Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude." (Aristotle). Examine the statement critically and substantiate your answer with the examples from any two of the plays you have read."

'The Poetics
The Poetics is chiefly concerned with Tragedy which is regarded as the highest poetic form. In it the theory of tragedy is worked out so admirably, with such insight and comprehension, that 'it becomes the type of the theory of literature' (Abercrombie). Aristotle in his Poetics studies the tragedy in detail, giving its definition, and analysing its various constituents and elements.

Aristotle defines tragedy as "the imitation of an action, serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, in a language beautiful in different parts with different kinds of embelishments, through action and not narration, and through scenes of pity and fear bringing about the 'Catharsis' of these or such like emotions." Thus in a tragedy we have the object imitated namely 'action'. The medium of imitation is 'language made beautiful by different means'. The manner of imitation is direct presentation. The purpose of imitation is to bring about the 'purgation' of emotions like pity and fear.
The definition is comprehensive enough. It includes stage-presenta­tion which refers to costume and setting. It does not leave out music and diction which form the medium for these presentations of action. The manner is indicated by the spectacle; and the objects of imitation are the other three—moral bent, thought and plot.
Constituent parts of Tragedy
Having examined the definition, nature and function of Tragedy, Aristotle comes to a consideration of its formative or constituent parts. He enumerates its formative elements as Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Song. Plot, Character and Thought are concerned with the objects of representation. Diction and Song (Melody) have to do with the means of representation; and spectacle relates to the manner of representation. Out of these, some call for more attention than the others.
(a) Plot : Aristotle declares plot to be of supreme importance, the soul of Tragedy, more important than the mere revelation of personal qualities (character), or the intellectual processes (thought) of the dramatic characters concerned. Characterisation is subsidiary, since it only adds to the revelation of what is best revealed in action. Nor does a string of speeches, however, finely worked out, provide the same tragic effect as a well-built plot. But all the parts are essential to the perfect whole.
Aristotle considers plot "the first principle, the soul of Tragedy." "The most important of these parts is the arrangement of incidents; for Tragedy is not an imitation of man, but of human action and life and happiness and misery." The arrangement of incidents is the plot. Tragedy is possible without character but not without action. Aristotle's action means 'process' not 'activity.' A play without action, in this sense, would be a play in which nothing happens—in which there is no beginning and no end.
Character without action will not achieve the end of a Tragedy. A group of speeches that show character is not in itself drama. Unless the speeches are incorporated into a plot, they remain 'set pieces,' no matter how interesting they may be individually. Ten great soliloquies chosen from six plays by Shakespeare, for example, would make extremely en­tertaining reading, but no one would think of calling them a drama. Re­versal and Recognition are the most powerful means of securing the tragic effect, because they are parts of the plot rather than the characterization, they confirm the idea that plot is more important than the character.
(b) Characterization : As regards characterisation in  general, Aristotle lays they down four essential qualities. First, the characters must be good. Secondly, they must be appropriate. Thirdly, they must have life-likeness. Fourthly, they must have consistency. The tragic hero should neither be perfectly good nor utterly bad, occupying a position of eminence, and falling into ruin from that eminence, not because of any deliberate wickedness, but because of some error of judgment on his part. Thus the characters must be life-like, must be true to their type, i.e. their profession, rank or class; they must be true representatives of human nature; they must be like the traditional or historical personage on whom they are modelled and whose name they bear; they must show a consistent development—they must fulfil the demands of necessity and probability in what they say and do.
(c)  Diction : Aristotle has a lot to say on the poetic action. He states the essential difference between the language of verse and ordinary prose speech. "To realise the difference one should take an epic line and see how it reads when ordinary words are substituted." He specifies the words in common everyday use. Foreign words, dialect words, and words newly
coined; metaphorical words and archaic words. As to their use in poetry,
his main contention commonly is that poetic expression should be clear without being common-place. Aristotle treats diction as an active concept and relates it closely to the poet's command of the metres. It is not 'metrical composition' but 'the act of making metrical compositions.'
(d) Thought: Thought is "the power of saying whatever can be said, or what is appropriate to the occasion." Thought is required where a statement is made, or some statement is proved or disproved. Thought is the intellectual element in a Tragedy, and it is expressed through the speech of a character. This implies that only such speeches are significant as they
express the views and feelings of a character.
