Aristotle's Poetics: Chapters 10-11
The actions plot imitates fall into two categories: simple and complex. A simple action is one that is continuous and unified, and the reversal lacks peripetery or recognition. In complex action, the reversal is continuous, and incorporates peripetery and recognition. The developments should flow naturally from the structure of the plot, making the next step in a logical sequence appear necessary and probably.
“Peripety” (peripeteia) means a sudden reversal, a shift from one thing to the opposite. In Oedipus, for example, a man attempts to reassure Oedipus about his incest fears with his mother ends up effecting the opposite result by revealing his true identity. In Lynceus, Danaus’s pursuit of Lynceus ends up not with Lynceus’s capture, but with Danaus’s death. “Recognition” (anagnorisis) refers to a move from a lack of knowledge to the possession of knowledge, the recognition of a situation. One of the clearest examples of recognition occurs in Oedipus at the moment when Oedipus achieves an awareness of his true identity. Recognition combined with peripety can arouse an audience’s emotions to pity or fear. The third element of plot, in addition to peripety and recognition, is pathos. Pathos refers to suffering, a painful act such as a stage death, pain, or injury.
Chapters 10-11, Analysis
Aristotle extends his analysis of plot, dividing plots into two general categories: the complex and the simple. He defines a “simple plot” as a plot that is unified, lacking either peripety or recognition. On the other hand, a “complex plot” incorporates peripety and recognition. In this section (11), Aristotle introduces three important concepts. The first, “peripety” (peripeteia), refers to a sudden reversal, a turning point in the action of the plot. Probably all effective drama involves some form of reversal. Antony’s loss at the battle of Actium, in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, would be just one example. The second of Aristotle’s concepts, “recognition” or discovery (anagnorisis) is equally easy to spot in most forms of drama. It refers to a moment of acquisition of knowledge, when the hero suddenly becomes aware of the reality of his situation. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, for example, when Lear realizes that he has ill-treated and misjudged his loyal daughter, Cordelia, that is a moment of Aristotelian anagnorisis, as is the moment in Shakespeare’s Othello, when Othello realizes that Iago is not the loyal aide Othello took him to be. The third concept, pathos, refers to a moment of suffering or pain that evokes sympathy. An example would be King Lear shut out from his home in a storm on the heath; that is certainly a dramatic situation that evokes pathos. Another example would be when in Hamlet, Hamlet realizes that the funeral procession that he is observing is for Ophelia, for whom he had deep feelings.