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Criticism and Theory. Part A Before Twentieth Century. Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole. City-State of Athens 550-220 B. C.

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Criticism and theory

Criticism and Theory

Part A

Before Twentieth Century

Criticism and theory

Western theatre originated in Athens and its drama has had a significant and sustained impact on Western culture as a whole.

City state of athens 550 220 b c

City-State of Athens 550-220 B. C.

  • Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, institutionalized theatre as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honoured the god Dionysus.

Criticism and theory

  • Tragedy (late 6thcen BC), Comedy, and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres which emerged in Athens and was exported to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity.

Criticism and theory

Panoramic view of the Hellenic theatre at Epidaurus.

Aeschylus c 524 525 bc c 455 456 bc

Aeschylus (c. 524/525 BC – c. 455/456 BC)

Criticism and theory

Sophocles (c.497-406 B.C.)

Criticism and theory

Euripides(c.480-406 B.C.)

Criticism and theory


Aristotle 384 322 b c poetics

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Poetics

Aristotle the biologist

Discusses poetry

All art is mimesis

All Art is Mimesis

  • How is poetry different from other genres which imitate?

    Based on –

  • Media

  • Object, and

  • Mode

Medium of imitation

Medium of Imitation

  • Those which do not use speech

    Harmony and rhythm- instrumental music

    Rhythm alone -dance

  • Those which do use speech

    Prose mimes and Socratic dialogues

Object of imitation

Object of Imitation

  • “mimesis of people doing things”

  • “Better than are found in the world,” eg. Painting - Polygnotus , Literature – Homer, Tragedy in general

  • “Worse than they are found in the world” eg. Painting – Pauson, Literature – Hegemon of Thasos (inventor of parodies), (Nicochares (author of Deiliad), Comedy in general

  • “As they are” eg. Painting – Dionysius, Literature - Cleophon

Mode of imitation

Mode of Imitation

  • Sometimes in narration and sometimes becoming someone else

  • Speaking in one’s own person without change

  • Actually doing things (dramatically)

Thus species of poetry differentiated from other arts which rely on imitation

Thus Species of poetry differentiated from other arts which rely on imitation

  • Through-

  • Media

  • Object, and

  • Mode

Further divisions within the species

Further divisions within the species

  • Representations based on object – eg. People as good- Homer and Sophocles can be said to belong to same class, since both represent people as good

  • Representations based on mode – Sophocles and Aristophanes, since both represent people doing things

Origins of poetry

Origins of Poetry

1. Two natural causes:

  • Mimesis –

  • Human beings have an innate love to imitate

  • And to delight in works of imitation

  • We also enjoy understanding new things

    2. Harmony & rhythm are natural to us

Development of pre dramatic poetry

Development of Pre-dramatic Poetry

  • More serious poets represented noble actions of noble men (praises of gods & men, eg. Illiad & Odyssey in heroic metre)

  • Less serious poets represented actions low-class people (invectives – eg. Homer’s Margites in iambic verse [iambizein meaning, to lampoon])

Development of tragedy

Development of Tragedy

  • Comedy → from phallic songs

  • Tragedy → from dithyramb (a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, esp. one dedicated to Dionysius)

Evolution of tragedy

Evolution of Tragedy

  • Playwrights

    1. Aeschylus

    • raised actors from one to two

    • Gave importance to speech

    • Made choral part less important

      2. Sophocles

      • added a third actor

      • Introduced screen painting

Evolution of tragedy1

Evolution of Tragedy

II. Amplitude

As tragedy developed from satyr-style, its plots were at first slight and expression comical.

Took a long time to acquire dignity.

