Chapter Wise Summary of Poetics by Aristotle | Brief Synopsis

Poetics is one of the famous works by Aristotle. It is one of the important works on literary criticism produced ever but still it has some anomalies and defects. It looks that the treatise we have is might not the same as Aristotle wrote. The Poetics is apparently incomplete and lacks many subjects of its own. It contains, indeed, a discussion on concept of imitation, fine arts, tragedy, epic, comedy, and literary criticism. The major part of poetics covers tragedy: but it does not explain many things like the term catharsis that is unexplained, epic and comedy are discussed slightly, lyrical poetry is totally neglected in the Poetics.

Chapter-wise brief synopsis of the poetics

Poetics contain totally twenty-six chapters. Below is a brief summary of each chapter of Poetics.

Chapter I: Imitation

Chapter I defines basic concepts of imitation. Imitation is considered as the Sculpture principle of Art of Poetry, Music, Dancing, Painting, and Medium, Objects or Manner of Imitation. Poetry, Dance and Music are classified according to the medium uses, which are Rhythm, Melody and Language.

Chapter II: Object of Imitation

Chapter II deals with the objects of imitation. The objects of imitation are men or characters. Aristotle further explains that how men should be:

  1. Men finer than they are (as in a tragedy).
  2. Men meaner than they are (as in a comedy).
  3. Men as they are.

Chapter III: Manner of Imitation

In chapter III Aristotle deals with the manner of imitation. He says the poetry may be, in form, either dramatic, narrative, pure narrative or pure drama. Then follows a digression on the etymology of ‘drama’ and on the alleged origin of comedy and tragedy.

Chapter IV: Origin and the Development of Poetry

Chapter IV deals with the origin and the development of poetry. The poetry has its origin in two natural instincts: (a) the impulse to imitate; and (b) the natural delight in the results. Furthermore, Aristotle defines arts in two types: Fine Arts (Epic and Tragedy) The Mean Arts (Satire, Comedy).

Furthermore, Aristotle explains origin of tragedy and how it transformed over a period of time. He mentioned three phases when changings were made in tragedy.

Chapter V: Comedy

Chapter V is about Comedy; its nature and development. Comedy deals with what is faulty or ugly but not painful or destructive. Comedy has no previous record. Then Aristotle talks about similarities and difference between epic and tragedy. He says that both are metrical and idealized. But both differ in the span of time as tragedy covers one day and epic covers many days. At last, he states that a critic of tragedy can also judge an epic poem.

Chapter VI: Definition of Tragedy

In Chapter VI, Aristotle defines tragedy as an “artistic imitation of an action that is serious, complete in itself, and of an adequate magnitude.” As for the medium, the imitation is proposed in language beautified in various ways. As for the manner, the imitation is itself in the form of an action directly presented, not narrated. The function of the poetry resulting from such an imitation, is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear in the audience to bring about emotional relief(catharsis). Then Aristotle discusses 6 elements of Tragedy that are plot, character, thought, language, music, and spectacle.

Chapter VII: Construction of Plot

In chapter 7, Aristotle explain about the plot of the tragedy. He says that it must be:

  • A Complete whole, with Beginning, Middle, and End.
  • Of a size to be seen as a whole, not too minute or not too vast

Moreover, in this chapter, Aristotle compares plot with a living organism.

Chapter VIII: Unity of Plot

In Chapter 8, Aristotle says that the unity of plot is not the same as the unity of Hero. Unity of plot needs unity of action. Each part of the plot must be organically connected.

Chapter IX: The Nature of Poetic Truth

In Chapter 9, Aristotle says that the poet represents an ideal truth. He says that poetry is more universal than poetry. He says that history deals with particular while poetry deals with the subjects of universal nature.

Then, Aristotle talks about the different types of plots. He explains that episodic and plot with a casual connection between incidents are the worst plots and ne should avoid them in their tragedy. He tells about best plots that are closely connected and keep relevance and strong connections in incidents.

Chapter X: Kinds of Plot

Aristotle extends his discussion of plot in Chapter X that deals with the classification of plot. There are two types of plots: Simple and complex.

Simple do not have Peripetcia or Discovery. The have simple continuity in incidents and reversal appear without any significant change in sequence of incidents.

Whereas, a complex plot is one in which has discovery. In a complex plot, the change of fortune appears suddenly after a reversal of a situation (peripetcia) or discovery of an unknown truth.

Chapter XI: Parts of Plot

Chapter XI deals with the elements of plot. These three parts are peripety (a reversal of a situation), anagnorisis (discovery of unknown truth), and suffering(a painful end of a tragedy).

Chapter XII: Quantitative Parts of Plot

This chapter deals with subdivisions of tragic drama such as prologue, Episode, etc. This chapter is considered as an interpolation.

Chapter XIII: The Ideal Structure of Tragic Action

In Chapter XIII Aristotle explains about the ideal structure of a plot. He laid focus on the plot to bring out tragic catharsis. Aristotle says that an ideal complex plot must be imitative of connected events that cause catharsis. He mentioned three types of plots to be avoided in tragedy.

