Aristotle, frye, and the theory of tragedy, by leon golden
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    Aristotle, frye, and the theory of tragedy, by leon golden Aristotle, frye, and the theory of tragedy, by leon golden Document Transcript

    • University of OregonAristotle, Frye, and the Theory of TragedyAuthor(s): Leon GoldenReviewed work(s):Source: Comparative Literature, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Winter, 1975), pp. 47-58Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the University of OregonStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1769727 .Accessed: 23/09/2012 12:17Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.. University of Oregon and Duke University Press are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Comparative Literature.http://www.jstor.org
    • LEON GOLDEN Aristotle, Frye, And the Theory of TragedyN ORTHROP FRYE has recognized a basic kinship between his Anatomy of Criticism and Aristotles Poetics. After noting with regret the parochialismof many contemporarycritics, he warmly alludesto Aristotles conception of a "totally intelligible structure of knowledgeattainable about poetry which is not poetry itself, or the experience of it,but poetics." This conception, reflected concisely in the opening linesof the Poetics, becomes the program of the Anatomy. Frye, however,aspires to improve on his model by making use of all the relevant doc-trines and techniques of criticism developed since Aristotle wrote. Tragedy is the central theme of the Poetics and a subject of majorimportancein the Anatomy as well. In comparing the two approachestothis genre we are struck by their wide divergence in method and con-clusions. Clearly both Aristotle and Frye make profound contributionsto our understanding of tragedy but neither succeeds in providing adefinitive statement that clarifies the nature of the genre as it hasemerged and developed in the western literary tradition. I propose inthis paper to assess our current understanding of the nature of tragedybased on the contributions made by Aristotle and Frye and then to sug-gest a method by which these important theoretical statements can beharmonized to lead us to a fuller understanding of the potentialities andboundaries of the genre. The major tenets of Aristotles theory of tragedy are well known. Isummarize them here for later comparison with Frye. For Aristotletragedy is an imitation (mimesis) of actions involving the pitiable andfearful dimensions of human existence. This form of imitation repre- 1 Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J., 1957), p. 14. 47
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATURE sents a noble (spoudaios) hero as its object; it uses artistically enhanced language as its means; and its manner of presentation is dramatic rather than narrative. The representation of pity (the feeling we have toward the undeserved misfortune of others) and fear (the same feeling when directed at our own vulnerability to such misfortune) requires that the tragic hero fall from happiness to misery because of some intellectual, not moral, error (hamartia). The effectiveness of any given tragedy is dependent upon its possessing a plot that is complete, is of the proper magnitude, and is developed in accordance with the laws of necessity and probability.The ultimate goal and essential pleasure associated withtragis mimesis is catharsis. Catharsis, a much disputed term, has been interpreted in four principal ways: (1) as a form of medical purgation in which the pathological elements of pity and fear are purged from the spectator; (2) as a form of moral purification in which the spectatorachieves the proper mean between excess and deficiency in experiencingpity and fear; (3) as a structuralprocess by which the tragic deed of thehero is, in the course of the play, purified of its moral pollution; and (4)as the process of intellectual clarificationby which the spectator comes tounderstand, under a universal heading, the nature of the particularpitiable and fearful events that have been depicted.2 The ultimate thrust of the Aristotelian theory of tragedy will, ofcourse, depend on which interpretation of catharsis we accept but thebasic nature of Aristotles approach to tragedy is clear even without afinal decision about this important term. Aristotles goal is to set forththe conditions under which the essential tragic effect and pleasure will bemost fully achieved. His definition of tragedy is thus a prescription forthe creation of an ideal work of art rather than a general statementapplicable to all works traditionally included within the limits of thegenre. Most of the plays