Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
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1455b.1should first be sketched in outline and then expanded by putting in episodes. I mean that one might look at the general outline, say of the Iphigeneia, like this: A certain maiden has been sacrificed, and has disappeared beyond the ken of those who sacrificed her and has been established in another country, where it is a custom to sacrifice strangers to the goddess; and this priesthood she holds. Some time afterwards it happens that the brother of the priestess arrives there—the fact that the god told him to go there, and why, and the object of his journey, lie outside the outline-plot. He arrives, is seized, and is on the point of being sacrificed, when he reveals his identity either by Euripides' method or according to Polyidos, by making the very natural remark that after all it is not only his sister who was born to be sacrificed but himself too; and thus he is saved. Not until this has been done should you put in names and insert the episodes; and you must mind that the episodes are appropriate, as, for instance, in the case of Orestes the madness that led to his capture and his escape by means of the purification. [Note]

Now in drama the episodes are short, but it is by them that the epic gains its length. The story of the Odyssey is quite short. A man is for many years away from home and his footsteps are dogged by Poseidon and he is all alone. Moreover, 1455b.20affairs at home are in such a state that his estate is being wasted by suitors and a plot laid against his son, but after being storm-tossed he arrives himself, reveals who he is, and attacks them, with the result that he is saved and destroys his enemies. That is the essence, the rest is episodes.

In every tragedy there is a complication and a denouement. [Note] The incidents outside the plot and some of those in it usually form the complication, the rest is the denouement. I mean this, that the complication is the part from the beginning up to the point which immediately precedes the occurrence of a change from bad to good fortune or from good fortune to bad; the denouement is from the beginning of the change down to the end. For instance, in the Lynceus of Theodectes the complication is the preceding events, and the seizure of the boy, and then their own seizure; and the denouement is from the capital charge to the end. [Note]

Tragedies should properly be classed as the same or different mainly in virtue of the plot, that is to say those that have the same entanglement and denouement. Many who entangle well are bad at the denouement. Both should always be mastered.

There are four varieties of tragedy—the same as the number given for the "elements" [Note] first the complex kind, which all turns on reversal and discovery; the "calamity play" like the stories of Ajax and Ixion; the "character play" like the Phthian Women [Note] and the Peleus [Note].



Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
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