Aristotle and Sappho V
The construction of Plot
Scene: School of Athens
Once and the most important
Thing in Tragedy
Tragedy is imitation of an action,
That is complete, whole
Of some magnitude.
Is a whole, a magnitude?
A whole may be of no magnitude.
What is a whole?
A whole is that,
Which has a beginning, a middle
And an end.
What is action?
Plot in the drama is an equivalent
Of an Action is real life.
Action, is not an external act
But an inward process,
Which works outwards
Or the expression of
A man’s rational personality.
The characters in a drama
Are not described but they
Enact their own story
And so reveal themselves.
A revelation though
Is not life itself made of
Multiple dramas enacted.
We know them not
O! Muse the tenth
From what we are told of them.
We know them by their performance
Without action in this sense
A poem would not be bad drama,
But no drama at all.
Not a collection of incidents
An action is whole
An end is that
Which has nothing after it
Which is naturally after
Either as some thing is necessary
Or because it is consequent.
A beginning has that
Which has naturally something after it.
Plot, therefore cannot begin or end
At certain random point.
What makes it beautiful?
To be beautiful,
A living creature
O r any other whole made of parts
Only present some order
In arrangements of parts,
But also be of certain definite Magnitude.
Beauty is a matter of size and order.
It is impossible without that
The unity and wholeness of it
Is lost to the beholder, otherwise.
How long the Plot should be?
So a story or Plot
Must be of some length,
But a length to be taken by memory.
The length thus depends
On spectators, a hundred stories
To be timed by ‘water clock’
The limit is,
The longer the story
Consistently with its being comprehensible,
As a whole,
The finer it is by reason of Magnitude.
A rough general formula is
‘A length which allows a hero pass through a series
of probable or necessary stages from misfortune to
happiness, or from happiness to misfortune.’
This may suffice
For the magnitude of the story.
I am empty this day,
Your critique, the empiricist
My muse though busy
I lost the construction
In parts, the whole.
(Now strolling to and fro)
Unity of a Plot
Does not consist
As some suppose
In having one man
As its subject.
One man as its subject?
An infinity of things befall
That one man, some of which it is impossible
To reduce tot unity.
And in like manner
There are many actions of one man,
Which cannot be made to form one action.
Where from is the beginning?
The beginning does not come after,
Something else as a consequence.
It is casually related to what comes
After it. This does not mean
That the Tragedy should begin
From the beginning.
It would be more effective
If the tragic action comes
Later in the career of the hero.
The beginning should therefore
Be self explanatory.
It should not need the knowledge
Of any earlier circumstance.
Neither should it be
To make us ask, why and how.
Where comes the ‘catastrophie’
O master of reason, a catastrophe,
Life is so replete with?
Where to place the mirror
To its ugly face.
The middle must follow
Naturally from the beginning.
And naturally lead to the end
Or the catastrophe.
The end is casually related to something
That went before it
But has nothing coming after it.
Tell the ‘golden mean’.
The Plot should have a magnitude
Beauty depends on magnitude and order.
The ‘golden mean’ is that it should be neither
Too long, or too small
That one forgets the begging or appreciate the beauty.
Unless of suitable length
One cannot appreciate the orderly arrangements
Of the part of the whole.
What length master?
‘It must be long enough to allow a sequence of events
within the limits of probability and necessity
which can bring about the change of fortune.’
Do you mean organic unity of Plato?
This is significant
The ‘organic unity’ propounded by Plato.
A symmetrical and proportionate relationship
Between the parts and the whole.
A plot should consist of incidents or episodes
Which show a proper relationship to the whole.
Like a creature neither too small nor too big
Beauty is a matter of size and order.
End of Act V
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