cited for one reason or another in the Poeticscannot be dealt with effectively in terms of the definition of tragedy setforth in Chapter VI and few of the tragedies written since Aristotlestime will fit snugly within the confines of that definition. Recognizingthat Aristotles definition of tragedy is a statement of the ideal conditions 2 For a discussion of the various theories of catharsis see the following: J.Bernays, Zwei Abhandlungen iiber die aristotelische Theorie des Dramas (Berlin,1880); I. Bywater, Aristotle on the Art of Poetry (Oxford, 1909), p. 160; G. F.Else, Aristotles Poetics: The Argument (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 221-32,436-44; Leon Golden, "Catharsis," Transactions of the American PhilologicalAssociation, 93 (1962), 51-60 and "Mimesis and Katharsis," Classical Philology,64 (1969), 145-53; D. W. Lucas, Aristotle; Poetics: Introduction, Commentary,and Appendixes (Oxford, 1968), pp. 282-86; H. Otte, Neue Beitriige zur aristo-telischen Begriffsbestimmung der Tragidie (Berlin, 1928), p. 10; Kurt von Fritz,Antike und moderne Tragidie (Berlin, 1962), p. xxvi.48
    • ARISTOTLE AND FRYEfor the fulfillment of the tragic form prepares us for understandingFryes widely divergent approach. Frye identifies five modes and six phases of tragedy at differentstages of his argument but he does not treat these in any systematic form.The modes do relate to a development downward from stories aboutheroes who are superior in kind to other men and their environment tostories about heroes who are inferior in degree both to other men and totheir environment. Frye identifies salient features characteristic of eachlevel of development from the Dionysiac to the elegiac, high mimetic,low mimetic, and ironic modes. Pity and fear (not necessarily in theAristotelian sense), hamartia (without moral coloring), and catharsis(in the sense of purgation) are attributed to some of the modes but theydo not form a system of central, unifying ideas that establishes theessential meaning of the concept of tragedy. The six phases of tragedyrepresent a development from the heroic to the ironic world view. Here,too, however we do not have so much a systematic theory as a citationand analysis of particularexamples. Frye does assert that two commonlyheld "reductive formulas" for tragedy are partially but not completelyvalid: (1) that tragedy exhibits the omnipotence of an external fateand (2) that the tragic process is primarily a violation of moral law.Frye cites a number of examples which clash with these formulas. We see that Frye, unlike Aristotle, is concerned with establishing acritical position that will be relevant to the tremendous variety of workstraditionally included within the genre of tragedy. His discussion of fivemodes and six phases recognizes the full range of manifestations tragedyhas taken in its historical development. Unfortunately, Fryes analysisremains mostly on the level of a perceptive description of the salientfeatures of each mode and phase and does not establish a systematicargument that would demonstrate the organic relationship among thesemodes and phases. The major Aristotelian concepts of pity and fear,hamartia, and catharsis are judged to occur in some dimensions of thetragic experience but not in others and Frye supplies no substitutionsfor them which would organize tragedy as a clearly unified territorywithin the wide landscape of artistic mimesis. The strength of Aristotles theory is that it identifies with precision acentral, perhaps the central theme of the genre; its weakness is that itfails to account for the great body of works which have historicallybeen designated as tragedies. Fryes approach to tragedy makes asignificant contribution toward overcoming this limitation but he, inturn, fails to provide us with a rigorous system of standards and criteriathrough which the boundaries of the genre can be fixed and its constitu-ent elements analyzed. It thus appears that a major contribution to the 49
