Answer in two or three sentences each:
1. What is the chief function of poetry, according to Aristotle? - According to Aristotle, the chief function of poetry is to give pleasure to the reader. In his “Poetics” Aristotle says that imitation, harmony and rhythm of poetry are made for pleasure. So it is pleasing to both the poet and to the reader. Aristotle says that the pleasure it gives is aesthetic enjoyment which is greater than all other pleasures.
2. How is tragedy superior to epic, according to Aristotle? - In his “Poetics” Aristotle says that tragedy is superior to epic because of various reasons. Epic is meant only to be read and not to be staged. On the other hand tragedy can be read as well as to be staged. Secondly tragedy also appeals to a cultivated audience when merely read. Finally when tragedy is performed in the theatre, music is added to it and gets greater pleasure than the pleasure that epic gives to the reader. The pleasure that tragedy gives to the audience is far greater because of its concentrated effect on the audience. On the other hand the reader gets pleasure from the epic is spread over a long time and so diluted.
3. What should be the length of a tragedy, according to Aristotle?
Aristotle says that plot is the soul of a tragedy and therefore the artistic arrangement of its incidents is very important. The three unities are very essential for this arrangement. They are the unity of action, unity of time and the unity of place. Regarding unity of time, Aristotle says that there is an agreement between the time taken by the events of the play and that taken in their representation on the stage. Usually it is twenty four hours or a single revolution of the sun. When the events of the tragedy are shown on the stage, it is about one fourth of the actual time taken is the length of the tragedy, according to Aristotle.
4. Explain the term denouement – The plot is divided into two parts. They are complication and denouement. Denouement means unravelling of a plot or story. In complication, events are tied up into a difficult knot, but in denouement, these difficult knots are broken or untied. In every tragedy and epic, there is a complication of events, there is a turning point and finally there is a denouement or unravelling. The complication reaches up to the turning point and from the turning point of events, denouement starts and continues till the end. Complication is called rising action and denouement is called falling action.
5. What are the origins of satirical verse and epic poetry? In his Poetics, Aristotle says that poetry is an imitative art and it can imitate two kinds of actions, the noble actions of good men and the mean actions of bad men. The noble actions of good men led to hymns to gods and praises of great men. This in course of time led to the epic. From epic came the tragedy. Similarly the mean actions of bad men led to satire and from the satire came comedy. It follows therefore that the epic and tragedy are superior to the satire and comedy.
6. What is an epic? – In its nature epic resembles tragedy but in its form epic is different from tragedy. Like tragedy, epic is also an imitation of a serious action, whole and complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The structure of its plot follows the same pattern. It has a complication, a turning point, and a denoument. It is either
complex or simple with or without peripeteia and anagnorisis. It has the same unity of action and produces the same kind of pleasure that arising from catharsis. The epic has four constituent parts. They are plot, character, thought and diction. Finally the epic is meant to be read and not to be staged.
II. Write short essays of 100 words each:
1. Difference between poetry and history, according to Aristotle
Aristotle says that poetry is entirely different from history. A poet is an imitator because imitation is an inborn instinct of man and a poet is like a grown up child indulging in imitation for the pleasure it affords. But the poet’s imitations of life and nature are real. Poetry reveals truths of a permanent or universal kind. On the other hand history is not universal. The true difference between poetry and history is that history relates what has happened in a particular place at a particular time to particular people or person. Poetry relates what may happen anywhere in the world. Poetry, therefore is more philosophical, more permanent and universal than history. Poetry speaks about things and people that may happen to anywhere in the world according to the law of pro- bability or necessity. In short history is particular but poetry is universal.
2. Contrast between the ideas of Plato and Aristotle about the function of poetry.
There is significant difference between the views of Plato and Aristotle with regard to the function of poetry. Plato being a great Greek philosopher, viewed poetry “twice removed from reality”. Plato firmly believes that poetry must reform the character of the individual citizen and thereby promote the welfare of the state. In his famous book ”The Republic” Plato says that although poetry pleases the reader, mere pleasure cannot be its object. A poet is a good artist only in so far as he is a good teacher. Poetic truth must be the highest truth – ideal forms of justice, goodness, beauty, and the like. On the other hand Aristotle is a great critic rather than a philosopher and therefore his observations are more scientific and reliable than Plato’s. In his “Poetics” Aristotle speaks about the function of poetry. He says that giving pleasure is the most important function of poetry. Poetry is originated from two human instincts such as imitation, and harmony and rhythm. Thus poet gives the reader aesthetic enjoyment. Aristotle does not mention teaching as the function of poetry. But if poetry teaches, it is an added pleasure and thereby poet serves a dual purpose. Here Aristotle partly agrees and partly disagrees with Plato.
3. The characteristics of a tragedy, according to Aristotle
According to Aristotle, tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language decorated with each kind of artistic ornament. Tragedy is in the form of action. The action brings pity and fear in the audience effecting the proper purgation of emotions called catharsis. Serious action means a story of suffering exciting pity and fear. Action includes all human activities, including deeds, thoughts and feelings. Tragedy has a beginning, a middle and an end. According to Aristotle, there are six parts in tragedy: Plot, character, thought, diction, song and spectacle. According to Aristotle, plot is the soul of tragedy and therefore the artistic arrangement of its incidents is of prime importance. It should have three unities such the unity of action, unity of time and the unity of place. Tragedy is an imitation of an action and of life and life consists in action. Plot imitates action and character imitates men. Thought imitates men’s mental and emotional reactions to the circumstances in
which they find themselves. Fourth come diction or dialogue. So words are decorated with artistic ornament. Fifth come song which is also artistic ornament and enhances the aesthetic pleasure. Finally come the spectacle or stage representation. The spectacle constitutes the manner in which tragedy is presented to the public.
