Aristotle's Poetics

Aristotelian Tragedy in Henry IV Part I College

Aristotle breaks down the plot of the tragedy into three parts, reversal, recognition and catharsis. Shakespeare includes all three components of plot in his play,Henry IV Part I. He establishes a tragic hero, Harry Percy, and allows him to rise to power and influence. Then at his climax comes the reversal, which results in a fatal stab wound, followed by the recognition, which comes in Percy’s final words before dying. The combination of these two components, mixed with the audience’s ability to relate to Harry Percy and his fatal flaws, lead to the catharsis of emotion at the end of the play. By identifying Harry Percy as the tragic hero of Shakespeare’sHenry IV Part Iand examining Shakespeare’s use of these three aspects of plot it becomes clear thatHenry IV Part Ican be identified as an Aristotelian tragedy.

According to Aristotle, a reversal is "a change of the actions to their opposite" (96) that shows the tragic hero’s change of fortune. For a reversal to be successful it must be developed and must arise "in accordance to probability or necessity" (96). InHenry IV Part I, Shakespeare begins this development in Act I Scene I when the Earl of Westmoreland tells King Henry IV of the valiant efforts of Harry Percy at...

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