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATUREtheory of tragedy could be made if it were possible to follow Frye in hisattempt to do justice to the entire range of tragedies without abandon-ing Aristotelian rigor in establishing the definition of the genre. Sucha compromise between the two approachesis not impossible; indeed, themechanism for attaining it is implicit in the Aristotelian system itself. Itis possible to isolate four parameters in the Aristotelian analysis oftragedy: (1) the moral stature of the hero: whether he is noble (spoudaios) or ignoble (phaulos); (2) the nature of the error (ha-martia) committed by the hero: whether it is intellectual or moral; (3)the destiny of the hero: whether he moves from happiness to misery orthe reverse; and (4) the response of the audience: whether pity and fearare evoked and subjected to the process of catharsis in any of its possibleinterpretations. When we apply these categories to the data provided by the historyof tragedy, we find four distinct patterns of tragic action. We shall nowanalyze these patterns in detail and suggest that, as a system, they repre-sent a rigorous approach to the phenomenon of tragedy that is fullyadequate to deal with the diverse elements historically united in thisgenre. We shall begin with the pattern of tragic action which Aristotlespecifically identifies as ideal in the Poetics and which, in my view, isrepresented in Greek tragedy only by the Oedipus Tyrannus. In thispattern a spoudaios hero, that is, one of moral nobility and integrity,makes an intellectual rather than a moral mistake (hamartia) whichtriggers a fall from happiness to misery and evokes the response of pityand fear from the audience. For Aristotle the evocation of pity andfear is the proper goal of tragedy and it is only by this pattern of tragicaction that the goal can be achieved. To see the reason for this we mustunderstandclearly the meaning of pity and fear for Aristotle. In ChapterXIII of the Poetics he defines these terms as follows: ".. . for pity isaroused by someone who undeservedly falls into misfortune, and fear isevoked by our recognizing that it is someone like ourselves who en-counters this misfortune (pity, as I say, arising for the former reason,fear for the latter)." Thus for Aristotle pity refers to our sympatheticresponse to the undeserved misfortune of someone else and fear indi-cates, narrowly and specifically, the anxiety we feel that such misfor-tune can befall those who have the same degree of intelligence and moralstature as ourselves. In order for the emotions of pity and fear to beevoked we must have a tragic hero of sufficient moral stature todeserve our respect and one with whom it is easy for us to identify.Moreover, this hero must commit a significant error (hamartia) or elsethe events of the drama would not be motivated and would not be linked50
    • ARISTOTLE AND FRYEby necessity and probability; nevertheless the error must be intellectualrather than moral or else the undeserved quality of the misfortune wouldbe destroyed and with it the necessary preconditions for the evocation ofpity and fear. The Oedipus Tyrannus offers a good example of this pattern of tragicaction.3 Oedipus is clearly spoudaios because he always strives to ac-complish morally justifiable goals: he flees from Corinth when it seemspossible that he might commit terrible crimes against those he assumesto be his parents; he exerts himself without limit in seeking to lift theplague from the people of Thebes; and, with total integrity, he bringsto light the truth about himself despite all efforts by others to preventhis terrible moment of self-discovery. Some critics have seen Oedipusrashness and quickness to anger as signs of a moral flaw in his character.They have failed to notice that such episodes occur when Oedipus lifeis in danger or when a citizen of great reputation and authority appearsto be withholding significant information that is necessary for the safetyof the state. Oedipus very human response in these situations is not hisflaw; rather, his essential hamartia is his failure to understand the truerelationship between his own, finite human existence and the infinitelypowerful and mysterious nature of Apollo. Oedipus attempt to avoidcommitting incest and parricide and his efforts to free Thebes from itssuffering are the very virtues out of which his profound misunder-standing of Apollo arises. In the Oedipus Tyrannus we observe theevocation of both pity and fear because we are led to respect the moralstature of the hero, to understand and pardon the intellectual mistakewhich triggers his downfall, and to recognize ourselves as vulnerable tothe same fate. The second pattern of tragic action is observed in those situationswhere pity alone is evoked without any concomitant fear in the technicalAristotelian senses of those terms. In this pattern the hero is no longerfully spoudaios but has only a hint of this quality and the mistake hemakes is essentially a moral one. The fall from happiness to miseryoccurs with the same intensity as in the first pattern. Works that illus-trate the second pattern of tragic action must have a hero who at leastaspires to act in accordance with moral virtue but is too weak to resistthe external pressures that drive him to commit a debased or criminalact. The fact that the hero did not initially will his act but succumbed toexternal pressure makes it possible for us to feel some measure of 3 The view presented here of Oedipus as a noble hero is widely held today. See,for example, the perceptive discussion by Bernard Knox, Oedipus at Thebes (NewHaven, Conn., 1957), pp. 194-96. An eloquent refutation of those who still wishto fix moral blame on Oedipus is provided by Kurt von Fritz, Antike und moderneTragidie (Berlin, 1962), pp. 7-8. 51
