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        Aristotle's approach to literature is more formal and less morally didactic than is Plato's. He reverses the Platonic metaphysic (seeing universals as extrapolated from particulars rather than seeing the universals as genuine and the particulars as less real) and seems to reverse the Platonic view of Poetry. However, his view is similar to the Platonic view in this respect: successful poetry serves a purpose.
        For Aristotle this purpose is the evocation/purgation of fear and pity in the audience. Hence it is important that the incidents of a tragedy (for Aristotle tragedy is an imitation of an action, not a study of character--quite unlike the later Shakespearean model) are causally connected from beginning to middle to end. Another important element is the necessity--for proper tragic effect--of a "complex" plot (an action which builds to a climax of recognition and reversal). Finally, the character around whom the action centers must suffer a change of fortune (the reversal) from good to bad, not as a result of vice or mere chance (these would fail to evoke the proper fear/pity in the audience), but as a result of hamartia. Hamartia is variously translated as "tragic flaw" or "frailty" in English translations of Aristotle. This term is also found in the Greek portions of the Judeo-Christian Bible, where it is often translated as "sin." A more interesting translation--and possibly more useful--is "missing the mark." This suggests that the fatal flaw of the Greek tragic heroes was a failure to put themselves in accord with an often unsympathetic divinity. This strongly implies a failure by the character to live up to an archetypal (in the Platonic sense) pattern, the same pattern around which the cosmos is ordered: on earth as it is in heaven. It may be considered analogous to the Hindu concept of dharma; hamartia--the "sin" or "tragic flaw" is a missing of the mark of order, the mark of the unifying principle between micro-, meso- and macrocosms.
        In this sense, the Aristotelian view of the proper function of tragedy (the evocation and purgation of fear and pity at the sight of an otherwise noble character's failure due to hamartia--and by extension, the instruction of the audience members to avoid their own missing of the mark) is not substantially different from the morally didactic view of the proper, State-reinforcing/State-and-Citizen-reconciling role of poetry in Plato's thought. In both Aristotle and Plato, poetry serves its proper function when it works to reinforce the individual's maintenance of a harmonious relationship to the greater society and to the cosmos.
        The primary sense in which the Aristotelian view of poetry differs from the Platonic view is the willingness expressed by Aristotle to grant poetry a status as a proper discipline and subject of study with its own formal rules. Aristotle takes tragedy as he finds it in Sophocles--and to a much lesser extent, Euripides--analyzes (descriptively) its component parts, and then constructs from that analysis a prescription for the proper writing of dramatic poetry.
        In Aristotle, dramatic poetry revolves around change. This is essentially an extension of his physics: the empirical world is made up of constantly changing and rearranging elements. Nature, in fact is defined as a principle of motion and change. The change in drama is one of recognition and reversal: innocence changes to experience; ignorance becomes knowledge. This is why--despite his emphasis on the hamartia of the noble character--Aristotle defines tragedy as the imitation of an action: action precipitates change.
        The six elements of tragedy are defined by Aristotle as follows:

1) Plot--this is the heart of the play, divided into three parts: the reversal or peripeteia, such as when an act of the hero produces the opposite from the intended effect; the recognition or anagnorisis, in which a character acquires knowledge of a fact, producing in him love or hate toward another character; and the final suffering. The plot has two stages: the complication and the unraveling or denouement. The complication contains everything up to the turning point to good or bad fortune; the unraveling extends from the beginning point of the change to the end of the play. There are also four types of plots: the complex, depending entirely on reversal of the situation and recognition; the pathetic, in which the motive is passion; the ethical, where the motives are moral; and the simple.

2) Character--the character provides the moral axis of the drama; his actions and choices determine the incidents of the plot. The character is under four requirements: it must be good; it must display traits appropriate to the person depicted (youth and immaturity should not be shown in an elderly character); it must be true to life; and it must be consistent--or consistently inconsistent.

3) Thought--this comprises every effect produced by speech, and it aims to move an audience through such techniques as proof and refutation, and the excitation of the feelings such as pity, anger, and fear.

4) Diction--Aristotle classifies words as either current, strange, metaphorical, ornamental, newly coined, lengthened, contracted, or altered.

5) Song--this refers to the role of the chorus in the Greek drama.

6) Spectacle--this is what separates dramatic poetry finally from epic poetry: the audience can see as well as hear the work.

        Aristotle's discussion of the Organic Unity of dramatic poetry--which was to become translated into the rigidly prescriptive unities of later criticism--centered primarily around the unity of action. The completeness of a tragedy requires that it have a beginning, middle, and an end. The action must be single and complete.
        Finally, poetry deals with what is universal and probable, while history deals only with what is particular and specific, whether it is probable or improbable. Because of these differences, poetry is a more philosophical thing than history--a high compliment from a former student of Plato.