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Understanding and Interpretations – Tragedy | TU notes

Table of Contents

Subject: Major Eng (Eng. 311)

Level: B.A. 1st year


Questions Answer

Understanding and Interpretations

  1. Discuss what you think Aristotle meant by the following terms: imitation, unity, plot, discovery, suffering, pity and fear, spectacle, hamartia, catharsis.

Ans: Imitation means the process of learning for Aristotle. Since it is the fundamental part of human nature, man learns to imitate and imitates to learn. According to him, man is the most imitative creature in the world. He developed imitation as important aspect of his theory of art. According to him, art is essentially “representational,” i.e. that “imitation” is necessary to it. He takes the theory of imitation enunciated by his guru Plato. Plato devises the world into two: the world of ideas, and the world of appearance. According to him, the world of ideas is the true residue of truth, whereas the world of appearances is mere ephemeral copy of the world of the ideas. In the world of appearances, we experience the world through senses. He sees sense as the corrupt force that impels us to lower our qualities or baser instincts. Therefore, he locates reality in the world of ideas which is eternal, true and axiomatic. But Aristotle criticizes Plato’s idea of poet as a mere imitator of appearances. He disagrees with Plato about where to locate reality. He does not believe that the world of appearances is merely an ephemeral copy of the change-less idea. He believes that change is the fundamental process of nature, which he regards as a creative force with a direction. For Aristotle, Reality is the process, by which a form manifests itself through the concrete and by which the concrete takes on meaning in accordance with ordered principles. The poet’s imitation is an analogue of this process; a poet takes form from nature and improvises it in different medium. It is through the peculiar sort of imitation the poet discovers the ultimate form of actions.

Unity means unity of plot, a systematic arrangement of party to the whole. By unity, he means unity of action, time, and place. By unity of action, he means that the organization of different actions into single action or unity. According to him, each part corresponds to whole and vice versa. By unity of time, he describes the periodical framework of a play. According to him, a play would have more unity if its events took place within twenty four hours—within single revolution of the sun. in the same way, the action comprises the single place to confirm unity of place.

Plot is the soul of a tragedy. He meant that plot is the imitation of an action. For him, it is systematic arrangement of incidents. According to him, Plots are either simple or complex. Simple plot is the plot which occurs when the change of fortune takes place without reversal of the situation and without recognition. But in complex plot, the change of fortune is accompanied by such reversal, or recognition, or by both. For him, complex plot should arise from the internal structure of the plot on the basis of principle of probability and necessity. In tragedy, he prefers complex plot, whereas simple plot is the part of comedy. for example, in Oedipus Rex, the messenger comes to cheer Oedipus and free him from his alarms about his mother, but by revealing who he is, he produces the opposite effect. Oedipus knows the truth about his life (marrying his own mother and killing his own father), while his dignity as a renowned king falls in the form of the reversal scene or recognition of truth. After the scene of recognition, suffering starts.

Discovery is the realization or recognition of the truth about his life by the protagonist. In Greek terminology, it was known as anagnorisis. It is also known as self-recognition of the protagonist. It is followed by scene of reversal (Peripetia), and suffering. In Oedipus Rex, when Oedipus recognizes himself as the murderer of his father, and husband of his own mother, his status as a king reverses, and he undergoes with severe type of suffering by piercing his own eyes and choosing blindness for suffering.

Suffering is defined as the action of painful or destructive nature, such as murders on the stage, tortures, woundings and the like. It is the experience of the physical and mental pain in the part of protagonist. In Oedipus Rex, Protagonist experiences physical pain by blinding his own eyes, and undergoes several types of mental disorder. It follows the scene of discovery or recognition.

Pity and Fear is definded as actions of that nature being what tragedy is assumed to present and it also serve to bring about the happy or unhappy ending. Pity and Fear, often known as catharsis in Greek dialects, is the emotional effect on the part of audience after tragedy. It is the purgation or purification of the audience’s soul. According to Aristotle, pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus, a intermediate kind of personage whose misfortune is brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some fault (in Greek, humatia) that crashes the enjoyment of reputation and prosperity. The tragic pity and fear may be aroused by the spectacle also, but they may be aroused by the very structure and incidents of the party.

