(from Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001 ed., pp. 90-117)
What are Aristotle’s views on the nature of “representation”? Is is natural to human beings, and what forms may it take?
What does he find to be the chief difference between comedy and tragedy? (92, comedy represents people who are worse than average people; tragedy those who are better)
Do you agree, from the examples you have seen? What does this definition suggest about the nature of Greek comedies and tragedies which he has observed?
What are some of the features which distinguish tragedy as Aristotle conceives it from epic? (epic is narrative; tragedy is more unified) Where would the modern novel or long poem fit into his scheme?
What are the basic features of his definition of tragedy? (embellished speech, represented by actors, accomplishing catharsis)
What is meant by “catharsis”? What would prompt the audience to feel pity and what would prompt them to feel terror? Why would the evocation of such emotions constitute a purgation?
To what extent is this a modern view of tragedy?
What to Aristotle is the central issue in the construction of a tragedy? Why does he focus on plot rather than character or metaphysical issues? (95, “Consequently the incidents, i. e., the plot, are the end of tragedy, and the end is most important of all.”)
What kind of speech does he seem to admire in a tragedy, based on his criticism of some contemporary dramas? (96, should be in character rather than overly rhetorical)
What are the sequential parts of a tragedy? Why is sequence important? (96, beginning, middle and end; should have causal or explanatory relationship, 97) What are desirable lengths for a work of art? (97)
Why does the representation of what happens to one person fail to provide the needed unity? (97)
What does Aristotle find to be the difference between history and literature? (97-98) How do you sort out the claims that literature is truer than history because it presents the universal, but that literature often concerns the true, as in the history of members of great houses, because the true is believable?
What does Aristotle mean by a good “simple” plot? (99, causal sequence without reversal or recognition) What is a complex plot and why is this superior? (99) What are some examples? Can you think of some examples in recent literature?
Is suffering necessary to the tragic plot? (99)
What are the possibilities for plot, according to Aristotle, and which kinds does he find tragic? Might there be other definitions? (100) Good men may change from good to evil fortune; evil men may experience good fortune; evil men may fall into misfortune; and a good person who commits an error may fall into misfortune.
Why does Aristotle find some of these outcomes merely shocking or morally unsatisfying? What does he seem to mean in his definition of a “good” man?
Why does Aristotle think the best tragedies of his time concern the actions of a few great houses? To what extent is the tragic poet at liberty to change the plots or their meanings?
If you are acquainted with some of Euripides’s tragedies, why do you think Aristotle considers him the most tragic of poets?
What does he think of works with double endings (i. e., good fates for the “better” persons and evil fates for “worse” ones)? (101, similar to tragicomedies; he thinks these are closer to comedies)
What is “spectacle” and how does Aristotle react to it? Is this an issue in modern literary and film criticism today?
What are the saddest kinds of suffering? (101, those within kindred relationships, as when a son kills a father)
What kinds of recognition does Aristotle differentiate and describe? (10-104) What principles does he seem to use in deciding on their respective value? (He prefers the probable.)
What kinds of characters are suitable for tragedy? (102, good, appropriate, life-like and consistent) What does he seem to mean by “good”? Allowing for different views of the appropriate, are his categories still valid?
What does he think about fantastic or supernatural elements of plot? (103) Why does he find these less appropriate?
What are some ways the tragic poet can make his/her work more effective? (104, can imagine it, can feel the emotions portrayed) What advice does he give in the creation of plots? (104-105)
What structural and thematic components should every good tragedy have? (105, complex plot, character, suffering and spectacle; all should have all, though the tragedies which emphasize the last three, and especially spectacle, are inferior)
What is meant by his caveat that even things that are improbable may happen? (106)
What do you think of Aristotle’s categories for linguistics and metaphors? (106-109) What kind of diction does he prefer? (109, clear and not commonplace) What excesses does he deplore? (111) Are there forms of modern writing which might fall under his censure?
What does he find are the possible virtues of an epic? Its potential themes? (113, things as they are, as people say they are, as they should be) What does he mean by “things as people say and think they were or are”? What subjects seem to be omitted? (things as they ought not to be but may be)
Can a drama which is not performed still have power? (117)
To what extent does Aristotle’s Poetics reflect the dramatic conventions of his day? Its class structure? What are some strands of later or modern criticism which he seems to anticipate? (genre criticism, close rhetorical analysis, structuralism, even ethical criticism)
Are there aspects of tragic literature which he has omitted or downplayed? Had Aristotle been born in the late twentieth-century, which of his opinions do you think might have been similar, and which different?
Which aspects of his discussion seem to you valuable in approaching works of literature or films you have read or viewed?