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tragedy

HAROLD SCHWEIZER


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


Extract

Chaucer's definition of tragedy as         a certain storie, As olde books maken us memorie, of hym that stood in great prosperitee, And is yfallen out of high degree, Into myserie, and endeth wrecchedly echoes Aristotle's “virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity,” although Chaucer's definition omits the moral dimension that was crucial to Aristotle. Aristotle, whose theory, modeled on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex , remained the normative standard for the aesthetic assessment of tragedy from the late Middle Ages through the eighteenth century, favors “an air of design” in what brings about the suffering and fall of the tragic protagonist. The most important part of tragedy for Aristotle is thus, perhaps surprisingly, not the character but the P lot , for in this way the dialectic between fate and the character's doomed, if dignified, responses can be dramatized. Structured by a beginning, middle, and end, and complicated by a reversal or peripeteia , the plot aims to effect in the audience – to allay Plato's fears of immoral provocation – a vicarious emotional discharge, a catharsis of pity and fear. Aristotle's moral and aesthetic stipulation that tragedy be “serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude” assigns tragedy the affirmative existential and political function of asserting the unexpendable value of the individual in society. Although contestatory and revisionary, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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