All About Aristotle


“A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having
magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language...
in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear,
where with to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions.”  




Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who studied all kinds of things from crustaceans to the cosmos to theatre. He was pretty well rounded. When his teacher Plato, wrote a treatise condemning theatre as groovy and interesting, but "too dangerous to be allowed in society." Aristotle countered with a treatise of his own entitled The Poetics. The volume was lost for hundreds of years until rediscovered by European scholars in the 14th century. In it, Aristotle described what theatre, especially Tragedy, should contain and how it should be composed. Aristotle was, in the 14th and 15th centuries, instantly hailed as THE expert on theatre. His famous six elements have retained their importance through time, and only in our contemporary society have theatre practitioners begun to question whether or not they always apply. However, these six elements are still the most widely known and used evaluative tools and general rules for artistic theatre performances. His thoughts still reign supreme, despite current undermining by some contemporary scholars and theatre practitioners.


The six elements are only a small part of his Poetics. However, they comprise some of the most vital aspects of theatre from the whole work. They are very useful in identifying the whys and whats of theatre. His six elements included:








Most of these are pretty self explanatory... But Aristotle's main jam when it came to theatre was plot. Without plot there is nothing, he believed. Iimagine a play with lots of really great characters, great scenery and stunning dialogue. Is that enough to be interesting? Maybe, but don't you crave a story line? Don't you want ... well ... something to happen? Of course you do. If nothing happens, the play is boring. (Wait, I think I just described Arcardia...)


Nowadays, playwrights who think they know better have started experimenting with plays without plot—with limited success. There are two major kinds of plots for theatre: dramatic and episodic. There are other experimental kinds, but they are far and few between.


All plots, however, have a beginning, middle and end. This is also a concept of the Greeks.


Artistotle also had fierce beliefs on character development. Because of him we have archetypes we still use today; like the tragic hero or anti-hero, as two examples. He thought all characters should have a "code of ethics" both in real life and on stage. And that we must all live by the moral compass of our choosing. He took beliefs from Socrates and Plato and said that all humans are a balance of good and bad urges and we fight daily to see which half wins. 


An interesting play in Aristotle's mind, shows the battle of the character. Without a showing of the moral compass, the audience will not learn. This is a concept we still use today. Some of the best recent shows were not about battles on a field, but ones inside. Breaking Bad, anyone?



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