John W. Draper (essay date 1921)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aristotelian 'Mimesis' in England," in PMLA, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, September, 1921, pp. 372-400.

[In the following essay, Draper studies the way in which the understanding of "mimesis," or imitation (as discussed by Aristotle in Poetics), changed over the course of the eighteenth century in England. Draper notes that, in general, the concept was largely misinterpreted.]

Of the many disputed terms in the Poetics, [mimēsis] "imitation," has always been one of the most fruitful of discussion and of misconception; and these misconceptions are particularly significant because, for whole periods, they were potent in moulding creative activity not only in...

(The entire section is 8994 words.)

G. S. Brett (essay date 1922)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reflections on Aristotle's View of Tragedy," in Philosophical Essays Presented to John Watson, Queen's University, 1922, pp. 158-78.

[In the following essay, Brett examines the concept of catharsis, or purgation, which Aristotle discusses in Poetics. Brett suggests that while Aristotle's definition of tragedy omits direct reference to purgation as experienced by an audience, the concept is still a significant part of his definition of tragedy.]


In all literature, ancient and modern, there are a few conspicuous passages which afford the perennial charm of mystery. Each generation of students looks on them, as Desire looks on...

(The entire section is 6549 words.)

Lane Cooper (essay date 1923)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Character, Antecedents, and General Scope of Poetics," in The Poetics of Aristotle and Its Meaning and Influence, Cornell University Press, 1923, pp. 3-14.

[In this brief overview, Cooper reviews such textual issues as the date of composition of Poetics and the possible sources on which Aristotle drew to write the treatise. Cooper also discusses the structure, function, and goal of poetry as analyzed by Aristotle.]

The Poetics of Aristotle is brief, at first sight hard and dry, and yet one of the most illuminating and influential books ever produced by the sober human mind. After twenty-two centuries it remains the most stimulating and...

(The entire section is 2332 words.)

Charles Sears Baldwin (essay date 1924)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Poetic of Aristotle," in Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic, Peter Smith, 1959, pp. 132-66.

[In the following essay, Baldwin offers a general overview of Aristotle's Poetics, discussing in particular the role of imitation in Aristotle's poetic theory.]

Veneration of Aristotle has been impatiently classed with "other mediæval superstitions," both by those who disliked authority and by those who revolted against the inlaying and overlaying of his text with centuries of interpretations.1 Since the Renaissance the Poetic has, indeed, fared in this regard somewhat as the Bible; and in both cases those deviations from the original intention...

(The entire section is 10569 words.)

Marvin Theodore Herrick (essay date 1930)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Middle Ages and the Renaissance," in The Poetics of Aristotle in England, Yale University Press, 1930, pp. 8-35.

[In the following essay, Herrick traces the influence of Aristotle's Poetics on English literature from Roger Bacon's (c. 1214-1294) mention of the treatise in his works through the possible influence of Aristotle's ideas on Shakespeare.]

The first Englishman to mention Aristotle's Poetics was Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294). Like most of his learned contemporaries, Bacon pursued philosophical and scientific studies as means to the greater study of theology. While his primary aim, then, was neither philosophical, scientific (in...

(The entire section is 9619 words.)

Humphrey House (essay date 1956)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Relation of Character and Plot," in Aristotle's Poetics, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1967, pp. 68-81.

[In the following essay, written in 1956, House maintains that Aristotle's views regarding the importance of plot in tragedy actually reveal his "attempt to guarantee the individuality of character."]

This brings us to the famous argument by which Aristotle says that "plot" is more important than "character"; it is stated in the second half of ch. vi (pp. 36-9) and has produced a great deal of discussion. It is absurd in any language (quite apart from questions of translation) to bandy about complicated terms like "character", "plot" and "action" as if they were...

(The entire section is 4711 words.)

Humphrey House (essay date 1956)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Tragic Action and Character," in Aristotle's Poetics, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1964, pp. 82-99.

