Literature Study GuidesPoeticsChapters 6 8 Summary

Poetics | Study Guide


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Poetics | Chapters 6–8 | Summary



Chapter 6

Aristotle sets aside the subjects of comedy and epic poetry and introduces tragedy as the topic of the following chapter. He defines tragedy as poetry that concerns serious actions of a certain gravity, uses language that incorporates harmony, rhythm, and song, and is performed by actors. Tragedy consists of six main elements: character, plot, diction, thought, spectacle (acting), and song. Aristotle argues that plot is central to tragedy, while character development is secondary. "Thought" seems to indicate the intellectual aspects of the work, and diction the order and meaning of words. Spectacle, or the actors and acting, has the power to incite emotion, but Aristotle considers it the least important of the six elements of tragedy.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 focuses primarily on the structure of tragic plot. The plot must have a beginning, middle, and end, each part naturally causing or following the previous. Aristotle suggests that a plot gains adequate gravity through length. He argues that a small thing (or short plot) is not notable, but something that is too large to see the shape of is also problematic. The plot of a tragedy should be long but have a clear shape and a sense of wholeness.

Chapter 8

The tragic plot must be built around a single main action. In regard to the protagonist of the story, only the character's actions that are relevant to the main thread of the plot should be included. If actions or events do not make an impact by their inclusion or exclusion from the plot, then those actions are unnecessary.


Aristotle clearly lays out the ground rules for a successful work of tragedy. His concept of a tragedy is a drama performed by actors and incorporating both spoken language as well as song. However, a good tragedy should also be able to stand alone as a moving work without needing to be performed by actors.

At the center of a work of tragedy is the plot. Aristotle claims that the plot holds more importance than character, arguing that "the Plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy." The sequence of a plot, besides having the parts of beginning, middle, and end, must contain a shift of fortune from good to bad or from bad to good.

In Aristotle's view, length is crucial to the success of the tragedy, and the trick is to create a long work that also has a clear shape and movement. Unnecessary additions to the plot only disrupt its unity and thus its effectiveness. He insists that "beauty depends on magnitude and order," meaning that length and unity must work together to create something that may be considered beautiful.

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