(e) Spectacle : The spectacle or the scenic effect has more to do with stagecraft than with the writing of poetry, and hence Aristotle is of the view that the dramatist must depend for his effects on his own powers, rather than on Spectacle. He writes, "Fear and pity can be produced by spectacular means but it is much better to produce them by the way you write your play." According to Aristotle, there can be no worse enemy of the art of the dramatist than the theatre manager, and reliance on the
theatrical and the sensational has spoiled many an excellent play.
(f)  Song or Melody : Song or the lyrical element is to be found in the choric parts of a Tragedy, it is the 'embellishment' which distinguishes the Tragedy from the Epic. It is this element that makes Tragedy pleasant.
The Dramatic Unities
Aristotle emphasizes only one of the three unities, the Unity of Action. He is against plurality of action as it weakens the tragic effect. There might be a number of incidents but they must be causally connected with each other, and they must all be conducive to one effect, the effect aimed at by the dramatist. As regards the Unity of Time, Aristotle only once mentions it in relation to dramatic Action. Comparing the Epic and the Tragedy he writes, "Tragedy tries as far as possible, to live within a single revolution of the sun, or only slightly to exceed it, whereas the Epic observes no limits in its time of action." He never makes a mention of Unity of Place.
Superiority of Tragedy to Epic Poetry
Both Epic and Tragedy imitate serious subjects in a grand kind of verse, but they differ in as much as Epic imitates only in one kind of verse, and Tragedy uses different kinds of verse for its choral odes and its dialogues. The Epic is more lengthy and so more comprehensive and varied but the Tragedy has much greater concentration and so is more Tective. Besides this, Tragedy has all the elements which the Epic has, while there are certain elements of Tragedy which the Epic does not have. The epic lacks music and spectacle which are important constituents of Tragedy, and which enhance its effect. It has also reality of presentation and unity of action both of which the Epic lacks. The Tragedy is superior because, "All the parts of an Epic are included in Tragedy but those of Tragedy are not all of them to he found in the Epic. "
Tragic Pleasure—The ultimate aim of Tragedy is to give aesthetic pleasure. This aesthetic pleasure can be had only when the requirements of morality are satisfied. Aristotle recognised the value of the emotional effects of poetry. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believed in the emotional triumph of Tragedy. The sources of tragic pleasure pointed out by him may be listed as follows:—
(1)   The pleasure is derived partly from our natural sense of harmony and rhythm. Verse and rhythms are not necessary, but they certainly enhance the pleasure of poetry.
(2)   It is also derived partly from the instinct of imitation; it is pleasure arising from seeing a thing, or action, well-imitated. A successful Tragedy gives pleasure, because it satisfies our basic instinct of imitation.
(3)   Poetry is imitation, and imitation of something with which we are not familiar increases our knowledge, and to know, to learn, is pleasure.
(4)   But these two sources of pleasure are common to all poetry. What about the distinctive pleasure of Tragedy? The peculiar pleasure of Tragedy is caused by the Catharsis of the emotions of pity and fear.
(5)   Tragedy imitates action and life, its pain and misery, and if this imitation is well done, it is gripping and absorbing. There is a local emotional identification of the spectator with the person who suffers on the stage. Peripeteia and Anagnorsis are commended by Aristotle because they heighten the seductive power—the gripping interest—of the action. Pure pleasure results from the exercise of our emotions, senses, and thought on the tragic action. In this way, we smile through our tears.
(6)  Tragedy gives pleasure because it results in enhanced understand­-ing of life and its problems. It provides a kind of inner illumination.
(7)  The unity of the plot, the diction, the spectacle, etc., are other sources of pleasure in a Tragedy.
The Poetics has its own defects : it is not properly edited and contains a number of cryptic utterances, ambiguities, and contradictions, needs a great deal of modification for modern applications, ignores personality or soul of the poet while dealing with style and overlooks the religious origin of Greek drama. Yet it contains much that is of lasting interest. In it we see Aristotle as the first of the systematic theorists, an early exponent of the historical and psychological methods, and incidentally a pioneer in the business of sane literary judgement, it gives us a theory of Tragedy which is the foundation on which "all subsequent discussion of literary aesthetics has most securely based itself." Aristotle's views may be challenged, but their history is the history of Tragedy. But major defect of his theory of Tragedy is that his conclusions are based entirely on the drama with which he was familiar, and hence often his views are not of universal application. His canons do not apply to a large number of Elizabethan or modern Tragedy.
1.               The Poetics studies "Tragedy" in detail; defines its nature and function.
2.               According to Aristotle, tragedy is the imitation of an action which is serious and of a certain magnitude, narrated on the stage through action, and leading to the catharsis of emotions such as pity and fear. The presentation of the story is done through suitable dialogue.
3.               Thus the tragedy has six constituents—plot, characters, diction thought, spectacle and song.
4.               Aristotle emphasizes very much the unity of action in drama.
5.               Tragedy is superior to epic.
6.               The ultimate aim of tragedy is to give aesthetic pleasure.

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