Pity, fear, and catharsis in aristotles poetics, by charles b. daniels and sam scully
Pity, Fear, and Catharsis in Aristotles PoeticsAuthor(s): Charles B. Daniels and Sam ScullyReviewed work(s):Source: Noûs, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1992), pp. 204-217Published by: Wiley-BlackwellStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2215735 .Accessed: 23/09/2012 12:18Your 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 email@example.com.. Wiley-Blackwell is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Noûs.http://www.jstor.org
Pity, Fear, and Catharsisin AristotlesPoetics CHARLES DANIELS B. SAM SCULLY Universityof Victoria 1. IntroductionIn defining dramatic tragedy Aristotle appeals in part to the psychologicalnotions of pity, fear, and catharsis.The question to be addressedin this paperiswhether in Aristotles analysis the productionof pity, fear, and a catharsis ofthese emotions in audiences-readers, auditors, or viewers-is essential toworks of dramatic tragedy, or at least good works of dramatic tragedy. Wefollow Else 1956, 1986 in hold thatit is not. Topics concerning pity, fear, and especially catharsis are some of the mostfrequentlydiscussed in the literatureon Aristotles analysis of tragedy.But veryrarely in this literatureis it stated in so many words that the above question isthe one under discussion. Fortenbaugh 1975 and Randall 1960 definitely docome down on the opposite side, interpretingAristotle as holding that the pro-duction of these psychological effects by a dramatic work is essential to itsbeing at least a good tragedy. Many many commentators,among them Brunius1966, Butcher 1895 (Ch. VI, especially p. 244), Fergusson 1961 (pp. 34-36),Halliwell 1986, 1987 (especially p. 91), and Ross 1953 (pp. 287-289), while notexplicitly saying so, give a strong impression that they too subscribe to thisview. After all, for Aristotle the aim of dramatictragedy is to effect a catharsisof the emotions of pity and fear; hence it seems naturalto conclude that thedegree to which this is accomplished is the measure of the quality of a work.Unfortunately,it is almost never crystal clear that this is indeed the topic underdiscussion, rather than some other involving pity, fear, and catharsis-forexample, what feelings of pity, fear, and catharsis are, or what elements intragedies produce them. Of course, tragedies do attract and move audiences.They do have psychological effects. Audience reactions to plays are taken asevidence of their quality. But whethertheaterworks have to have such effects tobe tragedies,or good ones, is a differentissue. Nonetheless it is our impression,NOUS 26:2 (1992) 204-217 204
IN PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES POETICS 205and Elses 1986 (p. 159) as well, that most interpretations Aristotle hold him ofto require that some kind of pity, fear, and catharsisbe producedin audiences.Owing to the fact that most of these interpretations not address themselves doexplicitly to the question we propose to answer in this paper,there is some riskof errorin taking most Aristotle commentatorsto be putting forwardthe posi-tion we oppose. But the overall impression is so strong that we have no hesita-tion in calling this view the "common"interpretation. As an analysis of tragedythe common interpretation unsatisfactory. is no is Itsecret that peoples emotional reactions to the events they witness or hear ofdepend upon the emotional states they are in at the time. If Aristotle really didbelieve certainemotional responses in audiences to be necessary for tragedy,orfor good tragedy, he would have devoted at least some pages to the need forpreparingpeople so that exposure to dramatictragedy would actually work toarouse the correct emotions. This Aristotle does not do. Instead, his primaryconcern seems to be to describe what is and is not, and what should and shouldnot be, containedwithinworks of dramatictragedy.This in itself should give rise isto suspicionsthatthe common interpretation flawed. A second difficulty is epistemological: We can often tell a thing to havecertainfeatures merely by inspecting it. For example, we can tell that a man isdoubledover merely by inspectinghim. For otherkinds of features,however, wemust go beyond a mere inspectionof the thing possessing them to ascertainthatit does possess them. No mere inspectionof a man will reveal whetheror not