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Subject Classical Literature » Greek Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405175494.2005.00021.x


Tragedy, Aristotle suggests, dramatizes the change of fortune of high-status individuals and excites the audience's pity and fear ( Poetics 1452b28–53a39). Even in this general description lies a claim that tragedy engages the audience's ethical judgment, for pity is an emotion that typically includes an evaluation of its target's deserts ( Konstan 2001 ). The downfall of the recipient of the audience's pity cannot be something that the audience relishes; hence one needs something like Aristotle's notion of hamartia , spanning a range of more or less venial conditions from mistake to moral error–another issue that will engage the audience's ethical judgment. Typically, too (as Aristotle also emphasizes, 1453b15–22; cf. Heath 1999 , 138; Belfiore 2000 ), tragedy creates extreme conflicts of obligations, especially between family members or between the family and other imperatives; these an audience will find disturbing or horrifying precisely because ethical assumptions that are normally regarded as unproblematic are being put under strain. In these basic ways (and in many others) we can expect there to be a relation between the spectators' emotional experience of the play and their values. But this will not be any straightforward correspondence between the values of the characters and those of the audience. One obvious reason is that the extreme situations in which tragic characters ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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