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Plot vs Character in Tragedy Essay

Q. PLOT Vs CHARACTER In Tragedy In his immortal creation Poetics Aristotle mentions six formative elements of tragedy — ‘Plot’, ‘Character’, ‘Thought’, ‘Diction’, ‘Spectacle’ and ‘Song’. And among them ‘plot’ gets the prior attention and importance. Aristotle claims ‘plot’ to be the soul of tragedy. In his view character as secondary to the plot. He in his book Poetics opines “Plot is the fundamental thing, the soul of tragedy, whereas character is secondary.” [Chap—7]. It is only in the context of describing ideal plot that Aristotle refers to character. Aristotle categorically states that there can be a tragedy without character, but there can never be a tragedy without plot. According to Aristotle, there are two kinds of plot—simple plot and complex plot.

In simple plot we find only ‘peripeteia’ or the reversal of situation, and complex plot shows both ‘peripeteia’ and ‘Anagnorisis’ or the sudden discovery. Besides these main two,’ plot’ can be based on scenes of sufferings. An ideal plot is one which arouses pity and terror and brings about the outlet of emotions. But the suffering of all characters cannot arouse pity and terror. If the tragic hero is a thoroughly bad man, his sufferings will not arouse the desired tragic emotions. And if the tragic hero is a thoroughly good man, his sufferings will shock us. So the arousal of pity and terror demands the description of a person who is neither very good nor very bad.

The ideal character should be a person of intermediate sort. Thus, character is subordinated to plot. Tragedy depicts actions, and not character; it is the plot which reveals the character. In the classical tragedies of Greece emphasis is certainly laid on plot. Sophocles’ King Oedipus, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon or Euripides’s Medea is really plot-oriented.

But in modern or social tragedies, character is closely assimilated with the circumstances of life—with different social forces. Bradley’s definition of tragedy as a tale of exceptional calamity of a person who falls from prosperity to misery shifts our attention to character. Synge’s Riders to the sea or Ibsen’s A Doll’s House exhibits the greater prominence of characters. To sum up the above discussion we can accept the fact that a proper blending between ‘plot’ and ‘character’ is the sole requisite of a good tragedy. And a successful tragedy writer knows how to provide the readers or the audience with the blend of these two and make them mutually contributory to each other.


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