4. The three unities
According to Aristotle, plot is the most important part of a tragedy and therefore the artistic arrangement of its incidents is of prime importance. Plot should have three unities: the unity of action, the unity of time and the unity of place. Unity of action means only those actions in the life the tragic hero appear together as one whole. These actions must be intimately connected with one another. If any one of these actions is removed, the whole play will be disturbed or spoiled. Secondly these actions must have some connections with the tragedy that befalls the hero. Finally the events of the plot will concern only one man namely the tragic hero. Next comes the unity of time which means conformity (agreement) between the time taken by the events of the play and that taken in their representation on the stage. Tragedy must confine itself to a single revolution of the sun or twenty four hours. About one fourth of the actual time of events happened to be represented on the stage. Finally the unity of place means conformity between the scene of the tragic event or events and the time taken by them to happen. But Aristotle nowhere insists on unity of time as a condition of good plot.
5. Peripeteia, anagnorisis and hamartia
According to Aristotle, the plot of a tragedy may be simple or complex. In simple plot there are no puzzling situations such as peripeteia and anagnorisis. But in a complex plot there must be peripeteia and anagnorisis. Peripeteia means the reversal of the situation and anagnorisis means the recognition or discovery of the situation. The tragic hero does something so carelessly or blindly and this deed defeats his own good purpose. For example a move to kill an enemy recoil on one’s own head. Similarly his effort to save turns into just opposite. Similarly killing an enemy and finally discovering him to be a kinsman. Thus the discovery of such false moves, blindly or carelessly or out of ignorance is called anagnorisis. Therefore Anagnorisis means a change from ignorance to knowledge. Both peripeteia and anagnorisis please everyone because there is an element of surprise in them. A plot that makes use of both peripeteia and anagnorisis is a perfect tragedy. According to Aristotle, tragedy should evoke catharsis. In order to make purgation of selfish feelings of the audience, the tragic hero should create pity and fear in the minds of the audience. Therefore the hero should not be very good or just or very bad. He should be noble but prone to make mistakes and other human weaknesses such as error of judgement. This error of judgement is “hamartia” or “tragic flaw”. It is inherent in his character and leads to the tragedy. In Greek tragedies, a common form of hamartia was pride which helps man to reject God and His rules. Finally the tragic hero gets undeserved sufferings. On seeing this, the audience feel pity and fear for his tragic end.
6. Tragic hero
According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is noble but of ordinary character and he must be honest and willing to sacrifice for others. Tragedy should evoke pity. Therefore the tragic hero should be noble and willing to make sacrifices for others. He brings sufferings to himself through some mistaken act caused by an error in his judgement. Due to this hamartia, the tragic hero gets undeserved sufferings which brings to the audience pity and fear and thereby makes catharsis or purgation of feelings in the people. The misfortunes of the tragic hero excites pity because it is out of proportion to his error of
of judgement and his overall goodness excites fear for his future tragedy.
7. Comedy in Aristotle’s vision
Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’ says that comedy is originated from phallic songs and satirical verses. Satirical verses ridicules persons and comedy ridicules general vices. In comedy characters have some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. Their deeds make laughter. But this laughter leads to no harm or pain either to themselves or to others. Finally comedy is also an art and it has the generalising power of poetry. Comedy represents what may happen. Comedy represents universal and it does not represent individual frailties.
8. Epic and tragedy
Epic grew out of the old hymns to the gods and songs sung in praise of famous men. In its nature Epic resembles tragedy closely but in its form it is different. Tragic mode of imitation is higher than epic mode of imitation. But epic appeals to a more refined, cultured and educated audience. Secondly epic mode achieves its effect without theatrical aid and that its action is more varied. In spite of all these qualities of epic, Aristotle says that tragedy is the superior of the two. For tragedy also appeals to a cultured audience when merely read. Theatrical performance is an external only and its literary value is as great as that of epic. More over the theatrical performance of the tragedy with its music gives more pleasure to the audience than the epic gives. The concentrated effect is more pleasurable than reading the epic because the reading is spread over a lone time for the reader and its pleasure is diluted or lesser than that of the tragedy. Therefore tragedy achieves its aim more perfectly than the epic.
9. Aristotle’s observations on style
Aristotle in his Rhetoric and Poetics lays down two essential principles of good writing and good speech. They are clearness and propriety. Communication with the people is the object of writing as well as speaking. So the communication should be clear and intelligible. Second comes suitability or propriety. Current words are the best because all are familiar with them. But writing is an art and therefore it aims at dignity and charm. Unfamiliar words such as archaic words, foreign words, dialect words, newly coined words have an element of surprise and novelty in them. A perfect poetic style can be used. The use of metaphors also adds beauty to language. But multiplicity of clauses, parenthesis and ambiguous words should be avoided. Words can be arranged into two
kinds of style. They are loose or periodic. The loose style is made up of a number of sentences held together by connective words. In the periodic style each sentence is a complete whole with a beginning, and an end. The loose style is less intelligible than the periodic style.