Aristotle's Poetics

Aristotle's Poetics in Shakespeare's King Lear

According to Aristotle in his book Poetics, the cathartic effects of a tragedy are its purpose, which is mediated through its form. An examination of Shakespeare's King Lear in relation to the Aristotelian elements of tragedy - focusing on his compliance with Plot and inversion of Thought - will demonstrate how the playwright preserves the cathartic outcome despite the dramatically altered balance between pity and fear.

Of the three Unities of Time, Place and Action, only the last can be directly attributed to Aristotle, who referred to it as the "principal of organic unity of literature." In King Lear, Shakespeare abides by this principal, which states that the plot should have a beginning, middle and end, it should be the appropriate length for the believable unfolding of events, and the main character (since referred to as the tragic hero) should follow a specific dramatic process. He should be a man greater than ourselves who goes from fortune to misfortune (peripeteia) due to a flaw in his character (harmatia). This is followed by anagnorisis, enlightenment of his responsibility for the fall, yet the punishment still exceeds the crime.

The prologue to King Lear combines exposition and action, giving the...

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