/local political leader Michael Henchard. The basic structure of the plot in the novel "with its emphasis upon the single protagonist and upon the course of the hero's downfall, is patently Aristotelian" (Kramer 70). In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Hardy follows the rise and fall of Michael Henchard, a poor itinerant agricultural worker who gains both fortune and respect upon becoming the mayor of Casterbridge. Unfortunately, the consequences... [continues]
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