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What is the definition of catharsis?

Catharsis is the release of emotional tension or the purging of emotions, resulting in the sense of emotional renewal.

Catharsis

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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

Catharsis is the release of emotional tension or the purging of emotions, resulting in a sense of emotional renewal. In Aristotelian dramatic criticism, catharsis describes the effect of tragedy on the audience. By arousing fear and sympathy in a controlled environment, allowing it to dispel once the play ended, tragic plays enable theatergoers to rid themselves of negative emotions and undergo a kind of cleansing. 

Catharsis originates from the Greek word kathairein, meaning “to cleanse,” derived from kathoros, meaning “pure.”

In Part 4 of Aristotle’s Poetics, he describes how catharsis works: 

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude;...through pity and fear, effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

see: tragedy

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