Aristotle’s Poetics is an ancient Greek text which considers the fundamentals of great tragedy. Poetics continues to be used as a source for studying the art of writing drama because it expects a script to respect and connect with the creativity of the film makers (all those working in a film) and the audience. Poetics continues to help improve understanding about the dynamics of writing drama and poetry as well as challenge and refresh ideas.
Aristotle believed the art of good dramatic tragedy was personified by the works of the popular Greek playwright Sophocles whose plays were regularly voted as the audience favourite. Aristotle’s text on tragedy was created as a result of trying to analyse the reason for Sophocles success. Scriptwriters and film makers continue the vital work of analysis today. Few of Sophocles plays survive but the ones that do continue to have the power to connect with audiences. Aristotle’s text tells us how much work a script that can touch audiences requires.
Aristotle lived between 384-322BC, wrote ‘Poetics’, which is not known to have been widely circulated or published in his lifetime. Poetics was rediscovered and translated fully during the Italian Renaissance and the text was revived again in 1600 and may have influenced Shakespeare. An Oriental version of Poetics existed in 935AD. Poetics has been lost and rediscovered throughout the recorded history of drama and its resurrection has proved to be a great catalyst for reviving the art of powerful drama. This blog has produced a short summary of Poetics below but the original text, which is only 50 pages should be read and properly considered by scriptwriters, film makers and storytellers. Poetics can be found at this url: http://www.online-literature.com/aristotle/poetics/
Poetics considers tragedy to be the dramatisation of a sequence of events which cause a situation to dramatically reverse from the character’s world perspective in a logical but surprising way. The drama must show not tell what actually happens and must function according to the laws of logical probability or necessity. The plot, which cannot be separate from the events affecting the character, is an arrangement of events derived from an unbroken chain of cause and effect. Aristotle recognised that the characters in a play must be archetypes not stereotypes. The character’s speech or action must express the character and their personal motivations which must in turn support the plot and its overall holistic theme. The character like all human beings must have flaws or a significant flaw. This must cause their situation to go from good to bad (or vice versa) where they lose something of importance be it power or life. The written character must be relevant to the role, provide a picture of their morality, be true to life and show consistency through necessity and probability. The character can also show an otherness which shows the representation of perhaps what may be a greater capacity in all human beings. Today, we may describe this as human ideals but these attributes will be universally recognised as aspirations to transcend the human condition. The events affecting the character must evoke empathy and emotions in the audience. The beginning, middle and end must have causal connections comprising a holistic whole to ensure audiences do not suffer from a suspension of disbelief or become disengaged from the drama.
Poetics is the basis of Western drama and is used by playwrights and screenwriters alike and is a standard text in Hollywood. Therefore, most of us are well versed in the classic structure of drama but may now choose to watch drama at the cinema or on TV rather than the going to the theatre or as it was then, the amphitheatre.