heis an uncle. Now on the common interpretation Aristotle, we cannot tell a text or per- offormanceto be a tragedy,or a good tragedy,just by inspectingit. No, if we takeAristotle seriously and wish to be scrupulousin our judgmentsconcerningdra-matic works, in additionto inspectingthe works text, story, or performance, wemust also undertakea psychological study of the members of its audience toassure ourselves that the pity, fear, and catharsis have indeed been producedbefore we may really be secure in judging it to be a tragedy,or a good one. Thisis counterintuitive. It may be objected that the effects on audiences,or lack thereof, are taken tobe signs of their success or failure. This is true, of course. But the issue here iswhether a productionhas to produce psychological effects on audiences to begood. I may judge a man to be an uncle by listening to what he says about hisfamily. But nothinghe says makeshim an uncle. Audiences who pay and volun-tarily turn up to view performancesmay well be in the right frames of mind torecognize the quality of a work of theaterand be moved by it. They may enterinto the work and have feelings appropriate what is going on on stage. But the tofact that what is being performedon stage is a good tragedy being performedwell is certainlyno guaranteeeffects like these will ensue. Finally, Aristotlementionsthe pleasuremen take in such "imitations", in i.e.,make-believe.1Yet if these works were known to producereal pity and fear, itwould seem that only masochists would voluntarilyview them. To seek to have
206 NOUSthe negative emotions of pity and fear so one can then have a catharsisand befree of them is like knocking ones head against the wall in order to have thesubsequentrelief of ceasing to do so. The common interpretation confuses plea-sure with relief. In this essay we plan to offer an interpretation Aristotle which is not ofsubjectto these defects and to squareit, so far as possible, with Aristotles text.We confess in advance that we cannot, by textual citation, prove ours to be thecorrectinterpretation the text and the common one to be incorrect.But theres ofno question that, as philosophy,our interpretation does not suffer from the grossflaws of the popularreading. So if Aristotle was indeed a good philosopher,hecant have meant what hes commonly taken to be saying. He may have meantwhat we take him to be saying. Its hard, if not impossible now, to know whatAristotles views really were. We shall rest content if nothing shows our inter-pretationto be grossly untrueto his text and what it might possibly mean. Not only will be present an interpretation, we will check it passage by butpassage against Aristotles text.2 Of the co-authorsSam Scully has producedatranslation that is as flat and interpretation-neutral possible, and Charles asDaniels is responsible for the reading of it which avoids the difficulties justmentioned. 2. What Tragedy IsWe startby noting that for Aristotle a tragedy is an imitation of an action. Anaction is a series of events. An imitationof an action is a make-believe series ofevents. Unlike what tennis players do on court, what actors do on stage issymbolic. What the actor on stage does thrustingthroughthe curtain with hissword represents Hamlet thrusting through the curtain with his sword. ThatHamlet thruststhroughthe curtainis a make-believe event, and what the actordoes on stage representsthis make-believeevent. Now some real-life series of events do typically produce pity and fear inwitnesses and end by giving them a sense that things have been appropriately orfittingly (although not perhaps happily) resolved. One way a philosopher canexplain what make-believe events he has in mind as suitable for tragedy is bydescribing real series of events like them. This is what we take Aristotle to bedoing at many points in his text, for instance, at the beginning of section 10,where he says: Someplotsare"simple" some"complex", indeed actions and for the represented by the plots are naturally such types. By a "simple" of actionI mean one that is continuous and single, as earlierdefined,and whose changeof fortuneoccurs without"reversal" "discovery"; a "complex" or by actionI meanone whosechange involvesa "discovery" "reversal" both.3 or orPlots are simple or complex because the imitationactions in them are. These arebecausereal-life actions can also be divided into simple and complex.
PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES IN POETICS 207 Aristotles writing often operates at four removes from the dramaticcontext itself. This distance results from two antitheses:(i) reality vs. make-believe and (ii) emotional characterizationof feelings vs. emotional characterizationof actions, incidents,or events. The first antithesisis, of course, explicit in the pas- sage just cited. In many places in the text the second, we hold, is equally andimportantlythere, but implicit. Earlier we remarkedthat Aristotle spends nopages discussinghow to preparepeople so thatexposureto dramatictragedywillactually work to arousethe correctemotions in them. Whathe does insteadis todescribe the kinds of actions, incidents, or events that should and should not becontained within works of dramatictragedy. This we take as evidence of animplicit recognitionby Aristotleof the second antithesis.While he does say thatcertainactions arousecertainemotions and othersdont, we take him in doing soto be interestedin conveying to his readerinformationaboutthe kinds of actions,incidents,or events he is discussing,not the effects they have. (1) Make-believe and real-life actions. In explaining what kinds of actions,incidents, or events occur in works of drama,fiction, and make-believe, we arenot limited to the fields of drama,fiction, and make-believe. We can say thatevents in a play or novel are like things that happen in real-life. We can drawupon this similarityin our explanation.We cite familiar sorts of real-life eventsand expect hearersto be able to recognize the same kinds of events when theyoccur in drama,fiction, and make-believe. (2) Make-believe and real-life emotional responses. While the same sort ofevent can occur in both real-life and make-believe, we do not expect the make-believe event to have the same typical effects or consequences in real-life thatthe real-life event has in real-life. Spectatorsmay well try to stop a real-lifedeath,but will not be moved to action at all when Hamletpierces the curtainandbehind it Polonius. Movie-goers may cringe when the monster lurches towardsthem on the screen, but they do not run screamingout of the theaterto call in thepolice for protection. This Aristotlerecognizes explicitly in the first paragraph Section 4: of Speaking generally, poetry seems to owe its origin to two particularcauses, and these are natural. From childhood men have a natural instinct to engage in representation,and in this respect they differ from the other animals, that man is thoroughlyimitative and learns his first lessons by representingthings. And natural is the enjoyment all people get from representation. What happens in actual experience proves this, for we enjoy looking at the most accurate likenesses of things which are themselves painful for us to see, the appearance of the lowest beasts,for instance, and of corpses [our emphasis].Things that in reality evoke unpleasantemotions, in imitation or make-believeneed not do so, but instead may evoke pleasure.Indeed, we take Aristotle to beholding this throughout Poetics with respect to the negative emotions of pity theand fear.
208 NOUS Just as childrenget involved in make-believe, so, we believe, do adults whenthey watch the make-believe being represented in theatrical performances.Childrenride aroundon broomstickhorses, but adults involvement is typicallymore sedentary.Adults are content to be in frontof the tube or seated in theaterswith merely spectatorsinvolvementin the make-believe.As such they, like theirmore active children,may feel the appropriate make-believeemotions, the sametypes of emotions in make-believe as they would feel genuinely if they believedthemselves to be witnessingreal-life events. Indeed,to make audiencesenterintothe make-believe and feel appropriatemake-believe emotions is an under-standable,sensible, and worthwhilegoal for playwrightsto aim at. But from thisit in no way follows thatfulfillmentof this goal is essential to success in creatingtragedies, or good ones. Too much depends upon the kinds of audiences fatehappensto attractto performances particular on nights. (3) Typical emotional effects. In explaining what kind of events we have inmind, we may cite the effects on witnesses real-life events of this kind typicallyhave. Some events typically produceamusement,some hilarity,some pity, somefear. Whetheror not these emotions are produceddependsnot only on the natureof the events themselves, but on the witnesses. People fresh from a loved-onesfuneralare not likely to be uncontrollably amusedby events that othersmay findhilarious. (4) Emotional characterizationof actions, events, incidents,etc. That certainkinds of real-life events typically produce hilarity is registered in our callingthem hilarious events. Indeed, the careworn or mourning may agree that theevents are hilariouseven when not feeling the slightest twinge of amusement.Areal-life incidentmay be fearful and pitiable, and yet its witnesses may be in