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An Introduction for English IV
   Aristotle’s Poetics
A tragic character is one who is usually highly
renowned and prosperous, who comes to
misfortune because of some weakness or error
in judgment (hamartia). This error has several
possible sources: a miscalculation or
misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge,
ignorance of family relationships, or hubris.
         Tragic Flaw
Because of this error, or “tragic flaw,” the tragic
characters isolate and destroy themselves.
Because they possess many fundamentally
virtuous qualities, their destruction is a waste of
potential good. Yet in dying they triumph over
the madness and darkness within themselves
and gain a degree of insight into their dilemma.
  Fate and Free Will
Even if the hero is subject to the relentless,
inexorable qualities of human fatality, the
downfall is the result of choice, not the result of
pure accident or villainy or some overriding
malignant force. Accident, villainy, or fate may
contribute to the downfall but only as
cooperating agents.
Aristotle identifies an important tragic moment
(anagnorisis), the recognition or discovery, a
revelation of some fact not known before or
some person’s true identity. Modern critics
have taken the term to mean the terrible
enlightenment that accompanies such a
recognition. “To see things plain—that is
anagnorisis. It is what tragedy ultimately is
about: the realization of the unthinkable.”
According to Aristotle, the audience pities the
central character and fears being in the same
predicament. In the end, we feel purged of
these emotions and learn something from these
incidents, since their larger, universal
significance is clear.
In the end the tragic character is fallen in
worldly state but uplifted in moral dignity. With
the fall of the hero and his gain in wisdom or
self-knowledge, there is, besides the appalling
sense of human waste, a fresh recognition of
human greatness, a sense that human life has
unrealized potentialities. Both the hero and the
audience gain understanding from his defeat.
           Happy Endings?
“I believe the writers who get the most lasting
   response from readers are the writers who
   offer a happy ending through moral
   development. By a happy ending, I do not
   mean mere fortunate events—a marriage or
   last-minute rescue from death—but some
   kind of spiritual reassessment or moral
   reconciliation, even with the self, even at
   death.”--British novelist Fay Weldon
• The World of Tragedy, John Kimmey
  and Ashley Brown
• Perrine’s Literature, Thomas Arp
• Literature: An Introduction to Fiction,
  Poetry, and Drama, X.J. Kenney and
  Dana Gioia
• Tragedy, Clifford Leech
• Poetics, Aristotle

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