[In the following essay, written in 1956, House analyzes the features of dramatic characters which Aristotle discusses in Poetics. In particular, House focuses on the tragic hero and on the concept of hamartia, noting that the understanding ofhamartia as the hero's "tragic flaw" is misleading.]

In the definition of Tragedy in ch. vi, Bywater's version makes Aristotle say that Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is "serious"; this is also Butcher's translation at that point. But in fact the Greek word here in the definition [spoudaīos] is the same...

(The entire section is 5859 words.)

Laurence Berns (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aristotle's Poetics," in Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss, edited by Joseph Cropsey, Basic Books Inc., Publishers, 1964, pp.

[In the following essay, Berns reviews several aspects of Aristotle's Poetics which he believes have been misunderstood. He examines what Aristotle meant by the term "imitation"; the role of pity and fear in enabling purgation; and character traits of the "tragic hero."]

Henry Jackson, the highly respected classical scholar, an editor of some texts of Aristotle, paid the following compliment to Aristotle's Politics. "It is an amazing book," he said. "It...

(The entire section is 8315 words.)

Catherine Lord (essay date 1969)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tragedy without Character: Poetics VI.1450a 24," in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Fall, 1969, pp. 55-62.

[In the following essay, Lord examines Aristotle's elevation of plot above all other elements of tragedy and argues that he does indeed assert that all aspects of character, including the concept of "hamartia," are a function of plot.]


It is commonly believed that there are two kinds of readers or spectators. There are those who read primarily for plot, story, action, narrative, and who especially enjoy spectacle—the vulgar. Then there are those, the connoisseurs of letters,...

(The entire section is 4870 words.)

Norman Gulley (essay date 1979)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aristotle on the Purposes of Literature," in Articles on Aristotle: 4. Psychology and Aesthetics, edited by Jonathan Barnes, Malcolm Schofield, and Richard Sorabji, Duckworth, 1979, pp. 166-75.

[In the following essay, Gulley studies Aristotle's use of the term "imitation" and the relationship between that which the dramatic or literary artist represents and that which is "true."]

In beginning this inaugural lecture I am aware that the notion of inauguration carries the notion of what is propitious. To inaugurate, in its literal Latin sense, is to take omens from the flight of birds. It has a transferred sense of consecrating a place or installing a person in...

(The entire section is 6427 words.)

Mark Packer (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Conditions of Aesthetic Feeling in Aristotle's Poetics," in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring, 1984, pp. 138-48.

[In the following essay, Packer argues that the 'formal and psychological requirements of good tragedy "outlined by Aristotle in Poetics cannot be thought of as a definition of tragedy. Rather, Packer maintains, Aristotle intends them as "the premises and conclusion of a demonstration" that identifies the causal relationship between the formal features of tragedy and the psychological response of the audience or reader.]

An important question raised by Aristotle's analysis of tragic art concerns the relative...

(The entire section is 5328 words.)

Stephen Halliwell (essay date 1986)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aristotle's Aesthetics 1: Art and Its Pleasure," in Aristotle's "Poetics," Duckworth, 1986, pp. 42-81.

[In the following essay, Halliwell examines Aristotle's conceptualization of "mimetic arts" and argues that the pleasure which results from experiencing a work of mimetic art is "a response to the intelligible structure imposed on his material by the artist's rational capacity."]

There is evidence to be found in the Poetics, and it receives some confirmation from material elsewhere in the corpus, that Aristotle's thoughts on poetry were not formed in isolation from comparative reflections on other related activities, especially the visual arts, music...

(The entire section is 18136 words.)

Deborah H. Roberts (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Outside the Drama: The Limits of Tragedy in Aristotle's Poetics," in Essays on Aristotle's 'Poetics ', edited by Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 133-49.

[In the following essay, Roberts contends that in discussing the natural limit of plot length, Aristotle conceived of some action as taking place "outside" of the drama's plot. Roberts analyzes what types of action might fall into this category and the methods by which events taking place outside of the play's action could be conveyed to the audience.]

In Chapter 7 of the Poetics (1450b26-31). Aristotle notes that the action of which a play is an imitation must be...

(The entire section is 10534 words.)