indeed thought and character are the natural causes of any action and it is in virtue of these that all men succeed or fail—
it follows then that it is the plot which represents the action. By "plot" I mean here the arrangement of the incidents: "character" is that which determines the quality of the agents, and "thought" appears wherever in the dialogue they put forward an argument or deliver an opinion.
Necessarily then every tragedy has six constituent parts, and on these its quality depends. These are plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song.
Two of these are the means of representation: one is the manner: three are the objects represented. [Note]
This list is exhaustive, and practically all the poets employ these elements, for every drama includes alike spectacle and character and plot and diction and song and thought.
The most important of these is the arrangement of the incidents, [Note] for tragedy is not a representation of men but of a piece of action, of life, of happiness and unhappiness, which come under the head of action, and the end aimed at is the representation not of qualities of character but of some action; and while character makes men what they are,
it's their actions and experiences that make them happy or the opposite.
They do not therefore act to represent character, but character-study is included for the sake of the action. It follows that the incidents and the plot are the end at which tragedy aims, and in everything the end aimed at is of prime importance.
Moreover, you could not have a tragedy without action, but you can have one with out character-study.
Indeed the tragedies of most modern poets are without this, and, speaking generally, there are many such writers, whose case is like that of Zeuxis compared with Polygnotus. [Note] The latter was good at depicting character, but there is nothing of this in Zeuxis's painting.
A further argument is that if a man writes a series of speeches full of character and excellent in point of diction and thought, he will not achieve the proper function of tragedy nearly so well as a tragedy which, while inferior in these qualities, has a plot or arrangement of incidents.
And furthermore, two of the most important elements in the emotional effect of tragedy, "reversals" and "discoveries," [Note] are parts of the plot.
And here is further proof: those who try to write tragedy are much sooner successful in language and character-study than in arranging the incidents. It is the same with almost all the earliest poets.
The plot then is the first principle and as it were the soul of tragedy: character comes second.
It is much the same also in painting;