Aristotle's Hamlet: The Rationality Of Sragic Mimesis

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Register to read the introduction… But even more crucially, plot epitomizes the rationality of tragic mimesis. Plot is not simply a mimesis of action but of action ordered and structured to achieve certain ends. Unlike the theatrical staging associated with spectacle, which Aristotle sees as irrational, plot is governed by reason. The incidents in a tragic plot should be unified by probability and necessity. Such unity does not
40 FOUNDATIONS come from the focus on a single character, since an individual’s life may contain many different plots. Nor can a single historical period or mythic tale be made without selection and reordering into a unified plot. Aristotle points to the example of Homer, who bases the Iliad on a major turn of events in the Trojan war, not on the entire conflict.
The worst plots are episodic, where the events seem simply to follow one another in time, and not by any internal logic. Unlike good tragic plots, such episodic plots are not unified by probability and necessity and therefore do not appeal to reason.
Aristotle’s focus on probability and necessity suggests that the realism of a mimetic work comes not from its reflection of the external world but from its congruence with the norms of human thought. The
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Construing
Aristotle’s syntax differently raises another question: does tragedy purge existing emotions, those the audience members bring with them to the theatre, or does it purge emotions that it arouses? The various meanings of word of catharsis seem to suggest the former, but the attention
Aristotle gives to fear and pity points us to the latter. In this reading, tragedy would provide a kind of emotional purgation by rousing fear and pity and allowing us to enjoy them, not by removing the fear and pity we bring to the theatre or by altering our general emotional state.
Catharsis would describe the proper result of the tragic plot. In a suggestive reworking of this reading, the twentieth-century French playwright
Antonin Artaud reimagines theatre as a plague that brings forth ‘all the perverse possibilities of the mind’ (1958: 30). For Artaud, the aim of catharsis is metaphorically to sicken the audience, not to cure it.
These disputes over the meaning of catharsis are unlikely to be answered in any definitive way. But this should not distract us from the originality of Aristotle’s conception. Although Aristotle

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