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Aristotle’s views on plot

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In “Poetics” Aristotle attaches great importance to tragic plot. According to Aristotle, tragedy is the representation of an action and action consists of incidents and events. Plot is the arrangement of these incidents and events. Aristotle thinks that plot is the soul of and that there can be no tragedy without plot.

To Aristotle, the tragic plot must be a whole, complete in itself. By complete he means that the plot must have a beginning, a middle and an end. A beginning is that which is preceded by nothing but followed by something else in a necessary sequence. A middle is that which naturally comes after the beginning and is followed by a third thing. And an end is that which comes after the middle and is followed by nothing. Thus the complete implies logical link-up of the various incidents, events and situation that form the plot.

As regards magnitude, Aristotle says that the plot must be neither too long nor too small. If it is too long,  the beginning would be forgotten before the end. If it is too small, it’s different parts will not be clearly distinguishable from each other.

According to Aristotle, the plot of a tragedy must have an organic unity in its action. This unity arises from the fact that every event has a logical connection with the rest of the action and none of them is irrelevant. There might be episodes, but they must be properly integrated with the main action. Otherwise, episodic plots worst of all.

To Aristotle, the laws of probability and necessity must be obeyed in the construction of the plot. The law of probability and necessity means not to deal with what has happened but what may happen under the given circumstances.

Aristotle rules out plurality of action. He emphasizes the Unity of Action but had little to say about the Unity of time and the Unity of place.

According to Aristotle , tragic plot may be simple or complex. In a simple plot the change of  comes about without a reversal or a discovery. But Aristotle prefers complex plots. In a complex plot, the change of fortune is accompanied by a discovery or a reversal, or both. A reversal is a change from one stage of affairs to its opposite, and a discovery is a change from ignorance to knowledge.

Besides the complex and simple plots, there are also spectacular plots. This type of plot depends on incidents of suffering. Aristotle rates it very low. It is the plot which derives its effect from the depiction of torture, murder, death etc .

Aristotle declares that every tragedy falls into two parts--- complications and Denouement. Complication covers the part of action which extends from the beginning to the turning point of good or bad fortune. He does not consider poetic justice as necessary for tragedy. He regards it more in keeping with the spirit of Comedy.  Similarly, Aristotle rules out plot with a double ending--- plots in which there is happiness for some characters and misery for others. It weakens the tragic effect and hence must be avoided. Thus Aristotle repeatedly stresses on the importance of plot and he recommends complex plot for tragedy.

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