Aristotle wrote the early dramatic principles in his work The Poetics. In this work, he explains the definition of the tragedy, its structure, and its components. The theory given by Aristotle was universally acknowledged and followed by different play writers until the modern dramatic era ushered in with its new and experimental techniques. However, it is still considered as a most systematically defined theory in the history of literature.
Aristotle defines tragedy as “… the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in an appropriate and pleasurable language;… in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions”. The aim of the tragedy is to bring about a “catharsis” so that the spectators will feel lighthearted and cleansed when they leave the theater. The audience is expected moved by the great fall of a person of a high prospectus because of the Harmartia (tragic flaw).
Aristotle also tells that there are six most important elements of the tragedy: plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song. The plot is the most significant element of the tragedy. It holds each and every element together. According to Aristotle, the plot should not be too lengthy because the audience will lose their interest, neither it should be too brief. It must be of proper magnitude having a beginning, middle, and the end. Every single event must have a connection with the prior event. The whole plot must clearly define the cause of the downfall of the protagonist.
The plot can be either simple or complex. The simple plot does not have too much weight in it. It only has the change of the fortune of the protagonist. This change or downfall is also known as “catastrophe”. The complex plot is much better. It contains the “reversal of action” and the “recognition”. The reversal of action happens when the protagonist acts opposite to what he intended to do. The recognition is basically the change of the state of the protagonist from the ignorance to the knowledge.
Nonetheless, the Poetics is the only survived document of the critical study of the Greek dramas. Aristotle has explained in his work the origin, methods, and the purpose of tragedy in a highly systemic form. Aristotle’s dramatic principle has contributed a great deal to the composition of the tragedies in Western Europe from 17th to 19th century.