themiddle of a drunkenrevel, too stupid to feel fear, too self-centeredto feel pity,or, like some doctors,too inuredto this kind of event to feel much of anything. Thus events or incidents may be amusing, hilarious,pitiable, or fearful. Thelabels "amusing","hilarious","pitiable",and "fearful"apply to the events andincidents, and it is not thereby implied that these events and incidents produceactualfeelings of amusement,hilarity,pity, or fear in any witness. Just as we cancharacterizean event as sudden or electric or pregnant,so too we can charac-terize an event in these ways. And others will understandwhat were talkingabout. We leave for someone else the task of analyzing, in general, the applica-tion of ". . . able", ". . . ious", and ". . . ful" adjectives to actions, situations,incidents,and events.4 Now the kind of actions, situations,incidents, and events we are concernedwith in dramatictragedy are those that, in rpal-life, are pitiable and fearful andprogressto afitting or appropriateresolution.We use the idea of afitting resolu-tion in the sense in which we judge whethera punishmentdoes or does not "fit"a crime. The notion of punishmentis appropriate here, since, as is broughtout inthe first quotationabove, a change of fortune (for the worse) is requiredfor atragedy,while neitherreversalsnor recognitionsare. A change of fortunefor the
POETICS 209 PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES INworse which is a morallyfitting or appropriate resolutionof a pitiableand fearfulsituationis the correlatein the sphereof events of effecting a catharsis,a resolu-tion, of pity and fear in the sphereof felt emotions. Let it be absolutely clear that we in no way deny that real-life or dramaticevents arouseemotions in witnesses. No doubtsabout it, they do. Ourconcernisto insist that whether they do or dont is not essential to tragedy, or goodtragedy-even on Aristotlesview. To summarize:Our minimal claim is that Aristotles definition of dramatictragedy implies neither (A) that works of tragedy produce real pity, fear, oremotional catharsisin their audiences, nor (B) that the actions and incidents inthem, were they to occur in real-life, would do so, nor yet (C) that works oftragedyproducemake-believepity, fear, and emotionalcatharsisin the audience,nor finally (D) that dramaticrepresentations such works produce such emo- oftions in audiences.Of course, tragediesmay incidentally,even typically, produceemotions in people, but on our interpretation Aristotle is not committedto theirhaving to do so. We also wish to make a further, stronger claim: that whatAristotle really wishes to do is to characterizethe kinds of actions and eventswhich are appropriate dramatictragedy;these arepitiable andfearful actions forand events whichpass tofitting or appropriateresolutions. What Aristotle often does to characterizethe kinds of events appropriate todramatictragedyis to characterize real-life kinds of events these imitate.He theoften does so by describing the kinds of responses such events give rise to inwitnesses in real-life. This style of conveying what one has in mind is likeindicatingthe number3,749,823 by saying "The topmost numberon the black-board".Being the topmost numberof the blackboardis in no way an essentialfeatureof 3,749,823, yet the numberto which one refersdoes get across to onesaudience. We take Aristotle to be making a similar kind of reference when hetalks about peoples feelings of pity and fear and catharses of these feelings.Laterin the book he characterizes dramaticevents of tragediesmore directly theby describingwhat kinds of thing happenin them, as opposed to what emotionaleffects their real-life counterparts normally have. We contend that in both thepre-analyticstage and laterin the detailedanalysis, his purposeis to characterizethe events appropriate dramatictragedyand not theireffects. for To repeat,then, our principalthesis is this: production emotional For Aristotle of or auditors, effectsin audiences-readers, tragedy, gooddramatic viewers-is notessential dramatic to or tragedy.Our strategywill be to paraphrase passages that seem to contradictthis thesis intwo ways: (1) by taking Aristotle to be talking about the typical effects of thereal-life counterparts the events and incidents of dramatictragedies,or (2) by ofusing the words "pitiable","fearful",and "capableof fitting resolution"to char-acterizethese events and incidentsdirectly.