Evolution of tragedy2

Evolution of Tragedy

  • III. Metre

    • Trochaic tetrameter→changed to trimeter (esp. in dancing sessions)

    • In speech iambic came to be used

Evolution of tragedy3

Evolution of Tragedy

  • IV. Number of episodes – as plays evolved episodes increased in number

Dev of comedy

Dev. Of Comedy

  • Mimesis of people worse than normal

  • “what we find funny is a blunder that does no serious damage”

  • Comedy – was not taken seriously, so clear history obscure

  • Chorus for comedy not officially provided by the Archon for a long time. So, volunteers acted as chorus in comedies

Dev of comedy1

Dev. Of Comedy

  • Making of comic plots must have acc. to Aristotle first come from Sicily

  • Ist Athenian to drop the lampoon form & construct generalized stories or plots - Crates

Epic vs tragedy both being mimesis in verse of noble persons

Epic vs. Tragedy(both being mimesis in verse of noble persons)



  • Action

  • Metre, harmony, rhythm

  • Fixed in time – “as far as possible attempting to keep to the limit of one revolution of the sun”

  • Narration

  • Metre alone, without music

  • Unfixed in time

Chapter ii nature of tragedy

Chapter IINature of Tragedy

  • Definition:

    “imitation of a serious, complete action, in speech pleasurably enhanced, the different kinds of enhancement occurring in separate sections, in dramatic, not narrative form, through pity and fear effecting the purgation of these emotions.”

Analysis def of tragedy questions answers

Analysis:Def. of Tragedy: Questions & Answers-

  • What is tragedy?

    What does it represent?

  • What is the manner in which it is communicated?

  • What form does it employ?

  • What function does it fulfill?

Qualitative elements of tragedy there are six elements of mimesis in a tragedy

Qualitative elements of TragedyThere are six elements of mimesis in a tragedy:

  • Objects of mimesis-

    • Plot (muthos) – “most imp”

    • Character (ethos) – “that which makes plain the nature of moral choices of persons”

    • Thought (dianoia) – “passages in which they prove or disprove something”

  • Media of mimesis-

    • Song (melos)

    • Diction (lexis)

  • Means (mode) of mimesis-

    • Spectacle (opsis) – “least imp”

Criticism and theory

Plot(Most important acc. To Aris.)

  • End of human life is in doing, not just in being

  • There could be no tragedy without action

  • If speeches depicting character are put one after another it won’t be tragedy, but tragedy with plot, even tho’ deficient in other aspects, would be a tragedy

  • Peripeteiai and anagnorisisare parts of plot

  • Novices find it most difficult to construct plot

Characteristics of plot

Characteristics of Plot-

  • Plot = “mimesis of a whole action”; so it has to have these implications of wholeness –

  • Order (beg, mid & end)

  • Amplitude (not too big or small)

  • Unity

  • Probable and necessary connection

    • (“that is why poetry is at once more like philosophy & more worthwhile than history”

    • Worst plots are episodic plots- no connection

  • surprise

Elements of plots

Elements of Plots

  • Peripeteia (Reversal of action)

  • Anagnorisis (Recognition)

  • Pathos “an act involving destruction or pain”

Types of plot

Types of plot

  • Simple (without peripeteia and anagnorisis)

    2. Complex (with peripeteia and anagnorisis)

Quantitative divisions of tragedy

Quantitative Divisions of Tragedy

  • Prologue –”complete section of a tragedy before the entrance of the chorus”

  • Parode(choral part)

  • Episode (complete section of a tragedy not followed by a choral ode

  • Kommos(lament shared by the chorus and the actors)

  • Stasimon(choral part)

  • Exode

Chapter iii excellence in tragedy

Chapter III Excellence in tragedy

  • Plot

  • What should be the aim in composing plots ?

    • What should be avoided in composing plots ?

  • What gives tragic effect?

Chapter iii excellence in tragedy 1 plot

Chapter III Excellence in tragedy : (1) Plot

  • What should be the aim in composing plots ?

    Arouse pity & fear

    So –

  • Tragedy should not show

    • Virtuous men passing from good to bad fortune

    • Bad men passing from bad to good fortune

    • Quite wicked men passing from good to bad fortune

This does not arouse pity or fear , but only a sense of outrage

this would satisfy our human feeling, but would not arouse pity & fear

This is less tragic than anythng, since it has none of the necessary requirements: it neither satisfies our human feeling nor arouses pity or fear

Excellence in tragedy tragic hero

Excellence in tragedy :Tragic hero

  • One who is not pre-eminent in moral virtue, who passes to bad fortune not thru’ vice or wickedness, but bec. of some piece of ignorance, & who is of high repute & great good fortune.

