CriticaLink | Aristotle: Poetics | Terms


Aristotle defines tragedy in Book VI as "an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions" (51).

This definition crystallizes much of Aristotle's arguments throughout the Poetics:

  • a tragedy is first and foremost the representation of human action;
  • the actions represented have serious, often dire consequences and the characters represented are of elevated social status;
  • the plot is a complete, coherent whole, lasting long enough to represent adequately the reversal of the hero's fortune;
  • the language in which a tragedy is composed employs tropes and other heightened or unusual uses of speech and a mixture of different poetic meters;
  • the mode of imitation in a tragedy is drama as opposed to narrative;
  • the tragedy arouses pity and fear in the viewer and brings about catharsis.