What are the key features of Aristotle's The Poetics?

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The key features of Aristotle's The Poetics include its foundational role in literary theory, the introduction of catharsis, and detailed analysis of tragedy's elements and rules. Aristotle's work diverges from Plato's critical view of fiction, instead categorizing literature types and establishing criteria for good works. He emphasizes the importance of characters reflecting audience morality and plots that lead to catharsis—experiencing emotions like fear or pity, which he deemed essential for psychological relief and moral education.

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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.

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First, this assignment asks for your opinion of the most important features of Aristotle's Poetics. Obviously, the features that are important to you might differ from those important to an eNotes educator or a scholar working on some aspect of Aristotelian philosophy or its reception.

Perhaps one of the most widely discussed features of the Poetics in the scholarly tradition has been the claim that tragedy, "through pity and fear effects a catharsis of such emotion." There has been much ink spilled over what "catharsis" might mean in this context. A modern consensus has focused on the medical sense of "purgation," but there is much in the passage that remains ambiguous.

Another interesting concept found in the Poetics is that of "mimesis" or imitation. While the distinction between mimesis and diegesis is well developed in Plato, Aristotle argues strongly against the Platonic condemnation of mimesis, arguing instead that it is essential to human learning and thought. 

Finally, another important feature of the Poetics is the way Aristotle follows Plato in looking at the value of art not as purely aesthetic but also in terms of its moral effect upon the polis, and the way he seems to argue that art serves to educate the emotions. 

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