Aristotle’s Poetics Chapters 13-14 Summary
Aristotle suggests that the simplest sorts of plot are complex plots that arouse fear and pity. He thus concludes that three sorts of plot should be avoided. First, we should always avoid plots that show an honest man going from happiness to misery, since such events seem more odious than fearful or pitiable. Second, we should always avoid plots that show a nasty man going from misery to happiness, since this arouses neither pity nor fear and appeals to none of our emotions. Third, we should always avoid plots that show a nasty man going from happiness to misery, since it’ll also not arouse the emotions of pity or fear. We feel pity for undeserved misfortune (and a nasty man deserves his misfortune), and that we feel fear if the person we pity are some things like ourselves.
Aristotle concludes that the simplest quite plot involves the misfortune of somebody who is neither particularly good nor particularly bad and whose downfall doesn’t result from some unpleasantness or vice, but rather from hamartia—an error in judgment. an honest plot, then, consists of the subsequent four elements: (1) It must focus around one single issue; (2) the hero must go from fortune to misfortune, instead of vice versa; (3) the misfortune must result from hamartia; and (4) the hero should be a minimum of intermediate worth, and if not, he must be better—never worse—than the typical person. This explains why tragedies tend to focus around a couple of families (there are many tragedies about the families of Oedipus and Orestes among others): they need to be upstanding families that suffer great misfortune from a mistake in judgment instead of a vice. Only second-rate plots that pander an excessive amount of to public taste specialize in a double issue where the great farewell and therefore the bad fare poorly.
Pity and fear—which Aristotle calls the “pleasures” of tragedy—are better if they result from the plot itself instead of the spectacle. A story like that of Oedipus should be ready to arouse pity and fear albeit it’s told with none working at all. The poet who relies on spectacle is counting on outside help, whereas the poet who relies only on his own plot is fully liable for his creation.
We feel pity most when friends or family harm each other, instead of when unpleasantness takes place between enemies or those that are indifferent to at least one another. The deed could also be done knowingly—as when Medea kills her children—or unknowingly—as when Oedipus kills his father. a 3rd alternative is that one character plans to kill another, on the other hand discovers the family connection between them in time to refrain from the killing.
Thus, the deed can either be done or not done, and it can happen in either ignorance or knowledge. Aristotle suggests that the simplest quite plot is of the third alternative, where anagnorisis allows a harmful deed to be avoided. The runner-up case is where the deed is completed in ignorance. and therefore the third best is that the case where the deed is completed with full knowledge. Worst is that the case where there’s full knowledge throughout, and therefore the premeditated deed is merely avoided at the instant of action. This scenario isn’t tragic due to the absence of suffering, and it’s odious besides. Still, Aristotle acknowledges that it’s been wont to good effects, like the case of Haemon and Creon in Antigone.
Aristotle’s Poetics Chapters 13-14 Analysis
The Greek word hamartia translates pretty directly as “error” or “shortcoming” with none necessary overtones of guilt or moral failure. Our modern conception of tragedy and therefore the “tragic flaw” of the hero usually involves the concept of hubris or overweening pride, that results in disaster. Macbeth, as an example, has the arrogance to think he can overstep the laws of God and state and ultimately pays dearly for this arrogance. Macbeth may be a tragic hero with a transparent tragic flaw: his downfall results from an ethical failing and may be seen as divine retribution proportional to his guilt. But Macbeth also contains heavy Christian overtones that might in fact be found nowhere in Greek tragedy. An understanding of Aristotle’s concept of hamartia—and indeed an understanding of Greek tragedy in general—relies on an understanding of the ethics and cosmology of the traditional Greeks.
The ethics the fashionable Western world has inherited from Christianity are ethics of obligation. during this system, there are certain moral laws, and that we are obligated to obey them. A failure to obey these laws represents an unwillingness on our part. If we go against the moral law, we are guilty of breaking that law. This conception of guilt draws on an ethical system wherein morality are some things which will be disobeyed or resisted.
Greek ethics are based more on the notion of virtue than obligation. The Greek conception of reality is closely engaged in the concepts of goodness and harmony. this concept is clearly expressed in Plato’s theory of Forms: the important world is formed from perfect, unchanging Forms, and it’s our duty to approximate this reality as best we will. Virtue, for the Greeks, maybe a matter of achieving our real nature and of finding our true form. Thus, moral failure isn’t a matter of guilty recalcitrance, but simply a matter of error, of shortcoming, or of being unable for whatever reason to achieve our true nature.
Hamartia, then, represents the Greek, and not the Christian, conception of ethical failure. Greek heroes aren’t bad people—Aristotle explicitly states that they can’t be bad people—but are simply good people that come short in some important respect. The tragedy is a smaller amount a matter of showing how bad people are punished for his or her crimes, and is more a matter of showing how ignorance and error can have disastrous effects. The action is tragic precisely because we are all ignorant to a point, all flawed, and that we may all suffer deeply for these errors. this is often a chilly, hard fact of nature and not a matter of justice and retribution.
In these sections, Aristotle is far less of an observer and far more of a legislator. he’s not simply stating how tragedies tend to play themselves out but are now asserting arguments on what makes the simplest tragic plot. he’s explicitly asking how we will maximize the emotions of pity and fear, which he calls “tragic pleasure.” That he should ask our pity and fear as “pleasure” is further evidence that he doesn’t mean the type of pity and fear we’d experience were the events real.
However, Aristotle does seem to treat this type of pity and fear because of the goal of an honest tragedy, which might contradict the commentary on Chapter 6 (which suggested that tragedians aim at quite just emotional therapy). we will perhaps answer this conundrum by treating pity and fear as a necessary means to another end. Surely, Aristotle doesn’t think the worth of tragedy lies simply in its emotional effect but thinks rather that it lies in what these emotional effects can successively provoke within us. This ultimate end is of course harder to articulate, but it’s something to try to to with a greater sense of awareness—of our shortcomings, of our fate, and our behavior, etc. Presumably, this added awareness helps us overcome our ignorance and other shortcomings; briefly, tragedy can help us with our own hamartia.
The question Aristotle focuses on, however, is how fear and pity are most effectively aroused? He suggests that the tragic hero need to be neither overwhelmingly good nor overwhelmingly bad, but rather intermediate, very similar to us. we should always be ready to see within the hero a far better version of ourselves. Our pity and fear are going to be aroused by the belief that if a far better person than us are often made to suffer for his or her shortcomings, then we, too, may suffer for ours.
We find a seeming inconsistency in Aristotle’s commendation of the simplest quite plot being that where disaster is narrowly averted by ignorance turning into knowledge. Aristotle also seems to suggest that tragedy must take the hero from fortune to misfortune. Perhaps by the instant of anagnorisis the hero has already suffered misfortune enough.
Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 13-14