Spectacle is the emotional aspect of the tragedy. This is the artistic effect of stage mechanism. This is a visual effect of tragedy, which is set for striking performance or display.

Hamartia is a sin, fault, failure, and guilt in ordinary sense. This is error of judgment. It is fatal character-defect which came to be known as the ‘tragic flaw’. According to Aristotle, humartia is important feature of tragedy because this fatal flaw helps to lead to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine. For example, Oedipus is stubborn, Agamemnon is proud.

Cathersis makes the audience psychologically healthier and thus more capable of happiness. Aristotle argued that tragedy so stimulates the emotions of pity and fear, which he considered morbid and unhealthful that by the end of the play the spectator is purged of them. The end of the tragedy is a katharsis (purgation, cleansing) of the tragic emotions of pity and fear. Katharsis is another Aristotelian term that has generated considerable debate. The word “puring,” and Aristotle seems to  be employing a medical metaphor-tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear in order to purge away their excess, to reduce these passions to a healthy, balanced proportion. According to him, one gets aesthetic pleasure from contemplating the pity and fear that are aroused in tregedy.

2. Why does Aristotle argue that it is important for a tragedy to arouse pity and fear within a family? Why would this be more powerful than arousing pity and fear about the actions among a group of friends?

Answer: Aristotle argues that it is important for a tragedy to aroused pity and fear within a family because, when murder or the like is done or mediated by brother, by son on father, by mother on son or son on mother, there is the perfect arousal of horrible and piteous situations. Since, in among a group of friends, there is nothing to move us to pity either in one’s doing or in his/her meditating the deed, expect so far as the actual pain of the sufferer is concerned, and parties are indifferent to each other therefore, arousing pity and fear about the actions among a group of friend.

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3. In Aristotle and His philosophy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), Abraham Edel wrote of Aristotle’s conception of tragedy:

How intimately Aristotle’s account of the psychological function of tragedy enters into his recommendations on the construction of the drama can be seen most different in his derivation of the appropriate character for the hero. If we are ready to indentify with a person, that is feel fear and pity, then he has to be sufficiently like us , and his suffering has to be undeserved. If he is very good we will simply be outraged, and he is very evil we will feel that it served him right. Our best choice neither not outstanding in virtue and justice, not falling into misfortune through evil and wickedness, but by some error [or flaw: hamartia].” Later theorists eventually magnified hamartia into the “tragic flaw.” Characters may of course have flows not amounting to vice: Oedipus is stubborn, Agamemnon is proud. The vicissitudes of this concept at the hands of interpreters have been striking. For a long itudes of this concept at the hands of interpreters have been striking. For a long time it was thought of as a moral defect. Then scholars agreed that it meant an error of judgment resting on some factual ignorance. Now a “application extending from ignorance of fact at one end to moral defect at the other. Hamartia must thus be interpreted in each case according to the situation. Aristotle also adds to his delineation of the hero’s character that the person involved be one of renown and prosperity. Fear is inspired more readily by our seeing that even the more fortunate are afflicted. (356-357)

What are some examples of people (from novels, movies, television programs, or the news) Who would fit Aristotle’s criteria for a tragic hero or heroine? In other words , can you think of people whose lives would make good tragedy?

Answer: Hamlet, and Michael Henchard are some examples from different genres, who would fit Aristotle’s criteria for a tragic hero or heroine. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet essentially adheres to this definition. While this play is not always in agreement with Aristotle’s guideless, it remains distinguished and effective tragedies with regard to his criteria for a tragic hero. Aristotle says, “the most tragic situations arise between friends or between “blood relations” that is between those in whom are found the affections and loyalties which characterizes the good. The protagonist Hamlet centers his quest to avenge his father’s death. He tries to discover the truth about the murderer of his father like Oedipus. Hamlet being a member of noble personage represents Aristotelian protagonist. Hamlet also resembles flaws in his character; he acts the part of madness with great power, convincing the persons who are sent to examine into his supposed loss of reason, merely by telling them unwelcome truths. He is first hallucinated by his father’s ghost, but again undertakes every action to find out the truth. When he confirms his uncle Claudious as a murderer of his father, he delays the real action of killing his uncle. When he discovers the truth in his own logic, he find himself in a lowly positions, and therefore, he knells down with the power of fate as Oedipus does.

