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Slide 2 - Definition of tragedy “A perfect tragedy should imitate actions which excite pity and fear, and also affect the proper purgation of these emotions. The change of fortune presented should be that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous . . . The plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt with pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of Oedipus.”
Slide 3 - Definition of tragedy “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody (song).”
Slide 4 - SOPHOCLES The treatise we call the Poetics was composed at least 50 years after the death of Sophocles. Aristotle was a great admirer of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, considering it the perfect tragedy, and not surprisingly, his analysis fits that play most perfectly.
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Slide 6 - TRAGEDY the “imitation of an action” (mimesis) according to “the law of probability or necessity” medium = drama, “shows” higher and more philosophical than history history simply relates what has happened while tragedy dramatizes what may happen, “what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity.” History thus deals with the particular, and tragedy with the universal. rooted in the fundamental order of the universe Tragedy therefore arouses not only pity but also fear because the audience can envision themselves within this cause-and-effect chain.
Slide 7 - PLOT “the arrangement of the incidents”
Slide 8 - PLOT - OEDIPUS
Slide 9 - CHARACTER (supports plot) protagonist = change of fortune Change “should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character.” “Pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.” Hamartia =“tragic flaw” (hubris = excessive pride) The protagonist will mistakenly bring about his own downfall—not because he is sinful or morally weak but because he does not know enough. Result of the inevitability of its consequences peripeteia = one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended (tragic irony) anagnorisis = gaining of the essential knowledge that was previously lacking
Slide 10 - See background handout.
Slide 11 - THOUGHT found “where something is proved to be or not to be, or a general maxim is enunciated” Aristotle says little about thought, and most of what he has to say is associated with how speeches should reveal character. However, we may assume that this category would also include what we call the themes of a play.
Slide 12 - DICTION “the expression of the meaning in words” which are proper and appropriate to the plot, characters, and end of the tragedy stylistic elements of tragedy, esp. metaphors: “But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor; . . . it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances” patterns of imagery: The metaphoric patterns of this play support the plot. The major patterns of imagery—sickness and pollution, the ship of state, blindness vs. sight, light vs. darkness—illuminate the action, themes, and characters but they do not constitute them, as they do in the Oresteia.
Slide 13 - SONG Song, or melody, is fifth, and is the musical element of the chorus. Aristotle argues that the Chorus should be fully integrated into the play like an actor. Choral odes should not be “mere interludes” but should contribute to the unity of the plot.
Slide 14 - SPECTACLE Spectacle is last, for it is least connected with literature; “the production of spectacular effects depends more on the art of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.” Although Aristotle recognizes the emotional attraction of spectacle, he argues that superior poets rely on the inner structure of the play rather than spectacle to arouse pity and fear. Those who rely heavily on spectacle “create a sense not of the terrible but only of the monstrous.”
Slide 15 - END OF TRAGEDY The end of the tragedy is a katharsis (purgation, cleansing) of the tragic emotions of pity and fear. Katharsis = “purging” medical metaphor—Tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear in order to purge away their excess and to reduce these passions to a healthy, balanced proportion. Aristotle also talks of the “pleasure” that is proper to tragedy, apparently meaning the aesthetic pleasure one gets from contemplating the pity and fear that are aroused through an intricately constructed work of art.
Slide 16 - Influence of Oedipus on tragedy stresses not so much man’s guilt or forsakenness as his ineluctable (inevitable) lot (FATE) the stark realities which are and always will be stresses fate but does not deny freedom spirit with which man acquiesces to his destiny is of a free man who, though fated, could have withdrawn and not acted at all (Orestes, Oedipus)
Slide 17 - from Paul Roche’s introduction to Oedipus “It is true that the downfall of the house of Oedipus was foretold by the gods even before Oedipus was born, but it was foretold because it was going to happen; it was not going to happen because it was foretold.” “ . . . the tragedy was that having murdered his father and married his mother he made the fully responsible mistake of finding it out. As he was an upright man, but proud, the gods allowed him to make the first mistake; as he was a headstrong man, but overweening in self-confidence, he allowed himself to make the second. Zeal mysteriously worked with destiny to trip him up on his self-righteousness and then reveal an arrogance which pressed forward to calamity.”