210 NOUS clear In defining dramatictragedyin ?6 of the Poetics, Aristotleis remarkablyaboutwhat kinds of situationshe has in mind. Tragedy is, then, a representation an action that is serious and complete and of a of certain magnitude-by means of language made pleasing for each of the forms separatelyin the different parts [of the play]: it representsmen in action and does not use narrative,and throughpity and fear it effects a catharsisof such emotions.We take him to be saying in his definition: Tragedy is, then, a representation an action that is serious and complete and of a of certainmagnitude-by means of languageenrichedwith all kinds of ornament,each used separately in the different parts of the play: it representsmen in action and does not use narrative,and from things that happen to men that typically produce pity, fear, and kindredemotions it progressesto fitting resolutions.Or, very briefly: Tragedy is a make-believe play whose story is serious, complete, and ample and is aboutthe fitting resolutionof a pitiable and fearful situation.We note here that if a change of fortunefor the worse is necessary for tragedy,its presence in Aristotles definitionmust be keyed eitherto the "serious"qualityof the action, or to the catharsis,its having to progressto a fittingresolution. That the imitation actions being serious entails a change of fortune for theworse is doubtfulfor two reasons: (1) Aristotle characterizesthe actions of epicpoems as serious and it is not clear thatepic poetryrequiresan overall change forthe worse in the heros fortunes.(2) The characterization used by Aristotle in isthe beginning chapters to distinguish the actions of epics and tragedies fromthose of comedies. "Serious"is opposed to "ridiculous", "funny",or "ludicrous".As such thereis no reasonwhy the seriousneed involve a change for the worse. But in tragedies the heros fortune has to change for the worse, and thischange, given the heros circumstancesand actions duringthe course of the play,should be just, appropriate,fitting. Locating the catharsis in the emotions ofreaders,listeners,or spectatorsin no way ensuresthat a change of fortuneoccursin the plot. But if the catharsisis itself located in the plot in the form of a just,appropriate, fitting resolutionto pitiable and fearful incidents,the change of andfortunewill reside theretoo. 3. Section 13Aristotlesdiscussion of artisticexcellence in tragedycommences in Section 13. 13. Following upon what has been said above we should next state what ought to be aimed at and what avoided in the constructionof a plot, and the means by which the function of tragedy may be achieved. Since then the structureof the finest tragedy
POETICS 211 PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES IN shouldbe not simple but complex and one that represents fearfuland pitiful incidents-forthatis peculiar thisformof representation-it obvious,to begin to is with,thatgoodmenshouldnotbe shownpassing fromgoodfortune bad.Thisis to not fearfulor pitifulbut repulsive.Nor again wickedpeople passingfrom bad fortuneto good. That is the most untragic all, havingnone of the requisite of sinceit does not satisfyourfeelingsnorit is pitifulor fearful. again qualities, Nor the passingof a thoroughly man from good fortuneto bad fortune.Such a bad structuremightsatisfyourfeelingsbutit arouses neither norfear,theonebeing pity for the manwho does not deservehis misfortune the otherfor the manwho is and like ourselves-pityfor one whodoesnotdeserve misfortune, for themanlike fear ourselves-so thattheeventwill be neither pitifulnorfearful. which requiresA problem arises in this passage, even under the interpretationpity and fear to be producedin a tragedys audience. The passage rejects threekinds of situationas inappropriate tragedy.The difficultyconcernsthe first: for It is obviousto beginwiththatgoodmen shouldnot be shownpassingfromgood fortune bad.Thisis notfearful pitifulbutrepulsive. to orWhen this sort of thing occurs in real life, the typical response is moral outrageand revulsion.For "good men" the paragraph follows in the text allows us to thatread "menwho are pre-eminentlyvirtuousandjust". But why is it that the plight of a pre-eminentlyvirtuous and just man, whothroughno fault of his own-he is, after all, pre-eminentlyvirtuousand just-falls from good fortuneto bad is neitherpitiablenor fearful?After all, at the endof the paragraph Aristotle says: theone beingfor themanwhodoesnotdeserve misfortune theother the his and for manwho is like ourselves-pity for theone who does notdeservemisfortune, fear forthemanlikeourselves-so thattheeventwill be neitherpitifulnorfearful. A man pre-eminentlyvirtuous and just does not deserve misfortune so weshould have pity on him; and we should have fear, for if misfortunecan strikeman of such character ability,none of us is safe from the cruel handof fate. and The most drasticremedy would be to amendAristotles original definition oftragedy by requiringthat pity and fear be aroused, but not moral outrage andrevulsion. Aristotle is quite right, of course, in his observationthat the real-lifeplight of men of such characterwhom fate thrustsinto misfortunedoes typicallyshock and revolt us. We tend to view such happenings as not only pitiableand fearful, but as really unfair. This amendmentin the definition of tragedywould also call for an amendmentto the passage under discussion, which nowshould read: one shouldnot show good men passingfromgood fortune bad.Thatdoes not to arouse pity and merely andfearbutalsomoralindignation revulsion.
