Aristotle's Poetics


Karen Park: Summary of Aristotle Poetics


Poetics shows the techniques and theories of drama and playmaking. In

the beginning chapters Aristotle deals with the main forms of poetry

such as comedy, epic, dithyrambic poetry as well as tragedy, which is

mainly discussed in this book. Mainly he concentrates on examining the

form of tragedy that illustrates the general theory of art clearly.

According to Aristotle, Arts is an imitation of the action, but in this

context action means not a physical activity but a movement of spirit.

Consequently to imitate action represents the forms for human spirit

life in arts such as musical sound, paint, words and gesture rather

than superficial copying.

He also distinguishes arts in three ways: the medium, objects, and the

manner of imitation. First of all the medium means color, language,

and sound. Secondly, the objects of imitation are higher or lower type

of arts. For instance, tragedy that imitates a serious and complete

action is better than comedy, which prefers to imitate persons.

Lastly, he suggests the manner of imitation since poetry can be divided

into dramatic and pure narrative as well as pure drama according to the

means because we have the same objects (poetry) in the same medium

(language), but have different modes.

Aristotle thinks that the origin and development of poetry and other

forms of literature and drama come from the instinct of our nature:

imitation, harmony and rhythm. For instance, we enjoy recognizing of

the artist¡¯s work from the imitation, and we also get the pleasure

when our ambiguous intuition becomes familiar. In contrast, harmony

and rhythm give us pleasures of form from our nature.

After all, he looks for the highest forms of art within each form and

leads to the tragedy. First, he differentiates the tragedy from the

other forms of poetry by the definition: an imitation of an action that

is serious, complete. As indicated by him the tragedy is the form of

action on a stage unlike epic poetry by narration of voice without time

limit. From the tragedy we get the catharsis of pity and fear.

Tragedy consists of six parts: plot, character (habitual action formed

by parents and other environment), thought, diction or speech (the art

of delivery), spectacle, and song. Most of all, the plot, the

imitation of the action means the arrangement of the events which is

the first principle of the tragedy that helps us to analyze a work of


On the other hand, Aristotle thinks that tragedy can be divided into

parts such as prologue, episode, exode, choral part (parode and

stasimon). At chapter 9, he defines that episodes without probability

or sequence are worst among plots. Later he also discusses the role of

chorus in chapter 18. He thinks that the chorus should be considered

as an important in the action for interludes.

After this discussion, Aristotle tells us the proper structure of the

plot. He thinks that well constructed plot have a complete and whole

structure with a beginning, middle, and an end. Plots also can be

simple and complex, but he suggests that the best tragedy has to be

arranged with a complex plan, which happens along with reversal and

recognition of situation.

Besides he points out that beauty depends on size and order. He also

believes that plot must have sufficient length to be easily held in the

memory, and this is the reason why the parts of plot have to be

connected organically. In this sense plot must be a unity to make

parts coherent to one beautiful object. Thus, Aristotle emphasizes

that a play or poem corresponds to only one action for unification and

he prefers the single plot. This description is still valid to explain

the unity of an art work, but I think that we should not forget to

include that there are complex ones with more than two plots such as

Homer¡¯s Iliad and Odyssey.

In conclusion, Aristotle shows that the arts please our instincts of

imitation, harmony, and rhythm. As what he said, we are satisfied when

we notice the movement of spirit in a play or poem. He also believes

that poetry conveys the universal and the history expresses the

particular. Therefore, he thinks that poetry is more philosophical and

higher than history. Additionally, he suggests that the purgation from

pity and fear through imitation provides us pleasant in tragedy, and

this is effective when the incidents happen by accident. As a result,

poet should consider how to imitate in a right way to use his own

vehicle, language from the plot to be a maker of events inspiring

emotions of fear and pity.












Imitation is the basic principle of the arts of poetry, as well as of music, dancing, etc. (namely, of mimetic arts). It can be distinguished by medium (rhythm, melody or harmony, and language), objects (higher and lower), and manner (narrative or dramatic). The development forms of poetry are tragedy and comedy. Epic poetry follows tragedy to the extent of being an imitation of good men in the medium of metrical language


Szu-Hsen Lee Summary


- Tragedy is regarded to be a higher form. It contains six elements: plot, character, thought, language, spectacle, and melody.

1. Plot is the most important one. It should be complete, magnitude, remarked on unity, and representing the universal in the particular like what poetry should be. The parts of plot are reversal, recognition, and suffering. The quantitative parts of tragedy are prologue, episode, exode, and choral. It can be simple or complex, but the best form of tragedy is complex, in which the fear and pity are represented. The fear and pity should spring out of the plot itself.

2. Character: according to Character, poets have four things to aim at: good character, make the character appropriate, lifelike, and consistent. The practical rules for the poets to achieve the aim are:

1) To place the scene before his eyes, enter into vivid sympathy with the dramatic personae.

2) To sketch the bare outline of the action, not over charge the details, and be careful about complication and denouement

3) Unite varied forms of poetic excellence, also make the choral odes an organic part of the whole.

3. Thought : thought is revealed in the dramatic speeches composed according to the rules of rhetoric.

4. Diction (Language) : Language can be divided from a single letter to an unified utterance. Every word in language is either an current work, a foreign word, a metaphor, an ornamental work, or a coined work etc. Being good at making metaphors is equivalent to being perceptive of resemblances.


- Comedy is an imitation of persons worse than the average, which is regarded to be lower.


- Epic poetry follows tragedy to the extent of being an imitation of good men. It differs from tragedy in the manner (narrative), the usage of meter (single metric), and length (longer). However, tragedy is the better form because:

- tragedy has everything that epic poetry has

- tragedy has the advantage of vividness both when read and when acted

- the imitation fulfills its purpose in shorter compass- that which is more concentrated gives greater pleasure than that which is dispersed over a great length of time

- the epic poets have a less unified type of imitation.


- The answer to the critical problems brought against poetry: Since poetry involves arts, its correctness is not common reality. Artistic truth is not a "fact."