Aristotle's Poetics is a treatise on literary principles.
Originally, it was a text for use by philosophy students rather than by the general public.
It is divided into two parts: tragedy and comedy. Only the first half of tragedy remains. The part which survives is mostly about Tragedy.
It has been used as a kind of hand book for writers and critics from ancient times to the present.
It was composed fifty years after the death of Sophocles. Aristotle was a great admirer of Sophocles' Oedipus the King and thus his analysis of tragedy as a literary genre fits that play most perfectly.
The Poetics begins with a discussion of poetry in general, continuous with a broad consideration of its various modes, and concludes with a more detailed account of epic and tragedy.
The Poetics is largely devoted to drama, in particular to tragedy. Aristotle provides both a history of the development of poetry and drama, and a critical framework for evaluating tragic drama.
The most notable thing about Aristotle's view of the poetical process is that he sees it as an 'imitation' (mimesis) of real situations, rather than invention.
Aristotle's theories of tragedy have influenced the drama of the Western world, for almost all tragic dramatists have written with an eye on ancient Greek theories.
Purpose of Drama: According to Aristotle, the purpose of drama is to arouse in the audience feelings of pity and fear, and to purge these emotions (catharsis), thereby making people stronger emotionally.
Aristotle's six elements of drama: 1. Plot (action: the incidents or story line). Aristotle defines plot as “the arrangement of the incidents”: i.e., not the story itself but the way the incidents are presented to the audience, the structure of the play. 2. Character 3. Thought/Theme 4. Music (all sound) 5. Spectacle (scenery and costume, i.e. other visual elements) 6. Diction/Language (the dialogue and poetry) Aristotle's Definition of Tragedy:
“Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude"; it is depicted with rhythmic language and/or song, in the form of action (not narrative), and produces a 'purgation' of pity and fear in the audience i.e.(catharsis).
Since tragedy is the imitation of action, it is chiefly concerned with the lives of men, and thus presents a stage for character and thought.
According to Aristotle, Character and thought are the two causes from which actions spring. These elements also determine the success of a given action.
Aristotle's Three Unities:
Aristotle stresses the need for a work to be unified.
The unities mean: a way of providing a central focus to a play.
Aristotle believed that perfect tragedies had :
Unity of time: the play takes place in a 24 hour time period.
Unity of place: the play has only one setting
Unity of action: the play has one plot and no mixture of tragedy and comedy.
Aristotle's Definition of a Tragic Hero:
Comes from nobility.
Has a tragic flaw (hamartia) which is caused by a simple mistake or a character flaw such as pride (hubris) which causes him to suffer.
He undergoes a reversal of fortune, i.e. falls from high to low.