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATUREsympathy and anguish for an undeserved element in his fate. The moral-ly debased quality of his actions, however, interferes with the recogni-tion of our own vulnerability to a similar destiny and thus frustratesthe evocation of Aristotelian "fear." Euripides Medea is a clear example.4 Medea tells us how totally shehad devoted herself to Jasons interests when he cunningly won heraffection as part of his strategy for obtaining the golden fleece. Shecommitted heinous crimes and cut all ties to her home and country toserve his needs. Her anger at her betrayal by the always pragmaticJason drives her to seek revenge against him. She discovers the appro-priate means in a plan that requires her to murder her own childrenbecause only in this way can she hurt Jason as much as he has hurt her.From the moment she adopts the plan to the moment she completes it,we see Medea in an anguished and ambivalent state of mind toward thechildren. In feigning compliance with Jasons recommendations for herfuture life, she is brought to the verge of tears when she mentions thechildren to him and thinks of the terrible destiny she has designed forthem. Her torment is intensified when she learns that Creons daughterhas accepted the fatal gifts from her children for now she knows thatthere can be no turning back from her decision. She agonizingly vacil-lates before taking the final, irrevocable step toward killing them as shesees how much they mean to her and how much she will suffer aftershe has murdered them. Nevertheless, the injury Jason has done to herpride threatens her existence so seriously that it must be redressed atany cost. In a poignant soliloquy, marked by passages of deep maternallove and flashes of angry indignation, Medea sees clearly that an evilpassion for revenge will dominate all her rational misgivings about theact she is going to perform. It is possible to censure Medea for herinability to control her passions and her refusal to place the childrensinterests above her own but it is also clear that her fury is not willed byher but caused by Jasons callous treatment. Medea herself clearly iscapable of the most intense love and loyalty as well as the most violentanger and vengeance. Because Medea realizes that the murder of her children is an evil andirrational act she cannot be a spoudaios hero like Oedipus in the OedipusTyrannus. We can, however, still pity her fate as not being fully de-served because she did not hate her children or desire to harm them. Sheacted in response to the pressure exerted by Jasons cruel and cynicalabandonmentand committed an act she did not will and struggled hardnot to perform. Aristotelian "fear"is largely absent here, however, since 4 An excellent insight into Medeasmood and characteris given by D. J. Cona-cher, EuripideanDrama: Myth, Theme and Structure (Toronto, 1967), p. 196..52
    • ARISTOTLE AND FRYEvery few of us can imagine making the same decision as Medea underany sort of external duress. Thus the second pattern of tragic actionshows some palpable differences from the pattern identified as ideal byAristotle. The spoudaios quality of the hero is greatly diminished, hecommits a serious moral error rather than simply an intellectual one,and he falls from happiness to misery in such a way as to elicit only pity,not fear, in the technical Aristotelian senses of those terms. The third pattern of tragic action involves the complete obliterationof pity and fear. In it a depraved rather than spoudaios hero commitsthe gravest moral errors and moves, because or in spite of them, notfrom happiness to misery but from misery to happiness. In this type oftragedy a profound flaw is usually uncovered in the order and govern-ance of the universe. Euripides Orestes offers an excellent example of this type oftragedy.5Although the entire play is permeatedwith absurdist elements,a discussion of the ending will be sufficient for our present purposes.Orestes and Electra, having been betrayed by Menelaus, find themselvesfacing a death sentence in Argos. With their friend Pylades they plot totake appropriate vengeance on Menelaus by killing Menelaus wife,Helen, before their own death sentence can be carried out. In addition,Electra