In the similar manner, Michael Henchard, a hero in Thomas Hardy’s novel “The Mayor of Casterbridge” suffers the same fate. agricultural worker who gains both fortune and respect upon becoming the mayor of Casterbridge, follows the rise and fall. The return of the furmity woman and her dramatic revelation in court plays a vital role in hastening Henchard’s decline. The furmity woman exposes Henchard’s shameful secret: the sale of his wife Susan and their child, Elizabeth-Jane, to a sailor for five guineas two decades earlier. Her revelation results in Henchard’s social and financial ruin, he soon becomes social outcast. The furmity woman’s accusation initiates the tragic reversal is complete only when Donald Farfrae becomes the new mayor. At this point, Henchard, suffering from poverty and lonliness, finds himself again at the bottom of fortune’s wheel. Henchard suffers because of his ambition, proud and impulsive nature. He even evokes the feeling of pity and fear in response to his suffering.

  1. In Theatre in Search of a Fix (New York: Delacorte, 1973), Robert W. Corrigan writes of tragedy:

– It seems to me that a much more effective may of dealing with the subject would be to distinguish between the form of tragedy, which is way of looking at experience that has persisted more or less unchanged in the Western in world form the time of Homer to the present. Santayana once wrote: “Everything in nature is lyrical in its existence,” The tragic writer in all ages has always been chiefly concerned with man’s fate: ultimate defeat and death. Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Ibesen were the tragedians because they were, in large measure, concerned with the individual’s struggle with fate; for them, as for all writers of tragedy, this struggle is seen as a conflict with necessity, or what the Greeks referred to as Ananke. Necessity is not some kind of social disease that those who would change the world can ignore, soften or legislate out of existence. Necessity is the embodiment of the limitation and morality of all human experience. Man’s struggle with necessity has  been expressed in many forms and in varying contexts throughout history, but it is the constant of tragic drama…

The spirit of tragedy, then, is not quietistic; it is a grappling spirit. And while the nature and terms of the struggle vary in direct relationship to the individual dramatist’s belief in the meaning of the struggle, in every great tragedy, we sense  the validity of a meaningful struggle and the real possibility of it. Thus, tragic characters may win or lose; or more precisely, they win in the losing and lose in the warning. But it is the struggle itself that is the source of the dramatic significance, and it is out of this struggle with necessity that heroism is born (6-7

Corrigan, who is essentially attempting to update Aristotle’s theory tragedy, believes that the best way to define tragedy is by it spirit: the heroic struggle of its characters against a force that they cannot beat. Can you think of any tragedy you have read that fits Corrigan’s definition of a tragedy? What about Checkov’s Swan Song? Give a reasoned answer.

Answer: Hamlet is the tragedy which is fit for Corrigan’s definition of a tragedy. The protagonist Hamlet’s heroic struggle is noteworthy against a force that he cannot beat. His heroic struggle about the discovery of his father’s murderer is continually procrastinated. Because of his great philosophic knowledge, he is in dilemma of whether what kind of punishment, he should choose for the murderer. He suffers a lot. Ultimately he kills his uncle Claudious but dies himself. In this regard also, he has become a victim of unseen force known as fate. He has become “son of tyche  (fate)” which he cannot beat like Odipus.

Anton Checknov’s Swan Song is about two characters: Vasili Svietloving, a 68 year old comic actor and Nikita Ivanich, who is an even older man, the theater’s prompter, who find themselves locked into a theatre late at night, discussing the actor’s past in his career. The word ‘Swan Song’ is an idiom, stands for the final performance or activity of a person’s career. Following a benefit evening in his honour, Svietlovidoff falld asleep in a drunken blur without making other to know. When he awakens, the theatre is dark and empty. He falls quickly into saddened monologue.

robability and necessity.

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