  • Eg. Oedipus and Thyestes & the splendid men of such families

Excellence in tragedy good plot

Excellence in tragedy : Good Plot

  • Single line of dev., not a double one

  • It should go from good fortune to bad and not vice versa

  • This change should be bec of ignorance, not vice

  • By a better, not worse man

Best tragedy

Best Tragedy

From good to bad

In comedy

Bitter enemies are reconciled & nobody is killed

Excellence in tragedy source of tragic effect

Excellence in tragedy : Source of Tragic Effect

  • Not from spectacle, but from plot

  • What effects pity & fear?

  • Done by people closely connected with each other

Tragic action

Tragic Action

  • Best: A character abt to do a gruesome deed recognizes reality and desist from committing the deed

    • Contradiction to Aris’ theory of tragedy as that which ends in sadness

  • Second best: character does it in ignorance, & recognizes his victim afterwards

  • Doing it

  • Worst: have knowledge & intention, yet do not do

Excellence in tragedy 2 character garlic

Excellence in tragedy: (2) Character (GARLIC)

  • Good (Morally)

    • (…a woman is good and so is a slave, though one is perhaps inferior, & the other generally speaking low grade!!!)

  • Appropriate

    • (…it is not suitable for a woman to be brave or clever in this way!!!)

  • Real, that is, life-like

  • Logically constructed

  • Idealized

  • Consistent

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

  • Denouement should arouse not from deus ex machina, but from the character

  • deus ex machina should be used for things outside the play eg. oedipus

Digression on various topics of interest to the practising playwright

Digression on Various Topics of Interest to the Practising Playwright

  • Recognition

    • Least artistic – recognition by visible signs, birthmarks etc.

    • Next worse – poet himself reveals—

    • By means of memory

    • Better – recognition based on reasoning

    • Best – arising from actions

Digression on various topics of interest to the practising playwright1

Digression on Various Topics of Interest to the Practising Playwright

II. Poetic imagination

The poet should, more than anything else, put things before his eyes….

…so far as possible one should also work it out with the appropriate gestures.

Digression on various topics of interest to the practising playwright2

Digression on Various Topics of Interest to the Practising Playwright

III. Complication & Denouement (desis & lusis)

Complication – “the section from the beginning to the last point before …[the hero]… begins to change to good or bad fortune

Denouement – the part from the beginning of the change to the end

Digression on various topics of interest to the practising playwright3

Digression on Various Topics of Interest to the Practising Playwright

IV. Species of Tragedy

  • Complicated tragedy depends entierely on peripeteia & anagnorisis

  • Tragedy of pathos

  • Tragedy of character

  • Tragedy of spectacle

Digression on various topics of interest to the practising playwright4

Digression on Various Topics of Interest to the Practising Playwright

V. Do not take a large chunk of epic matter for a tragedy

VI. Surprise satisfies our human feeling & so is tragic

VII. Chorus should be regarded as an actor

Excellence in tragedy 3 mimesis of intellect

Excellence in tragedy: (3) mimesis of intellect

  • Will deal with it in Rhetoric –

    (thank God!)

    3 functions of thought:

  • To prove or disprove something

  • To arouse emotions

  • To maximise or minimise the imp. of something

Excellence in tragedy 4 verbal expression diction

Excellence in tragedy (4) verbal expression (diction)

  • Grammatical terms

  • Ways of classifying nouns

  • Poetic style

Epic vs tragedy

Epic vs tragedy




More chance for improbable

Answers criticism against homer

Answers criticism against Homer

  • Epic & tragedy

  • Tragedy better, bec-

    • Tragedy has all elements of epic + spectacle & song

    • Reality of presentation felt even while reading

    • Tragic imitation requires less space

    • Unity of action

Questons plato vs aristotle

Questons: Plato vs Aristotle

  • Plato

  • Instruction

  • Imitation

  • Emotion

  • Bad effect on actors

  • Aristotle

  • Pleasure

  • catharsis

Short notes

Short notes

  • Plot

  • Aris’s def of tragedy

  • Hamartia

  • Mimesis

  • Catharsis

  • Tragic hero

  • Relevance of Aristotle

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