212 NOUSA more moderatesolution is available. The problem with this kind of situationmay lie not in that it is pitiableand fearful,but, given that our protagonistis pre-eminentlyvirtuousandjust, the pitiableand fearfulcircumstancesthatbefall himare incapable of generating the right kind of catharsis-a catharsis of theemotions of pity and fear on the popularinterpretation, fitting,just, or appropri- aate resolutionwhich yet remainscalamitouson ours. Oedipus and Antigone, at least to some extent, dig their own graves. There issome justice in the change of fortuneeach suffersby plays end. Indeed,the kindof situationAristotle puts forwardas appropriate tragedyis precisely one in forwhich the hero does, at least to some extent, deserve the calamitythat in the endbefalls him. As he says very shortly: The fine plot must then be single and not, as some say, double; and the change must be not to good fortunefrom bad but, on the contrary,from good to bad fortune,and it must not be due to villainy but to some great fallibility on the partof such a man as we have described,or of one who is betterratherthan worse.The protagonistmust be good, at least betterratherthan worse, but not preemi-nently good. The fall from good into bad fortune of the pre-eminentlyvirtuousandjust man throughabsolutelyno fault of his own is in no way fitting, appropri-ate, or just. Thereis no appropriate resolutionto such a calamitousturnof events,since if justice really were to prevailit would not happenin the first place. Aristotle divides the six parts of tragedy into means, manner, and object-diction and song-makingbeing the means, spectacleor dramaticperformance themanner,and thought,character, plot the object. Now in this passage Aristotle andis concernedwith how the object of tragedymay be achieved, that is, a protago-nist with a certainhistory that will not be dramatizedon the stage in performingthe play (thought)5and a certain set of desires and dispositions (character)is tobe placed in a situationthe resolutionof which we see in performanceon stage(plot). His purposeis to tell us what kind of situationand person are requiredforsuccessful tragedy. If the emotions of pity, fear, and their catharticresolutionwere involved, hed spend more time talking about the background of thereaders,viewers, or listeners who are typically exposed to tragedy-for whetherpeople do feel pity and fear depends upon their circumstances, background,character,and experience. But Aristotles subjecthere is the kind of situationorseries of events that are appropriatefor dramatic artists to represent. So weinterpret Aristotleto be saying: Following upon what has been said above We should next state what ought to be aimed at and what avoided in the constructionof a plot, and the means by which the object of tragedy may be achieved. Since then the structureof the best tragedy should be not simple but complex and one that representsincidents that in real-life typically arouse pity and fear-for that is peculiarto this form of art-it is obvious, to begin with, that one should not show good men passing from good fortuneto bad.
POETICS 213 PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES IN That does not in real-life merely arouse pity and fear but leaves us shocked and revolted. Nor again wicked people passing from bad fortune to good. That is the most untragicof all, having none of the requisitequalities, since such circumstances in real-life typicallydo not satisfy our moral sense or arousepity and fear. Nor again the passing of a thoroughly bad man from good fortune to bad fortune. Such a situation in real-life might satisfy our moral sense but it typically arouses neither pity nor fear, the one being for the man who does not deserve his misfortuneand the other for the man who is like ourselves-pity for the undeservedmisfortune,fear for the man like ourselves-so that the resultwill typicallyarouseneitherpity nor fear.Or: Following upon what has been said above we should next state what ought to be aimed at and what avoided in the constructionof a plot, and the means by which the object of tragedymay be achieved. Since then the structureof the best tragedymay be achieved. Since then the structureof the best tragedy should be not simple but complex and one that represents pitiable andfearful incidents- for that is peculiar to this form of art-it is obvious to begin with that one should not show good men passing from good fortune to bad. Such situations are not just pitiable and fearful; they are incapable of fitting resolution. Nor again wicked people passing from bad fortune to good. Such a situation is the most untragicof all, being neitherfitting, pitiable, or fearful. Nor again the passing of a thoroughly bad man from good fortuneto bad fortune.Such a turnof events might be fitting, but it is neitherpitiable norfearful, the one being a case of a man who does not deserve his misfortuneand the other of the man who is like ourselves-pity for the undeservedmisfortune,fear for the man like ourselves-so thatthe resultis neitherpitiable norfearful. 