Poetics | Study Guide


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Poetics | Summary



Aristotle's Poetics begins with a statement of intention to discuss poetry in its various forms. Aristotle proposes to inquire into the workings of the "good" poem and outlines the various types of poetry he will discuss in his treatise. Much of his writings on the form of comedy and a few other types of poetry seem to be lost from the text, however.

In his first few chapters, Aristotle introduces the types of poetry he will examine and his overarching concept that poetry and art are forms of mimesis. He focuses primarily on the forms of tragedy, comedy, and epic poetry, which also shape his focus for the majority of the treatise.

Aristotle proposes that the object of this imitation in poetry is human action. He explains that while this focus is common in comedy, drama, and epic poetry, each of these types of poetry deal with different types of human action. Epic poetry and tragedy, he argues, are higher forms of art than comedy, which deals with the ludicrous.

The first five chapters of Poetics are initial observations and introductory explanations. Subsequent chapters delve into more detail about the forms of tragedy and epic poetry. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is an imitation of an action in its entirety and requires a unified and organically developed plot. There are various types of tragedy and six main elements of the tragic form.

Tragedy also relies on the plot devices of situational reversal, recognition, and the tragic incident. Tragedy uses fear and pity as tools to create catharsis in the audience. The audience should go through the experience of fear or horror that turns to pity, and by the closing of the tragedy, they should feel a purging of those emotions. This experience is central to the importance of the tragic form.

Epic poetry is often longer than tragedy and more far-reaching. Plot in epic poetry covers a longer time span and has a broader focus but should still be unified and have a natural sense of cause and effect. Aristotle gives the example of the Iliad as an epic poem that focuses on one part of the Trojan War.

Poetics ends with a discussion on the role of critics and criticism and a final decisive comparison of epic poetry and tragedy. Aristotle delineates his argument for why, in the end, tragedy is actually a higher form of art than the epic poem.

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