Riddle of the SphinxRiddle of the Sphinx
Aristotle on Oedipus
Tragedy is theTragedy is the
Representation of anRepresentation of an
The Objects the imitator represents are actions, with agents who are necessarily either
good men or bad—the diversities of human character being nearly always derivative from
this primary distinction, since the line between virtue and vice is one dividing the whole of
mankind. It follows, therefore, that the agents represented must be either above our own
level of goodness, or beneath it, or just such as we are; in the same way as, with the
painters, the personages of Polygnotus are better than we are, those of Pauson worse, and
those of Dionysius just like ourselves. This is a difference that distinguishes Tragedy and
Comedy also; the one would make its personages worse, and the other better, than the
men of the present day.
Wearing a Dress
Simile of the Line
Plato’s Simile of the Line
What about Cause and Effect?
Aristotle’s Four Causes
Character is that which reveals choice, shows what sort of
thing a man chooses or avoids in circumstances where the
choice is not obvious, so those speeches convey no
character in which there is nothing whatever which the
speaker chooses or avoids.
Thought & Character
Action Reveals Character
In respect of Character there are four things to be aimed at. First, and most important, it
must be good. Now any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be
expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good. This rule is
relative to each class. ... The second thing to aim at is propriety. There is a type of manly
valor … unscrupulous cleverness is inappropriate. Thirdly, character must be true to life:
for this is a distinct thing from goodness and propriety, as here described. The fourth point
is consistency: for though the subject of the imitation, who suggested the type, be
inconsistent, still he must be consistently inconsistent.
What we have said already makes it further clear that a poet's object is not to tell what
actually happened but what could and would happen either probably or inevitably. The
difference between a historian and a poet is not that one writes in prose and the other in
verse—indeed the writings of Herodotus could be put into verse and yet would still be a
kind of history, whether written in metre or not. The real difference is this, that one tells
what happened and the other what might happen. For this reason poetry is something
more scientific and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths
while history gives particular facts.
By "plot" I mean here the arrangement of the incidents:
"character" is that which determines the quality of the agents,
and "thought" appears wherever in the dialogue they put forward
an argument or deliver an opinion.
The most important of these is the arrangement of the incidents, for tragedy is not a
representation of men but of a piece of action, of life, of happiness and unhappiness,
which come under the head of action, and the end aimed at is the representation not of
qualities of character but of some action; and while character makes men what they are,
it's their actions and experiences that make them happy or the opposite. They do not
therefore act to represent character, but character-study is included for the sake of the
action. It follows that the incidents and the plot are the end at which tragedy aims, and in
everything the end aimed at is of prime importance. Moreover, you could not have a
tragedy without action, but you can have one with out character-study.
Clearly the story must be constructed as in tragedy,
dramatically, round a single piece of action, whole and
complete in itself, with a beginning, middle and end, so
that like a single living organism it may produce its own
peculiar form of pleasure.
Which virtues are depicted?
Which virtues are depicted?
In two sentences, select a feature
from Dumbo that most
exemplifies Aristotle’s theory and
state how it does so. In two more
sentences, select a feature from
Dumbo that most refutes
Aristotle’s theory and state how it
does so. Use direct quotes from
Aristotle. Keep it pithy, extra
sentences may detract from your