4. Section 14In this section we find: 14. The fearful and the pitiable can result from the spectacle, but they can arise from the actual arrangement the incidents, which is preferableand the markof a of betterpoet. The plot should be so arrangedthateven without seeing the play anyone hearing of the incidents happening will feel terror and pity as a result of what occurs. So would anyone feel who hears the story of Oedipus. To produce this effect by means of an appeal to the eye is inartistic and needs lavish expenditure while those who by such means produce an effect which is not fearful but merely monstrousare not dealing with tragedy.For one should not seek from tragedyevery pleasure but that which is peculiar to tragedy, and since the poet must by "representation" produce the pleasure which comes from feeling pity and fear, obviously this quality must be embodied in the incidents.Plot is one of the six componentsof tragedyand spectacle another.Plot refers tothe series of incidents dramatized.Spectacle refers to what spectators see atparticular performances of a work of tragedy. The plot must be presented inevery performanceof a work for what is presentedto count as a performanceof
214 NOUSthe work; whereasthe elements of spectacle differ from one performanceof thework to the next. In his opening sentence Aristotleis observingthat it may be eitherthe craftofthe playwrightthat animatesthe representation pitiable and fearful incidents ofor the craft of particularactors, customers,and stage technicianswith props and him to be saying:special effects thatdoes this. We should interpret 14. That the incidents represented are pitiable and fearful at times results from spectacle and at times from the actual arrangementof the incidents, which is preferableand the mark of a better poet. The plot should be so arrangedthat even without seeing the play anyone hearingof the incidentsactually happeningtypically will feel terrorand pity as a result of what occurs.He then proceeds to remarkthat it is inartisticand crude when, like so many ofthe horrormovies we see these days-short on plot and long on special effects,stagingalone makes the represented events have theiremotionalcharacter. Threepoints shouldbe emphasizedconcerningthe remainder the paragraph: of (1) The pleasure"thatcomes from feeling pity and fear"is not masochistic.Itis ratherthe pleasurereferredto at the beginningof section 4: 4. Speaking generally, poetry seems to owe its origin to two particularcauses, and these are natural. From childhood men have a natural instinct to engage in representation,and in this respect they differ from the other animals, that man is thoroughly imitative and learns his first lessons through representingthings. And naturalis the enjoyment people always get from representation.What happens in actual experience proves this, for we enjoy looking at the most accuratelikenesses of things which are themselves painful for us to see, the appearanceof the lowest beasts, for instance, and of corpses. The reason is this. Learningthings gives great pleasure not only to philosophersbut also in the same way to all other men, though they share this pleasure only to a small degree. The reason why they enjoy seeing likenesses is that, as they look, they learn and infer what each is, for instance, "this is so-and-so".If one has never happenedto see the original, the pleasure is not due to the representationas such but to the workmanshipor the colour or some other such reason. Here Aristotle observes that children naturallylike to engage in mimesis, inmake-believe, that they gain knowledge from their make-believe games-whichis a good thing, since they can do so without having to undergo many of lifesreal (and often nasty) experiences-and that even as adults we take pleasureinmake-believe. Inasmuchas the incidentsin Tragedyare only make-believeones, we can takepleasure in them instead of feeling real pity and fear, which, if we were towitness such incidents in real-life, we typically would feel. Only a sadist takespleasurein witnessingreal pitiableincidents;and only a masochisttakes pleasurein his own real feelings of pity and fear.
POETICS 215 PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES IN (2) The appropriate pleasureto be taken in dramatictragedyis createdby theauthorthroughhis plot, not by actors, costumers,and stage techniciansthroughthe spectaclethey offer in particular performance. (3) The causes of this pleasure lie not in the hearts of drama-lovers,in theirfeelings of pity and fear, but in the kinds of things that happento the personagesrepresented.It is the kind of incident dramatizedthat gives rise to the pleasureof tragedy: make-believe pitiable and fearful incidents which pass to fittingresolutions-not make-believe incidents that if real would arouse pity and fearin everyone who witnessed or heard of them, not make-believe incidents thatare really pitiable and fearful, and not make-believe incidentsthat do arouserealpity and fear in everyone who witnesses or hears of them knowing them to bemake-believe. Aristotlebegins the second paragraph section 14 by raisingthe question: of We must now decide what incidents seem dreadfulor pitiable.Or: What, then, are the sorts of actions which are (really) fearful and pitiable?In what follows Aristotlemakes it crystal clear that it is the natureof the eventsrepresented that makes a tragedy successful, not the kinds of feelings itsaudienceor readersare having. The action must be against a friend or family member. It is better done inignorance than in full awareness, since the latter constitutes morally abhorrenttreatmentof a friend or family memberand ceases therebyto make the protago-nists situation pitiable. Best, according to Aristotle, is to have the deedintended,but owing to a fuller recognition of the circumstancesnot carriedout.For example, a leader precipitatelyagrees to kill an unknownenemy of the stateand then, when it becomes known that the enemy is his own father, refuses todo so. This refusal then brings abouthis downfall, when things move to a fittingresolution. 