Guide to Literary Terms

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Catharsis

Catharsis - any emotional discharge which brings about a moral or spiritual renewal or welcome relief from tension and anxiety. The usual intent is for an audience to leave feeling this relief from tension or anxiety after having viewed a play.

The word comes from the Greek katharis, meaning “cleansing, or purification.” This evolved from kathairo, which means I cleanse, and katharos, which means “pure or clean.”

Catharsis was referred to by Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) in his Poetics:

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.
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