Poetics | Study Guide


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Poetics | Quotes


We must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are.

Narrator, Chapter 2

These are the three ways that poetry may represent humans: tragedy usually represents them as better and comedy as worse.


Hence, some say, the name of 'drama' is given to such poems, as representing action.

Narrator, Chapter 3

This is an early and notable usage of the word drama in reference to tragic and comic poems, which were also acted out on the stage. However, "drama" here is not referring to the acting aspect of the poems, but to the fact that they center on human actions.


Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Here Aristotle discusses the role of imitation in art and how something that could repulse us in real life (such as a dead body) could be rendered beautiful through art.


Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude.

Narrator, Chapter 7

This quotation refers to the concept of unity of plot and describes the requirements for the action being imitated in a tragedy. The object of imitation must be something of weight and meaning and not of a trivial nature. On the flip side, it should not be so large that it cannot be acted out in a reasonable amount of time.


Beauty depends on magnitude and order.

Narrator, Chapter 7

Aristotle argues that something must have a certain magnitude, or importance, to be beautiful.


Unity of plot does not, as some persons think, consist in the unity of the hero.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Aristotle explains that having a single protagonist isn't enough to create a unified plot because the span of a single person's life and experiences is far too long and complex to create a single plot.


Poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.

Narrator, Chapter 9

In Aristotle's opinion, history is concerned with specific details while poetry should be connecting to the audience through universal themes. Poetry should be concerned with the relatable and the universal experience.


Recognition, as the name indicates, is a change from ignorance to knowledge.

Narrator, Chapter 11

This quotation refers to the plot device of "recognition," which is a character having a revelation about his or her relationship to another character or some information that has been previously unknown or withheld. This device is important in the tragic plot.


Pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.

Narrator, Chapter 13

This quotation defines the emotions of pity and fear, particularly in the context of the tragic poem. Humans are moved to feel sympathy for a character who suffers unjustly. They feel fear as the result of being able to see themselves and the possibility of their own suffering within a character who is experiencing misfortune.


Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece.

Narrator, Chapter 14

The actual acting and performance of a piece can move an audience to feel emotions like fear and pity, but these emotions are stronger and more artfully produced if they are evoked by the story itself. Aristotle often argues that a tragedy should be just as effective when read as when experienced on the stage.


They, while reproducing the distinctive form of the original, make a likeness which is true to life and yet more beautiful.

Narrator, Chapter 15

The "they" in this quote are the "good portrait-painters." Aristotle uses this comparison to explain why imitation works powerfully in poetry as well as in painting or visual art.


Poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness.

Narrator, Chapter 17

This quotation is somewhat obscure in its exact reference but seems to be referring to the poet's power as translated through characters. The actors must portray characters in a way that is believable, and the characters must convey either "a happy gift" or "a strain of madness."


Identity exists where the Complication and Unravelling are the same. Many poets tie the knot well, but unravel it ill.

Narrator, Chapter 18

The complication refers to the climax and events leading up to it, as these are where the conflict in the story comes to a head. The unravelling also can encompass the climax of the story, when everything becomes clear and progresses to the end. Aristotle poses the idea that these two—the complication and the unraveling—can be parts of a plot and can take place at the same time—the climax and the falling action—which makes for a better poem.


For what were the business of a speaker, if the Thought were revealed quite apart from what he says?

Narrator, Chapter 19

It is the speaker's job in the tragedy to reveal the intellectual aspects of the play and not the job of the action or the structure of the plot itself.


The poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities.

Narrator, Chapter 24

Aristotle argues that it is more believable and organic to create impossible situations that feel probable to the audience rather than possible or realistic situations that feel improbable within the structure of the plot.

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