5. Section 11The final passage we need deal with appearsin this section. A "discovery",as the term itself implies, is a change from ignoranceto knowledge, producingeither friendshipor hatredin those who are destined for good fortune or ill. A discovery is most effective when it coincides with a reversal, as with that in the Oedipus. There are also other forms of discovery, for what we have described may in a way occur in relationto inanimateand trivial objects, or one may discover whether someone has done something or not. But the discovery which is most essentially part of the plot and partof the action is of the kind described above, for such a discovery and reversal will involve either pity or fear (and it is actions such
216 NOUS as these which, according to our hypothesis, tragedy represents),since misfortune and good fortuneare likely to turnupon such incidents. makes a minimalchange in the last sentence:Ourinterpretation But the discovery which is most essentially partof the plot and partof the action is of the kind described above, for such a discovery and reversal will involve either pitiable orfearful circumstances(and it is actions such as these which, accordingto our hypothesis, tragedyrepresents),since misfortuneand good fortune are likely to turnupon such incidents.Thatmisfortuneand good fortuneturnon pitiableand fearfulcircumstances no ismere accident. The catharsisor fitting resolution essentially involves a turn ofthe worst in the fortunesof the hero, what Aristotle cites as the thirdelement ofthe plot (in additionto reversaland discovery), namely calamity,itoOo; (1459). 6. ConclusionThe interpretation presentedin this paper avoids the problems of the commonview, which requiresreadersor viewers of a (good) work of tragedy to feel theemotions of pity and fear and a subsequentcatharsisfor it to qualify as (good)tragedy. On our view Aristotles real concern is to characterizethe kinds ofactions and events thatare appropriate representation dramatictragedyand for innot to characterizethe emotional effects these kinds of actions and events haveon audiences. We take him to be using emotion words to describe the kinds ofemotions that are typically felt in response to the kinds of real-life incidentstragedies representin make-believe, for the purpose of conveying to his readerthe sort of incidentsthat are appropriate dramatictragedy,pitiableand fearful forincidents that move to fitting resolutions.On this interpretation there is no needto inspect anything other than the words of the text or a performanceof it todeterminewhetherit is a tragedyand whetherit is a good one. We cannot prove conclusively that our interpretation correct. At least it isis not directly contradicted by Aristotles text, and it does save Aristotlesanalysis of tragedy from the philosophical flaws that on the common readingare clearly fatal.6 Notes UIntaking imitationto be make-believe, we following KendallWalton 1973, 1978. 2The Greek text we use is R. Kassel 1965. 3We note the implicationhere that a change of fortuneis not the same thing as a reversal. 41ndeed,it may be appropriate call a situation"fearful"even if this kind of event turnsout not toto producefear typically. We still call the things "sunrises"even though we now know the sun doesnot revolve aroundthe earth.
IN POETICS 217 PITY,FEAR,AND CATHARSIS ARISTOTLES 5See the beginning of ? 18 for further evidence that plot is limited to what is dramatizedonstage. 6We wish to acknowledge the University of Victoria Presidents Discretionary Fund for itssupport. ReferencesBrunius,Teddy.1966 Inspirationand Katharsis (Uppsala:Almqvist & Wiksells).Butcher,S.H.1895 Aristotles Theoryof Poetry and Fine Art (London:Macmillan& Co.).Else, GeraldF.1986 Plato and Aristotle on Poetry (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press).Fergusson,Francis.1961 Aristotles Poetics Trans.by S.H. Butcher(New York:Hill & Wang).Fortenbaugh, W.W.1975 Aristotleon Emotion (London:Duckworth).Halliwell, Stephen.1986 Aristotles Poetics (London:Duckworth).1987 The Poetics of Aristotle (ChapelHill: Universityof North Carolina).Kassel, Rudolf.1965 Aristotelisde arte poetica liber (Oxford:ClarendonPress, OxfordClassical Text).Randall,John Herman,Jr.1960 Aristotle(New York:ColumbiaUniversityPress).Ross. W.D.1953 Aristotle (London:Methuen& Co., Ltd.).Walton, Kendall.1973 "Picturesand Make Believe," Philosophical Review Vol. 81, pp. 283-319.1978 "FearingFictions,"Journal of Philosophy Vol. 75, pp. 5-27.