(1) Good and just men are not to be represented as falling from happiness into ill-fortune.  it is simply revolting.

(2) Nor must evil men be represented as rising from misery to prosperity. it is neither moving nor moral.

(3) Nor, again, may an excessively wicked man be represented as falling from prosperity into misfortune such a course of events may arouse in us some measure of human sympathy, but not the emotions of pity and fear.

Aristotle focuses on a perfect tragedy by proposing some sets of rules. He says that for a perfect tragedy, there should be an unhappy ending with fall of a good man from prosperity to misery that cause catharsis among spectacles.

Chapter XIV: The Source of the Tragic Emotions of Pity and Fear

This chapter deals with specific sources of the tragic catharsis. The fall of protagonist or any other character in tragedy arouse pity and fear known as catharsis. Aristotle is not in favor of producing tragic effect (catharsis) through inferior methods.

He gives some examples to produce tragic effects. He focused that tragic incident or suffering should occur within the circle of those characters who are bound by natural ties. These close natural ties can be between, two brothers, son and father, mother and son, or daughter and father. When such relations are involved in suffering, they can arouse pity and fear in spectacles.

Chapter XV: Requisites of Tragedy

Aristotle focused on character after plot. He proposed prerequisites for a perfect character as a protagonist. He mentions some characteristics for a character that include:

  • The character must be good or fine
  • true to type
  • true to human nature
  • true to itself
  • constructed
  • idealized.

Chapter XVI: The Various Kinds of Recognition

In chapter XVI, Aristotle deals with recognition or discovery. He examines different species of discovery in this chapter. Discovery or recognition is an unveil to a hidden truth behind the reversal. This hidden truth may be the tragic flaw of the protagonist or any unexpected act of protagonist or antagonist.  

Chapter XVII: Composition of Tragedy

In chapter XVII, Aristotle proposed some practical hints for composing a perfect tragedy.

He emphasized on the importance of imaginative emotion. “Hence poetry requires genius or madness.” Aristotle also emphasized on a general brief outline of the whole before extending insertion of episodes. It is applicable to plot of all stories whether it is traditional or his own invention. When the general outline is set, the next thing is to move ahead with particular episodes.

Chapter XVIII: Rules for the Tragic Poet

Some critics say that chapter XVIII is a later addition to the poetics. In this chapter, Aristotle says that every tragedy has a complication and an unravelling or Denouement.

Then Aristotle discuses four species of tragedy according to the source of the tragic effect that are a tragedy of plot, tragedy of suffering, tragedy of character, and tragedy of spectacle. Further, Aristotle adds that a tragic poet must avoid a multiple story and must treat the chorus as one of the actors.

Chapter XIX: Thought and Diction in Tragedy

In Chapter XIX Aristotle deals with thought, ideas, and diction in tragedy.

Chapter XX: Grammar

Chapter XX deals with grammar.

Chapter XXI: Poetic Diction

In chapter XXI, Aristotle continues the treatment of diction. Aristotle talks of the following kinds of words: current terms, strange words, metaphorical words, ornament words, coined words, lengthened words, curtailed words, and altered words.

Chapter XXII: Style

In chapter XXII, Aristotle deals with the style and choice of the words. He focused that style should be clear, but not mean. Moreover, style should be lofty, but not obscure. We can sum up this chapter as Aristotle preferred use of metaphor, compound terms, rare terms (for epic), and metaphorical terms (for tragedy).

Chapter XXIII: Epic Poetry

Main part of the poetics deals with tragedy. But epic is discussed very slightly. This chapter deals with the Epic. Aristotle says that like tragedy, epic story should be constructed on dramatic principles. It must have a proper beginning, a middle and an end like a tragedy. It also has the unity of action in a series of events like a dramatic plot. Moreover, it has a unity of metre.

Chapter XXIV: Kinds of Epic Poetry

In this chapter, Aristotle talks of four kinds of Epic poetry that are:

  1. Simple
  2. Complex,
  3. Epics of moral character,
  4. Epics of passion.

Aristotle talks about epic and again compares it with tragedy. He says that the constituent parts of the epic are similar to tragedy but it differs in length. The metre of epic poetry is heroic. He advised to poet not to intrude himself in his work and he should prefer a probable impossibility to an improbable possibility.

Chapter XXV: Criticism

This particular chapter XXV deals with the theory of criticism. Aristotle mentioned some objects of imitation that are: “Things as they once were, or are now; Things as they are said or thought to be; and, Things as they ought to be.”

The medium of a poet to express is diction. That diction can be unadorned, or with a mixture of strange words and metaphors. Then Aristotle talked about poetry that it has its own artistic values. Moreover, he mentioned some faults in the poetry that are: impossibility, irrationality, inconsistency, immorality, and an inartistic approach.

Chapter XXVI: Comparative Value of Epic and Tragedy

Last chapter deals with a comparative significance of tragedy and epic.