Poetics, given to
us by Aristotle in 336 BCE and translated many times, is the oldest surviving
work on dramatic theory. In it he gave us examples and relations on how mimesis
occurs in the all forms of art work, why we use imitation, and how being a
spectator in the perfect tragedy may instigate the experience of catharsis.
Mimesis translates to imitation in the Greek language.
Aristotle explains in Poetics that
mimesis occurs in all forms of artwork. We will find mimesis in: poetry,
paintings, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, as well as modern day art. The main differentiation
is the medium in which mimesis is portrayed. It may vary in form, color, verses
or language; however, all artwork will look to imitate the real world. Aristotle’s
stance in Poetics is that art chooses
to imitate the beauty of reality. Thus, mimesis in art can bring about arguments
about the real world.
Imitation is found in many aspects of life. It is found in
the evolution of art, technology, emerging sciences, and most importantly in
living creatures. Most living creatures are naturally predisposed towards
imitation. It is instinctive to imitate inasmuch as it is a part of the
survival of a species. Men are more predisposed towards imitation as they are
the dominating species. We imitate since birth and it is part of human development.
Before an infant begins to walk, he observes the caregiver until the moment
comes where he or she is able to imitate. By the process of imitation one can
learn to talk, eat, and communicate. Imitation is made by the observation of
certain kinds of people and their actions. It is how believes, tendencies,
customs and morals are developed within men. One’s moral depends on whether we
choose to imitate what we see. In Greek
tragedy, the serious action enclosed in the plot is meant to educate. An effective
plot will cause the audience to become aware of the actions they choose to
imitate. Since we do not want a tragic ending in the real world we look for the
actions that led to the character’s downfall. This way we shape our moral so we
are not destined to the same tragedy.
When Oedipus removes his eyes as punishment for killing his
father Laius and sleeping with his mother Jocasta, it would had caused the
entire theatron to experience catharsis just as Sophocles would have wanted.
Catharsis was not defined by Aristotle in Poetics
but it was used in his definition of tragedy. “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).” We notice how tragedy is one serious
action. The beginning of the plot will present a likeable. The continuation of
the plot should cause full immersion within the lives of the characters. Once
the tragedy unfolds into a terrific misfortune, the theatron will experience
catharsis. Catharsis being the purification of the spectator by the purging of
emotions of pity and fear (A). Viewing a tragic play will provide relief for
strong and suppressed emotions. It will likewise prove to expand intellectual,
emotional and moral capabilities.
In his work, Poetics,
Aristotle gave us a clue of what a perfect tragedy should look like. Tragedy is
meant to educate in the real world. A tragic play that achieves all elements of
a serious action, catharsis as well as an education in the real world; will be
that of a superior quality of work.