Aristotle’s Poetics is considered the first work of literary criticism in our tradition. The couple of pages in the book mainly describe tragedy from Aristotle’s point of view. He defines tragedy as being an imitation of an action that is a whole and complete in itself and of a certain magnitude.
Aristotle also points out terms such as catharsis, which can be said that is the purification of one’s soul. He argues in his Poetics that catharsis is achieved through emotions of pity or fear, which is created in the audience as they witness the tragedy of a character who suffers unjustly, but is not entirely innocent. Then he moves on to describing the main elements of tragedy.
Such elements are: plot, character, language, thought, spectacle, and melody.
Then he classifies these in three parts, the media, the manner and the objects.
The language and melody constitute the “media”, in which they effect the imitation. Then there is the spectacle, which is the “manner”, and the remaining three, the plot, character and thought are the “objects” that are imitated. Aristotle considers the plot to be the most important of these elements. He describes the plot as not being a unity revolving around one man.
Instead, he states that many things happen to one man, which may not always go together, to form a unity. At the same time, he says that among the actions that a character performs there are many that may be irrelevant to one another, but yet they form a unified action. Aristotle continues depicting the plot categorizing it in two manners: simple and complex. In a simple plot, a change of fortune takes place without a reversal or recognition. In contrast, in a complex plot, the change of fortune involves recognition or a reversal or both.
To understand these ideas better he defines reversal and recognition for us.
Reversal or peripety is a change from one circumstance to its exact opposite.
Recognition, is a change from ignorance to knowledge leading either to friendship or hostility depending on whether the character is marked with good fortune or bad. There is a phrase used by Aristotle in Poetics, “from the machine,” which is basically any implausible way of solving complications of the plot. An example would be when Medea escapes from Corinth. She’s solving her situation by escaping in her magic chariot. This “from the machine” phrase should be employed only for events external to the drama, which lie beyond the range of human knowledge, and which require to be reported or foretold. Lastly, Aristotle explains the importance of the chorus in a tragedy.
According to him, it should be regarded as one of the actors. Therefore, the chorus should be integrated into performance and be considered as part of the whole.