Unearthing Aristotle's Dramatics: Why There is No Theory of Literature in the "Poetics"

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1992)

Aristotle has been viewed perhaps universally in the last 443 years as writing about literary theory in the Poetics, and has been thought to be providing a classification of poetic arts. Leaving aside Chapter 25, which is often agreed to be interpolated from another of his works, I will argue that, instead, he presents in the treatise only a theory of drama requiring performance, spectacle, and music. I show that the paradigmatic dramatic art, tragedy, in its primary sense, is not even reducible to literature for Aristotle. Tragedy cannot be fundamentally a script to which less essential elements like performance and song are attached. I arrive at this conclusion after examining: the definition of tragedy ; the six necessary elements ; critical terms such as mimesis and poetry ; and statements that have been taken heretofore to mean that Aristotle allows tragedy in the Poetics to be given only in reading. Various diaeretic divisions that lead to the definition of tragedy and Aristotle's general theory of definition as found notably in the Posterior Analytics are scrutinized, and related discrepancies that arise in the Poetics are resolved. ;I conclude that 'poetry' takes on a technical meaning in this treatise, namely, 'dramatic composition', and that plot can be given merely by mimed movement for Aristotle, just as it can in a silent film. All of this removes the problem of why he does not discuss purely literary forms in any significant way in the Poetics. Moreover, the outcome changes the foundation of much of traditional Aristotelian criticism. Dramatic principles, as they are stated in the Poetics, will be argued not to be applicable to other art forms, because Aristotle claims that the specific arts have different principles just as art in general and politics do. All of this sets the ground for denying that the principles in the Poetics are applicable to literature in the ways that they are typically thought to be
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