What contribution did Aristotle make to theatre in his Poetics?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Aristotle's Poetics is a work of literary criticism that attempted to understand the nature and effect of classical Greek drama and its role in the polis (city-state). As a descriptive work, it did not contribute to theater itself in antiquity and the middle ages, but rather to how students and literary critics analyzed plays. The descriptions in Aristotle's Poetics were very much limited to his time and place. He assumed that plays were either tragedies or comedies, rather than mixed genres, that a play used a maximum of three actors playing all roles and a chorus, that plays were written in verse, and that tragedies held up noble characters as models for emulation and that comedy made fun of ignoble characters. As the New Comedy of Menander developed after Aristotle wrote the Poetics, the possibility of domestic or romantic drama was not included in the Poetics

The Poetics did not really become used as a standard or guideline for how to compose plays until the "neoclassical" movement in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when neo-Aristotelian notions such as the "three unities" and a standard plot structure informed the works of such playwrights as Racine. 

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Aristotle’s monumental work, Poetics, identified three distinct forms of literature – Lyric (utilizing one narrator), Epic (utilizing more than one narrator), and Dramatic (utilizing no narrator at all). He goes on to set the “rules” of the tragic theatre presentations of his time (the works of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus specifically), notably the three Unities (time, Space, and Action), the six parts of drama (Plot, character, diction, thought, spectactle, melody), and (most important) the social responsibility of theatre, a collective public enterprise with a clear social duty. As the Renaissance revived these principles and documents, Aristotle’s philosophies formed western theatre history’s foundations, and served as guidelines for all the best dramatic output of the era.

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