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Writing and Discussion – Major English | TU notes

Table of Contents

Subject: Major Eng (Eng. 311)

Level: B.A. 1st year

Tragedy

Questions Answer

Writing and Discussion

  1. In his discussion of tragedy, Aristotle emphasizes the importance of plot. He feels that good tragedies follow a basic plot structure (or pattern) and that those tragedies that deviate significantly from this basic plot will affect the audience less profoundly. Select a specific genre (or type) of literature or film (for example, horror films) and discuss whether a basic plot is repeated in most effective works that fall into this category.

Answer: Night of the Living Dead dramatizes the bewildering and uncanny transformation of human beings into non-human forms. Indeed, like other narratives, the film carries uncomfortable messages about identity – about what it means to be a human being and about the terror of alienation. The film’s power to unsettle its audience also derives from its focus on the taboo subject of cannibalism. In the eighteenth century, the English ironist Jonathan Swift (1996) wrote A Modest Proposal, a darkly satirical attack on the English in which the author ironically proposed that infants be killed and eaten in order to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland. Night of the living Dead also uses cannibalism as a metaphor for exploitative power relations. Thus, while it deals with a quite different set of social and political critique. This horror movie also focuses on the basic plot structure forwarded by Aristotle. Following  the notion of Aristotelian tragedy, the movie follows the same basic plot structure having a structured beginning, Middle, and a Bloody End.

The film’s sense of urgency and immediacy is also a function of its narrative structure. Night of the Living Dead can be seen to be complexly structured, however the essential plot of the film is very simple. Night of the Living Dead has a biginning (the graveyard scene), a middle (the defence of the farmhouse) and an end (the tragic shooting of Ben). In this sense, the film – like many Hollywood films – broadly follows a classical Aristotelian three act structure. The movie equally observe the three “Unities” of time, place and action. Night of the Living Dead takes place in real time (there are no forward jumps or flashbacks), bringing us an hour and a half of a group of people defending themselves from murderous zombies. This temporal continuity is quite unusual in contemporary film. Most narrative films contain cuts and take place over a few days in various locations. Night of the Living Dead, however, adhress to all there of the so-called “unities” of classical theatre, which are based (very) loosely on Aristotle’s Poetics: the unities of time, place and action. According to the rather rigid strictures of seventeenth century dramatists like Corneille, tragic drama should not exceed 24 hours, it should not contain multiple plots and it should be set in only one lacation. According to this model, therefore, drama should be confined to a single action occurring in a single place and unfolding over no longer than a single day.

In the same manner, try to locate Aristotelian concept in other horror movies or of your genre of interest.

  1. If, as Aristotle claims, part of the plot of a tragedy is suffering, why do you think that people would want to view a tragedy? Do we ever expose ourselves to works of art that make us suffer? Why do we do this?

Answer: Yes, indeed! As Aristotle claims, part of the plot of a tragedy is suffering. People want to view tragedy to purify their emotions through pity and fear. We have pity upon the character because of his/her frailty or flaw and we have the same fear that the same tragedy may not befall on us. Yes, we very often do expose ourselves to works of art that make us suffer because It makes us aware about out wrongdoings, thereby purifying our soul.

  1. Apply Aristotle’s definition of tragedy to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. In other words, would Aristotle consider Oedipus Rex to be a tragedy?

Answer: Difinitely, Aristotle would consider Oedipus Rex to be a tragedy. As a matter of fact, his whole thesis of tragedy is based upon Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex. For him, Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex is the role model in the field of tragedy. Oedipus Rex is an imitation of an action which is complete and serious and of a certain magnitude. It is in the dramatic form. It is the story of a noble man who seeks knowledge and destroys him at the end. We can locate different features of tragedy enunciated by Aristotle in Sophocle’s Oedipus Rexi: Unity of action, complex plot, role of hamartia and so on.

Unity of Action: Each of the incidents in this play is part of a tightly constructed cause and effect chain. The plague in the Thebes prompts Oedipus to send Creon to consult the Oracle of Delphi, the Oracle’s reply that the murderer of Laius,  former king, must be banished from Thebes prompts Oedipus pronounce a solemn curse on the murderer, and to send for Teiresias. Teiresias states that Oedipus is the murderer, but since the king knows himself to be innocent, he accuses Creon of plotting against him. The quarrel of Oedipus and Creon brings jocasta from the house; seeking to calm down her husband and prove that Oracles cannot be trusted, she again tells of how Laios died – when she mentions that he was killed “at a place where three road meet,” Oedipus suddenly, begins to suspect that he was. To settle the matter, they send for the Herdsmen, who is the only survivor of that attack. Meanwhile, a messenger arrives from Corinth to inform Oedipus that his supposed father, king Polybus of Corinth has died. When Oedipus rejoices that he did not kill his father as the oracle had prophesied but is seeking to relieve him of this fear, innocently tells him that Polybus and Merope were not his real parents. Finally, heindentifies discovers truth about his parents, soon he falls from his position, and pierces himself to blindness. In this way, the whole action corresponds each other in chain following the principle of probably and necessity.

Complex Plot : The feeling of pity occurs in the audience’s side when messenger comes to help Oedipus by telling him that Polybus and Merope were not his real parents. Instead, messenger creates great tension on the part of Oedipus because it creates opposite effect, providing the crucial piece of information that will reveal that Oedipus has indeed killed his father and married his mother. As Aristotle recommends, this is directly connected to the anagnorisis, or scene of recognition. Oedipus combines messages of the messenger and Herdmen together and recognizes his whole story. The feeling of pity and fear, and scene of recognition come together at this moment leading to Oedipus’s catastrophe or change of fortune from good to bad, and lead to the emotional “scene of suffering” with Creon (his maternal uncle and brother in law) and his Children. In a sense, each of Oedipus’s actions can be considered a reversal of intention and each gives him a little more knowledge of the dreadful truth that will lead to his downfall.

Role of Hamartia: The play offers a perfect illustration of the nature of the hamartia as mistake and error. Oedipus directly causes his own downfall not because he is evil, or proud, or weak, but simply because he does not know who he is. In this case, Ignorance is the mistake, but he tried to know his best, though he could not. If he really wanted to avoid the oracle, leaving Corinth could not. If he really wanted to avoid the oracle, leaving Corinth was a mistake, and marrying an older queen was a mistake. Seeking to uncover the past, cursing the murderer of the Laius, sending for the Herdsmen. Each of the actions that he pursued so vigorously and for such good reasons led to his doom. Oedipus is not morally guilty, but he is radically ignorant. In this case, Sophocles does not present him as a unique case but rather as paradigm of the human condition, “as man like ourselves.’

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