urges that they seize Helens daughter, Hermione, as a hostage.She notes that if Menelaus wants to take vengeance for Helens death,they need only to threaten to cut Hermiones throat and Menelaus, whois a coward, will think better of it and allow them to escape. The plan isenthusiastically agreed upon, and Pylades and Orestes enter the palaceto take their joyous revenge on Helen who is murderously attackedwhile Electra shouts encouragement from in front of the palace. The grim absurdity of human existence pictured in this play is under-scored when Hermione appears and, taken in by Electras cunning,agrees with kindly human decency to intercede for Orestes and Electrawith Helen. When Hermione has been seized, Electra is proud of this"heroic" action which will teach Menelaus to respect his formidableadversaries. In place of the awesome confrontations found in Homer,Aeschylus, and Sophocles we have here a competition in cunning, deceit,and cowardice which emphasizes the absurdity of the human condition.Before, however, the murder of Helen can be consummated, we are toldby a servant that she has mysteriously disappearedinto the sky. The climax of the play brings Menelaus onto the.scene to discover thefate of Helen and take vengeance on those who may have harmed her. 5 Significant assistance in understanding this unusual play is given by Kurt vonFritz, op cit., pp. 312-16 and by William Arrowsmith in the introduction to histranslation of this play in The Complete Greek Tragedies, ed. D. Grene and R.Lattimore, Vol. IV (Chicago, 1958), 186-91. 53
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATUREIn a sardonic debate Orestes regrets that Helen disappeared before hecould kill her, and Menelaus, who believes that Orestes actually hasmurdered his wife, threatens vengeance if he attempts to enhance hisreputation as a matricide by the additional slaughter of Hermione.Orestes trades insults with Menelaus as he holds his sword to Her-miones throat and orders Pylades and Electra to set the palace afire. Atthis moment the greatest absurdity of all takes place as Apollo appearsin the role of deus ex machina and suddenly reverses the action of theplay. He announces that he has transported Helen to live in the heavensfor ever, that Menelaus is to remarry, that Orestes is to take his swordaway from Hermiones throat and marry her instead, and that Pyladesand Electra are also to be married. Orestes welcomes and obeys theinjunctions of Apollo but notes a threatening and fearful quality in thegods voice. So this "tragedy" comes to an end. In this pattern of tragic action pity and fear are destroyed since thenecessary conditions for them are not present. In order to have pity andfear we need a spoudaios hero who makes an intellectual (not moral)error which triggers but does not fully cause his fall from happiness tomisery. In the Orestes instead of a spoudaios hero we have a morallydepraved one who moves from misery to happiness under divine sanc-tion in a way that defies both reason and justice. We respond to thisrevelation of profound irrationality in the universe not with pity andfear but rather with emotional shock, mirthless laughter, and a senseof spiritual desolation over the mockery and meaninglessness of humanexistence. The fourth pattern of tragic action stands in polar opposition to thethird. Instead of pity and fear being obliterated by an explosion ofcosmic evil they are transcended by an impressive manifestation ofdivine love for man. A clear example of this rather unusual dimensionof tragedy is found in Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus.6 The Oedipus of the Oedipus at Colonus has undergone the purifyingfire of suffering and, though not purged of his human passions, hasattained a deeper understanding of the human condition. He clearlyperceives that he has been punished far too severely for any crime he hascommitted, that he has been betrayed and manipulated by his sons andCreon, and that he has benefitedfrom the love and kindness of Antigone,Ismene, and Theseus. As in the Oedipus Tyrannus, divine purpose isan ever-present controlling factor, but in this play it changes from apainfully mysterious force to a benign and affirmativeone. The action of the Oedipus at Colonus provides several dramatic 6 A good discussionof the characterof Oedipusas it is developedin this play isfound in CedricWhitman,Sophocles: A Study of Heroic Humanism (Cambridge,Mass., 1951), p. 214.54
