Three Kinds of Plot According to Aristotle

What are three kinds of plot according to Aristotle?

Plot plays a vital role in storytelling, shaping the structure and progression of a narrative. Aristotle, the renowned Greek philosopher and scholar, analyzed various aspects of tragedy in his Poetics, including the concept of a tragic plot. He focused on construction of plot. He compared tragedy to a living body and placed plot as a soul of that body. He discusses different characteristics of a tragic plot including three kinds of plot

Aristotle’s Concept of Plot

Before we delve into the three kinds of plot, let’s understand Aristotle’s overall concept of plot. According to him, the plot is not simply a sequence of events but rather a carefully crafted arrangement that creates a cohesive and meaningful story. Aristotle emphasizes that a well-structured plot must have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with each incident logically connected to the next.

Kind of Plot: Simple, Complex, and Tragic

Aristotle categorizes plots into three kinds:

  1. Simple plot
  2. Complex plot
  3. Tragic plot

Now we will discuss characteristics and examples of each plot in a brief detail.

Simple plot

As the name suggests that a simple plot has a straightforward narrative without any sub plots or interconnected events. They often involve a single main conflict and exhibit a clear cause-and-effect relationship between incidents. Simple plots are commonly found in genres such as fairy tales and romantic comedies, where the focus is on delivering a clear and uncomplicated story. Unlike a complex plot, a simple plot lacks moments of peripety or anagnorisis. The transition from a good fortune to bad one occurs gradually, without any violence, bloodshed, or abrupt reversals. The storyline progresses steadily towards its end, devoid of the sudden and unexpected twists associated with peripety and anagnorisis.

Examples of simple plots

Simple plots are commonly found in various forms of storytelling, from classic fairy tales to modern romantic comedies. Fairy tales, such as “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” follow a simple plot structure, focusing on the journey of the main character and their quest for happiness. Similarly, romantic comedies like “Pretty Woman” and “When Harry Met Sally” often adhere to a simple plot structure, emphasizing the development of a romantic relationship.

Complex plot

Aristotle, on the other hand, prefers complex plots and discussed it in very detail. According to Aristotle’s perspective, an ideal tragic plot would incorporate peripety, the moment of reversal, and anagnorisis, the revelation of truth. In the case of complex plots, tragedy does not stem from external evil forces but emerges organically from the plot’s inherent structure. The reversal is caused by human error, (hamartia) and blindness, wherein good intentions yield disastrous outcomes due to errors in judgment and a lack of awareness regarding the ground reality. Consequently, Aristotle acknowledges Tragedy of Errors as the most profound among all forms of tragedies.

Peripety and Discovery in a Complex Plot

According to Humphry House, the elements of hamartia, peripety, and discovery are interconnected in the ideal structure of a tragic plot. A successful plot is closely tied to the character’s error, which sets off a chain of events leading to a change in fortune. Both peripety and discovery play integral roles within the plot.

Peripety refers to the tragic working of the plot, leading to outcomes contrary to the characters’ intentions. On the other hand, discovery, also known as anagnorisis, involves the revelation of truth regarding the identity of individuals or the situation at hand. Peripety can be seen as a consequence of one’s actions, representing a significant change that sparks the crisis within the play. It often involves irony, resulting from human misjudgment, miscalculation, or blunders. Ultimately, it leads to catastrophe when a well-intentioned act goes astray.

The ideal tragedy presents a situation in which the reversal of circumstances occurs due to the good intentions of a friend or relative of the protagonist, leading to unintended outcomes. Despite their actions being motivated by noble intentions, individuals often operate in a state of “blindness,” ultimately bringing about their own downfall or the ruin of their loved ones. This aspect imbues tragedy with greatness, depth, emotional impact, and awe-inspiring qualities, as it gives rise to profound irony.

Discovery, as Aristotle explains, involves a shift from ignorance to knowledge and has the power to generate feelings of love or hate among the characters. After the discovery takes place, the plot must take a new direction. Hence, discovery is closely intertwined with the reversal of circumstances. While peripety and discovery can occur independently in a tragedy, the best tragedies employ both simultaneously, heightening the tragic effect. However, in all cases, peripety and discovery must conform to the laws of probability and necessity rather than occurring randomly or arbitrarily.

Example of Best Complex Plot

Aristotle cites the example of Oedipus as the best example of a play that combines Peripety and Discovery. According to Aristotle, the simultaneous occurrence of a reversal of circumstances and the revelation of truth generates a sense of shock within the tragic experience. It is this combined effect, rather than the mere novelty of the story itself, that elicits the element of surprise. Through the utilization of peripety and discovery, the emotions of pity and fear are evoked in the audience, enhancing the overall impact of the tragedy.

The Tragic Plot

The third kind of plot, as identified by Aristotle, is the tragic plot. These plots evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience and often result in a cathartic experience. Aristotle does not hold a high regard for tragedies that heavily rely on scenes of suffering, such as murders and injuries, to evoke their desired impact. While such scenes do play a role in the tragic plot, they should arise organically as a result of the unfolding actions and not be included merely for their shock value. According to Aristotle, the tragic effect should be crafted through the natural progression of events and should not be artificially manufactured or achieved through mechanical devices. If a poet feels compelled to depict on-stage violence and killings as a means to create the desired tragic effect, it implies a deficiency in their artistic abilities.

Examples of tragic plots

Greek tragedies such as Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” and Euripides’ “Medea, and Shakespearean plays, such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth,” exemplify the tragic plot structure, exploring themes of hubris, fate, and moral dilemmas.


Aristotle’s categorization of plot into simple, complex, and tragic provides a framework for understanding the different ways in which narratives can unfold. Each kind of plot offers a unique tragic experience, catering to different genres and evoking varied emotional responses from the audience. By considering Aristotle’s insights on plot, writers and storytellers can create captivating narratives that stand the test of time.