Literature Study GuidesPoeticsChapters 9 12 Summary

Poetics | Study Guide


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Poetics | Chapters 9–12 | Summary



Chapter 9

The chapter opens with the argument that the poet's job is to write about what may happen, as opposed to what has happened already. While comedy might invent characters as well as plot, tragedy usually uses the names of real people to give credibility and weight to the story. Aristotle emphasizes the creation of plot over the use of language, as the poet's job is to imitate action. The poet and the historian have distinctly different jobs: the poet writes about the universal, and the historian's focus is the specific. Aristotle also insists that plots should not be episodic, as episodes are not connected by organic cause and effect. Plots should evoke surprise and emotion in the reader, and those feelings are stronger when events have clear cause and effect instead of being the result of chance.

Chapter 10

Plots can be organized into two types: simple and complex. A simple plot is defined as a plot in which "the change of fortune takes place without Reversal of the Situation and without Recognition."

A complex plot uses the situational tools of "reversal" and/or "recognition." These situations should be natural and logical effects of the preceding situation.

Chapter 11

Chapter 11 defines the previously mentioned concepts of "reversal of situation" and "recognition." Reversal of situation is a device wherein the plot flips around to the opposite of its initial trajectory. Recognition occurs when the central characters experience a reversal in knowledge or emotion—for instance, when the protagonist experiences a shift from hate to love. Combined, reversal and recognition usually inspire pity or fear in the audience and are based on the idea of surprise.

Aristotle briefly mentions a third part of the plot, which he calls "the Scene of Suffering." This is a scene that portrays destruction or pain, such as a scene of physical violence or death.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12 introduces the tangible parts a tragedy may be divided into. Aristotle outlines these parts as prologue, episode, exode, and choric song.


The poet writes about possibility, and the historian records events that have come to pass—Aristotle argues that this, and not the style of writing itself, is the difference between the poet and the historian. Yet the poet can still write about historical events without becoming a historian, because they can choose to write about events that are relatable to the audience. In this way, the poet is still writing about the universal instead of the particular. Chapters 9 through 11 deal primarily with the plot devices used in tragedy and detail how these devices should be used.

Aristotle references the Greek historian Herodotus in Chapter 9. Herodotus was a famous 5th century BCE historian who wrote the first major narrative history in the Western world—a history of the Greco-Persian wars. Herodotus lived and wrote in the century before Aristotle, and, while Aristotle seems to have respect for him as a scholar, he does not consider Herodotus a poet or an artist.

Aristotle also uses the story of Oedipus as an example of the plot device "Reversal of the Situation." Oedipus is a legendary Greek figure and has been the subject of many tragedies, including those by Sophocles and Euripides.

Chapter 12 seems to be a type of interjection of additional basic information about the organization of a tragedy's parts, and Aristotle does not go into any more detail on the subject. This type of tangential interlude in the midst of a series of chapters or paragraphs focused on a particular topic happens multiple times in the text and indicates that some parts of the original text are probably missing.

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