Aristotle's Poetics and Macbeth

Topics: Tragedy, William Shakespeare, Poetics Pages: 6 (2295 words) Published: April 7, 2011
Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is an imitation of a complete action that is serious and important and artistically ornamented with several contributing elements. These contributory essentials are the makings of sublime art which arouses pity and fear in the audience leading to a purging of emotions, which results in a state of emotional fulfillment. Macbeth is considered as a Shakespearian tragedy recounting the events of a Scottish general who murders his King and gains the throne to eventually be assassinated by the King’s son. Aristotle’s Poetics focuses on diction an important aspect of a tragedy. He posits that the language must be formal to convey the seriousness of the events as the play must not be “ludicrous or morally trivial. It is concerned with a serious end namely pity and fear- that well being which is the true end of life; human destiny in all its significance”(241). In Macbeth, the language does communicate formality as conveyed by the military officials who speak with the observation of rank, ‘But alls too weak for brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name- disdaining fortune with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution. . .”. Diction in Macbeth also creates irony. The irony created is also a technique to build dramatic action, for example the chant of the witches “fair is foul and foul is fair” foreshadows the chant that Macbeth himself uses in his speech; this helps instill the emotional response of pity and fear. The Language of the play is lofty as it establishes the characters and the events with very poetic and sublime exhibition, such a reputation of exquisite language command, Shakespeare has earned throughout all his plays. The plot is a main focal point in the poetics. Aristotle examines quite carefully the tools needed to create a truly mimetic representation of reality through art. The functionality of the play must, Aristotle purports, represent events in truth that exist in great probability to the action of the universe in reality. Aristotle affirms that tragedy does not “relate what has happened but what may happen,-what is possible according to law of probability or necessity”(164). Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth was borrowed from the Holinshed Chronicles, which were stories from the British Isles. Therefore the core element of probability is present in the tragedy of Macbeth. The setting of the play also assists in creating verisimilitude as it is set in Scotland; an actual place, as opposed to the Shakespearian romance The Tempest that is set in a fictional location. The events which occur also take place within human capacity; the inclusion of the super natural does not go beyond that of a spiritual interference. The actions performed by the characters are not impossible in veracity as in contrast to Prospero’s conjuring of the storm in The Tempest. All of these incidents contribute to the air of seriousness in the tragedy. The structure of these incidents to create the imitation of life must occur through a series of seemingly casual events which fashions a well constructed whole occurrence. To achieve this there must be a unity of action. Unity of action pertains to the events and the placement of their occurrence. The play must have firstly a beginning. The beginning of the play may or may not include antecedent events however it must have an exposition, which is the inciting of action which begins the chain of events leading up to the dénouement. The commencement of action in Macbeth is the witches’ revelation of their plan to tell Macbeth of the prophesy which instigates the temptation of murder in Macbeth. The witches explain that they will meet with Macbeth, they revel in the fact that they have already set things in motion to have him suffer in sleepless agony. Meanwhile in the palace Duncan, the King, executes the Cawdor and appoints Macbeth to the newly opened position; allowing him access to his chambers. These actions must then in no haphazard...

Cited: Butcher, S. H., Aristotle, and John Gassner. Aristotle 's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, with a Critical Text and Translation of the Poetics. With a Prefatory Essay, Aristotelian Literary Criticism,. New York: Dover Publications, 1951. Print.
Draper, Ronald P. Tragedy Developments in Criticism: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1980. Print.
SparkNotes Editors. "Macbeth." No Fear Shakespeare: Shakespeare 's Plays plus a Modern Translation You Can Understand. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <>.
Williams, Raymond. Modern Tragedy. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1966. Print.
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