    • ARISTOTLE AND FRYEoccasions for revealing the aspects of Oedipus character and destinywhich determine the plays specific tragic form. Oedipus essential inno-cence is expressed in his argument with Creon when the latter cruellyattempts to take him back to Thebes against his will. Oedipus declaresthat no evil or sin within himself drove him to commit the terrible deedswhose source lay in a fearful ignorance over which he had no control. Hewould not willingly or knowingly have married Jocasta, nor would hewillingly and knowingly have slain his father, but when attacked byapparent strangers, in a desolate area, he defended his own life and hepoignantly calls upon his dead fathers spirit to bear witness for him.Most important, however, is the manifestation of the benign interestwhich the gods now take in Oedipus. In the climactic scene of the playthe blind Oedipus is suddenly given mysterious powers and guides hissighted companions to a sacred place where a divine voice summons himto his ultimate destiny and reward. Mystically, the heavens open andreceive Oedipus who at the end of a troubled life is the recipient of infi-nite divine grace. Divine intervention has raised Oedipus above the human condition.As a result of that intervention he makes no mistake that leads him fromhappiness to misery but is instead led by divine grace from suffering tosupreme happiness. His stature is now far above our own and since wecannot view him as someone like ourselves who has incurred undeservedmisfortune because of an intellectual error, we do not respond with theemotions of pity and fear, but must rather view his final triumph withawe. Thus the Oedipus at Colonus as a tragedy directly contradicts the experience we have of the Oedipus Tyrannus as a tragedy. In place of aspoudaios hero who makes an intellectual mistake, it offers us a divinelyprotected hero who makes no essential error; in place of a fall from hap- piness to misery, it describes the reverse movement from misery to happiness; in place of pity and fear, it evokes awe and wonder. We have now identified four patterns of tragic action and provided an example from Greek tragedy to illustrate each of them. Similar examples can be found in Shakespearean and modern tragedy.7 The 7 An analogous descending movement from high tragedy to pathetic tragedy toabsurd tragedy can be traced in Othello, Macbeth, and Richard III. In these playswe move from a spoudaios hero such as Othello (Iago himself refers to the Moors"noble nature"), to one like Macbeth who is pressed by an external force to commita crime he would not undertake by himself, to one, finally, like Richard III who isutterly depraved and rejoices in the evil he accomplishes. For a discussion ofOthellos character see A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1929),pp. 189-91. Bradley also provides us with a perceptive analysis of the charactersof Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, op. cit., pp. 351 ff. A good discussion of the impactof Richard III is provided by H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Tragedy (Cambridge,1952), p. 39. It should be noted that because of the death of Richard this play doesnot attain to the consummate absurdity of the Orestes. I know of no Shakespearean 55
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATUREfirst form of tragedy we shall call high tragedy: it is the form specificallydefined by Aristotle in the Poetics and involves a spoudaios hero whomakes an intellectual mistake and whose fall from happiness to miseryevokes from the audience the emotions of pity and fear (in the technicalAristotelian senses of those terms). The second form we shall callpathetic tragedy: it portrays a hero who is not fully spoudaios but whomanifests at least a trace or hint of nobility and who, under the pressureof some external force, makes both moral and intellectual errors thatlead to his downfall from happiness to misery. The fate of the hero ofpathetic tragedy evokes only pity, not fear, from the audience. The thirdform we shall call absurd tragedy: it depicts a depraved or ignoble herowho commits a combination of moral and intelectual errors that areterrifyingly complemented by grim flaws in the universe itself. In itsextreme form, this type of tragedy presents its depraved or ignoble heroas moving triumphantly from misery to happiness although a numberof works stop just short of this radicalmanifestation of cosmic absurdity.Instead of evoking pity and fear, absurd tragedy obliterates those emo-tions by creating a mood of spiritual desolation and a sense of the mean-inglessness and mockery of human existence. The fourth form of trag-edy we shall call heroic tragedy: it presents a hero who is superior toordinary standards of human nobility because he has been granteddivine interest and protection. The hero commits no essential error,moves from misery or relative misery to supreme happiness, and