Dasarupaka (critical study)

by Anuru Ranjan Mishra | 2015 | 106,293 words

This page relates ‘Summary of the Poetics by Aristotle’ of the English study of the Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya: an important work on Hindu dramaturgy (Natya-shastra) from the tenth century dealing with the ten divisions of Sanskrit drama (nata), describing their technical aspects and essential dramaturgical principals. These ten types of drama are categorised based on the plot (vastu), hero (neta) and sentiment (rasa)

Summary of the Poetics by Aristotle

Aristotle, the author of the “Poetics”, was born in 384 B.C. at Stagira, a small town near Macedonia in northern Greece. He entered into the academy of Plato, at the age of 17, in the year of 367 B.C. and spent twenty years there. In that period, he was partly a student and partly a teacher. He was an extraordinary student, thoroughly new and understood the nature of man and the universe, who laid the foundations of almost all subjects, like politics, drama, poetry, physics, medicine, psychology, history, logic, astronomy, ethics, natural history, mathematics, rhetoric and biology. His “Poetics” was the most important and first authoritative work in the west. Its theory was reflected then in Greek Epic-poetry and tragedy. The theory is also followed by the poets, dramatists and critics. He has given more importance to “imitation”, because it is meant for the aesthetic representation that is the activity of humans, deserving the highest consideration. However, “Poetics” has lost some portions of it, which dealt with other subjects rather than tragedy, comedy and Epics.

The available portion of the “Poetics” contains 26 chapters. A brief note on the “Poetics”, has taken from “Aristotle and Bharata -by R. L. Singal” is provided below:

Chapters I to III explain the various kinds of arts, which differ from one another according to the means, objects and manners of their imitation. A poet has three means of imitation at his disposal——rhythm, language and harmony. He may employ metres too but the distinguishing merit of a poet is not that he writes in metre, but, it is an imitative nature of his work. The second chapter stresses that the objects of imitation are men in action and these men may be either as they are or better, or worse. Tragedy aims at representing men who are better than usual, while comedy aims at those who represent men who are worse. As regards men “as they are”, Aristotle is silent because photographic reality has nothing to do with literary representation. The third chapter refers to the manner in which each of these objects may be imitated. The poet may imitate by narration -in which case he can either speak through another personality (which is purely narrative), or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us. This latter type is called drama.

Chapter IV gives us psychological and historical origin of poetry. On the psychological plane, the origin of poetry was due to two reasons: the instinct of imitation and the instinct of harmony and rhythm. Historically viewed, poetry broke up into two kinds–the graver and the meaner or we may say the tragic and the comic.

Chapter V gives the definition of comedy as an imitation of men “worse than the average” which is not the same thing as bad characters. According to Aristotle, the meaning is “ridiculous”. There are also enumerated here points of comparison between epic poetry and tragedy. Both are an imitation of serious subjects in a grand kind of verse.

Chapter VI gives us the definition of tragedy and its six parts: Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody. We have in this chapter Aristotle’s important statement: “A tragedy is impossible without action, but there may be one without character.”

Chapters VII to XVI explain in detail the nature and relative importance of Plot and Character. According to his definition, a tragedy is an imitation of a whole action. It means that it has a beginning, middle and an end. The action imitated must have a proper magnitude; it should be neither too short nor too long. Plots are either simple or complex. A plot is simple when there is neither any unexpected change or reversal of situation nor a sudden discovery. A complex plot includes both Discovery and Reversal.

Chapters XVII and XVIII prescribe the rules for the tragic poets. Poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness. Aristotle reminds the poets that the Chorus should be regarded as one of the actors and should not be used for providing mere interludes.

Chapters XIX to XXII are devoted to Thought and Diction. Under Thought is included every effect which has to be produced by speech, such as the excitation of the emotions of pity, fear etc. Under Diction is included the art of delivery, language and metaphor. We have here Aristotle’s observation on an ideal style for poetry. Diction should be clear but not mean.

