Explain the expression, "catharsis of pity and terror," as it pertained to medieval and Elizabethan theatre.

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The phrase "catharsis of pity and terror" was coined by Aristotle as a desription of the value of classical Greek drama. Aristotle and other philosophers of his time argued that Greek drama served a cathartic role for both individuals and communities. The catharsis (or emotional release) was facilitated by the audience's relationship with the characters in the drama. Members of the audience pitied characters that experienced hardship, and at the same time experienced the terror of those hardships with the characters. In this way, members of the audience were able to reflect upon the hardships and terrors of their own lives. During the medieval Elizabethan era, communities were plagued by many hardships, including the Bubonic Plague, internal religious strife, and feudal conflicts. Quality of life was low for many. Elizabethan plays reflected these hardships and hepled their audiences deal with their troubles through empathizing with the characters' plights. Thus, they experienced through drama a "catharsis of pit and terror" similar to what the ancient Greeks may have experienced.