evokesawe from the audience. Absurd tragedy destroys pity and fear; heroictragedy completely transcends them. The analysis of tragedy given above is based on an extrapolation fromthe criteria set down by Aristotle in the Poetics. We have noted thatAristotles specific and literal discussion of tragedy centers on the idealconditions for the evocation of pity and fear which are seen to be thetruly tragic emotions. Aristotles concern with these ideal conditionsis reflected in his famous definition of tragedy which applies fully to onlya small number of works. The history of tragedy provides us with manymore examples of pathetic tragedy than of Aristotelian high tragedy.The attempt to make a literal application of Aristotles definition totragedy, in general, results in a distortion either of the definition or ofempirical reality. The expansion of the Aristotelian system provided inour analysis overcomes the narrowness inherent in the original defini-drama that fits easily within the boundaries of what we have called heroic tragedybut this concept precisely fits works which we today designate as "Christian trag-edy." For discussions of Christian tragedy which will illuminate its articulationwith the pattern of tragic action we have called heroic see Karl Jaspers, TragedyIs Not Enough, trans. H. A. T. Reiche, H. T. Moore, and K. W. Deutsch (Boston,1952), pp. 28-87, and Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the ChristianInterpretation of History (New York, 1965), pp. 155-69.56
    • ARISTOTLE AND FRYE tion and makes the Aristotelian approach truly viable in terms of thehistory of tragedy. Frye does attempt to deal with the greatly varied forms which tragedyhas manifested throughout its historical development, but he does notprovide firm and specific criteria by which the related forms of tragedycan be compared and analyzed. Thus in his discussion of the five modesof tragedy we learn that there is a Dionysiac mode that deals with"stories of dying gods"; an elegiac mode that "presents a heroism un-spoiled by irony"; a high mimetic mode which "mingles the heroic withthe ironic" and in which "pity and fear become, respectively, favorableand adverse moral judgment, which are relevant to tragedy but notcentral to it"; a low mimetic mode in which "pity and fear are neitherpurged nor absorbed into pleasures, but are communicated externally,as sensation" and whose root idea "is the exclusion of an individual onour own level from a social group to which he is trying to belong": andan ironic mode in which pity and fear are not "raised" but rather "re-flected" to the reader and which represents "simply the study of tragicisolation as such" inasmuch as its tragic hero "does not necessarily haveany tragic hamartiaor pathetic obsession: he is only somebody who getsisolated from his society."8 I find a similar problem in Fryes subsequent discussion of six phasesof tragedy. His first phase is one "in which the central character isgiven the greatest possible dignity in contrast to the other characters,so that we get the perspective of a stag pulled down by wolves"; hissecond phase "is in one way or another the tragedy of innocence in thesense of inexperience, usually involving young people"; his third phaseis one "in which a strong emphasis is thrown on the success or com-pleteness of the heros achievement"; his fourth phase involves "thetypical fall of the hero through hybris and hamartia"; his fifth phase isan ironic perspective of tragedy which "presents for the most part thetragedy of lost direction and lack of knowledge, not unlike the secondphase except that the context is the world of adult experience";his sixth plhaserepresents "a world of shock and horror in which thecentral images are images of sparagmos, that is, cannibalism, mutilation,and torture."9 Fryes discussion of tragedy thus provides some perceptive descrip-tive statements about possible kinds of tragic experience but it does notprovide us with firm and objective criteria by which the various modesand phases of tragedy can be compared and understood. In place of Aristotles rigorous but very narrow prescription for the 8 Frye, pp. 35-43. 9 Frye, pp.219-23. 57
    • COMPARATIVE LITERATUREattainment of the ideal form of tragedy and Fryes comprehensive buttoo subjective description of the varieties of tragic experience, we havepresented a system of analysis rooted in an expansion of, and extrapola-tion from, the objective criteria utilized by Aristotle in the Poetics. Thissystem provides a means of making an objective analysis and compari-son of all the various patterns of tragedy and of observing the unity thatunderlies their diversity. Florida State University58