Aristotle’s Poetics

Aristotle’s Poetics: (c 335 BCE.).
Aristotle distinguishes between the genres of “poetry” in three ways:
Matter: language, rhythm, and melody, for Aristotle, make up the matter of poetic creation. Where the epic poem makes use of language alone, the playing of the lyre involves rhythm and melody. Some poetic forms include a blending of all materials; for example, Greek tragic drama included a singing chorus, and so music and language were all part of the performance.
Subjects: Aristotle differentiates between tragedy and comedy throughout the work by distinguishing between the nature of the human characters that populate either form. Aristotle finds that tragedy treats of serious, important, and virtuous people. Comedy, on the other hand, treats of people who are less virtuous, who are unimportant, undignified, laughable.
Aristotle introduces here the influential tripartite division of characters in superior to the audience, inferior, or at the same level.
Method: One may use a narrator throughout, or only occasionally (using direct speech in parts and a narrator in parts, as Homer does), or only through direct speech, using actors to speak the lines directly (without a narrator). The latter being the method for tragedy and comedy.
Tragedy is a representation of a serious, complete action which has magnitude, in embellished speech, accomplishing by means of pity and terror the catharsis of such emotions.
Aristotle’s Poetics is the earliest surviving treatise on literary theory. 1: Plot (mythos)
The “structure of incidents” (actions). Key elements of the plot are reversals, recognition, and suffering. The best plot should be “complex” (i.e. involve a change of fortune). It should imitate actions arousing fear and pity. Thus it should proceed from

good fortune to bad and involve a high degree of suffering for the protagonist, often involving physical harm or even the risk of death.
Actions should follow naturally from the actions that precede them. They will be more satisfying to the audience if they come about by surprise or seeming coincidence and are only afterward seen as plausible, even necessary.
When a character is unfortunate by reversal of fortune (peripeteia known today in pop culture as a plot twist), at first he suffers (pathos) and then he can realize (anagnorisis) the cause of his misery or a way to be released from the misery.
2: Character (ethos)
An audience is will be moved when the protagonist—-through his or her error—- is beset by a tragic accident (hamartia).
A hero may have made the error knowingly, or unknowingly. A hero may leave a deed undone.
Character is the moral or ethical character in a tragic play. In a perfect tragedy, the character will support the plot, which means personal motivations will somehow connect parts of the cause-and-effect chain of actions producing pity and fear.
Main character should be:
Noble: Audiences do not like endings where villains reap fortune from misery. Morals are always at stake in a drama, and morals are the key to satisfying the audience (people can, for example, see tragedy because they want to release their anger). Appropriate: If a character is supposed to be wise, he will probably be older (supposing wisdom is gained with age).
Consistent: A soldier is unlikely to be scared of blood (although if this particular soldier is scared of blood it must be explained and the fear must play some role in the story).
Characters shouldn’t change opinion too much as this will confuse the audience.
If character changes opinion a lot it should be clear he is a character who has this trait, not a real life person.

Consistently inconsistent: if a character always behaves foolishly it will be strange if she suddenly becomes smart. If this happens then it will be necessary to explain such a change, otherwise the audience may be confused.
3: Thought (dianoia).
Spoken (usually) reasoning of human characters can explain the characters or story background
4: Diction (lexis).
Refers to the quality of speech in tragedy. Speeches should reflect character, the moral qualities of those on the stage. The expression of the meaning of the words.
5: Melody (melos).
The Chorus should be regarded as one of the actors. It should be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action. Should contribute to the unity of the plot. It is a very real factor in the pleasure of the drama.
6: Spectacle (opsis).
Refers to the visual apparatus of the play, including set, costumes and props (anything you can see). Aristotle calls spectacle the least artistic element of tragedy, and the least connected with the work of the poet (playwright). For example: if the play has beautiful costumes but bad acting and a bad story, there is something wrong with it. Beauty should not be necessary to save a bad play.
Core terms:
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Mimesis or “imitation”, “representation”
Catharsis or, variously, “purgation”, “purification”, “clarification” Peripeteia or “reversal”
Anagnorisis or “recognition”, “identification”
Hamartia or “miscalculation” (understood in Romanticism as “tragic flaw”) Mythos or “plot”
Ethos or “character”
Dianoia or “thought”, “theme”

* * *
Lexis or “diction”, “speech” Melos, or “melody”
Opsis or “spectacle”