Plato and Aristotle on Tragedy


Time chart:

Aristotle's Poetics, perhaps the most fundamental theoretical treatise on tragedy, must however properly be understood in context: as a reply to a challenge issued by his teacher, Plato, in the Republic

The Nature of Tragedy

The essential question to probe is: why do we enjoy, in some sense, watching tragedies, that is the suffering of people onstage?

Plato, Poetry, and Tragedy: Plato's Republic

The "Ancient Quarrel between Poetry and Philosophy"

Background to the Republic Attack on Poetry

Aristotle on tragedy: Aristotle's Poetics

Aristotle's answers to Plato's 4 principal arguments against tragedy:

(1) Poetry is a skill, with rational rules (like shipbuilding or any other skill), and not really a process of inspiration
    (2+3) Poetry represents reality in a useful way from which we can learn: poetry represents universals (as opposed to history, which represents particulars); poetry represents the actions of good men [see handout, passage #2]
      (4) Poetry arouses the emotions in such a way as to increase our ability to control them: catharsis
      (2+3, revisited) A good man is represented, but one who commits an error

Terms to know:

  • pathos
  • catharsis
  • hamartia