Chapters XXIII and XXIV are dealing with the structure of Epic and its comparison with Tragedy. This links it up with Chapter-V. In epic poetry, there is a single metre, i.e. the hexameter. The plot in epic poetry should be constructed on dramatic principles. There should be a single subject, whole and complete. It should resemble a living animal in all its unity, differing in construction from history, which presents not a single action but a single period. The difference between Epic poetry and Tragedy lies in the scale and the metre, on which they are constructed.

Chapter XXV contains an elucidation of the meaning of poetic truth as distinguished from the truth of fact. Aristotle emphasizes that the poet presents not facts but his own view of facts. A probable impossibility should be preferred to improbable possibility.

Chapter XXVI gives a comparison of Epic and Tragedy and establishes that tragedy is the higher form of art. It possesses all the epic elements, it may even use the metre used in epic and has the additional advantage in its use of music and spectacle. Moreover, the canvas of tragedy being shorter, it has more concentrated effect; whereas, the bigger canvas and diffusion through a long extent of time, weaken the impression in Epic.

Since Western dramatic tradition believes in the tragedy, the theory is also written in accordance. The tragedy comes through the emotions of fear and pity. Aristotle believes in action, which has an important role to produce tragedy. That is why Aristotle states (R. L. Singal, p.85) that “A tragedy is impossible without action.” Thus, his divisions of elements are meant for the tragedy only, i.e. Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Spectacle and Melody.

Plot –

According to Aristotle, the Plot should have a beginning, middle and an end. It should be taken from a well-known story like history or mythology. It should be well designed and there should be unity between the beginning and the end. Again, it should not be so thin or vast to comprehend, remember and appreciate.

Character –

Aristotle has given proper attention to the qualities of the Characters in drama. He does not want the hero of a tragedy to be free from shortcomings and a person who should not commit any wrong. The portrayal of a bad man passing from misery to happiness should be avoided, because it does not create tragedy. Again, the character of hero should not be of one, who is a villain or an extremely bad manand who is to be seen falling from happiness into misery, because they do not create pity or fear. Aristotle thinks the fittest character for a tragedy is a man not pre-eminently virtuous and whose misfortune should not be the result of vice and depravity, but, by some error of judgment, there should be tragic flaw in the enjoyment of great reputation and prosperity. It means he wants an ordinary man, who has talent to imitate the action.

Thought –

According to Aristotle, thought has an important role to show the difference between the history and poetry, because poetry defines the nature of universal, whereas history defines the particularity.

Diction –

Aristotle has given importance to the diction, which is based on the moderate language. He advises to use such types of words in the tragedy, which are ordinary words, strange words, metaphorical words, coined words, words lengthened out, words curtailed and words altered in form. Diction should be perfect and very clear but it should not be mean or of low standard. By using unfamiliar words, dialogues become riddled and barbaric. Therefore, it is necessary that there should be a mixture of ordinary and strange expressions, so that the style becomes clear and moderate and is rescued from becoming mean and prosaic.

Spectacle –

Though Aristotle has not given that much importance to the spectacle, still he has not neglected it, because it is the spirit and essence of tragedy and more valuable than the presentation and production.

Melody –

Aristotle thinks melody, which comes by the combination of music, rhythm and song, carries tragedy to the great height.

Imitation –

Instead of these elements (Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Spectacle and Melody), there is another instrument, to which Aristotle has given more importanceand that is called “imitation”. He thinks it constitutes relationship between art and reality. However, he has applied imitation only for the art. He includes all types of art, i.e. Tragedy, Comedy and Epic-poetry in the modes of imitation. He thinks, if a poet does not apply imitation in his work, he may not be a poet, because it is a natural thing by which one imitates the sense of rhythm and harmony. Through imitation, one learns to derive pleasure. Again, a painful object becomes pleasurable object because of imitation.

Further, modern western playwrights accept Aristotle’s stages, which were applied in the Greek plays. These stages are five in number, i.e. Initial-incident, Rising Action, Climax, Resolution and Conclusion or Catastrophe. However, according to Aristotle, the basic sources of the plot of a tragedy are history, tradition and poets” own inventive imagination.

Aristotle’s great “Poetics” is critically examined and appreciated by many scholars like, Stalwarts, S. H. Butcher, Humphrey House, F. L. Luces, Ingram Bywarter, Lane Cooper, John Jones.

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