Aristotle’s Poetics has many important features, from its influence on literary theory, to the notion of catharsis, to its description of the elements and rules of tragedy.
Before the Poetics, no one had seriously written about what makes a work of literature or drama good or bad. Plato had touched on the topic in The Republic, but limited himself to an attack on fiction as a whole and concluded with the decision that poets and writers should be banned because all they do is lie, and lying is bad for society. Aristotle took literature and fiction as an established fact and ventured out to see what sets a good work apart from a bad one.
In so doing, Aristotle categorized the types of literature, from poetry to epic to drama, and laid out what elements they have in common with one another. For example, Aristotle noted that all dramas have plots, characters, thought (a character’s reasoning for doing something), speech, music, and spectacle. There were also certain rules that should be complied in order to make a work a good one. For example, Aristotle was convinced that characters should be at least as good or ethical as their audience, or else the audience would not look up to them, and that the plot should center around one important discovery.
All of these elements and rules, according to Aristotle, led in the direction of the goal of literature: His concept of catharsis. This was a feeling of fear or pity in the members of the audience towards what they were seeing. Unlike his predecessor Plato, who was convinced that all fiction was inherently useless, Aristotle thought that, by producing catharsis in the audience, works of fiction were valuable because they let the audience experience feelings that they wouldn’t experience otherwise and allowed the work to be an outlet for pent up feelings that would be destructive if held inside.