Aristotle's Literary Criticism

Aristotle’s Literary Criticism

In addition to being an inspiration in the fields of science and philosophy, the Greek philosopher Aristotle also made important advances in literary criticism. His ground-breaking book “Poetics,” which offers deep insights into the nature of theatre, poetry, and narrative, is still regarded as a key text in the study of literature. The major concepts articulated in “Poetics” and their ongoing effect on literary theory are the subject of this article’s exploration of Aristotle’s literary criticism.

The Father of Literary Criticism, Aristotle

Aristotle (384–322 BCE) was a polymath who studied under Plato and made important contributions to the natural sciences, politics, ethics, and metaphysics, among other areas. However, his venture into literary criticism stands out as evidence of his thorough comprehension of artistic production and human expression.


The seminal work on aesthetics and literary theory is Aristotle’s “Poetics.” The material that has survived is broken up into many sections, each of which focuses on a distinct facet of dramatic art and literature, while it is thought that there may be sections missing. Tragic plays are the main subject of the work, which examines their components, structures, and emotional effects on viewers.

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Aristotle’s Theory of the Tragic Hero

An essential principle of ‘Poetics’ is Aristotle’s notion of the tragic hero. According to his theory, a tragic hero is a person of great virtue and grandeur whose tragic fault, or hamartia, causes them to fall from grace. This character isn’t totally nice or bad, and when they see their terrible end, viewers need to experience catharsis or an emotional release.

Coherence of Place, Time, and Action

Aristotle highlighted the need for coherence in a tragic story. He maintained that a tragedy needs to have a single, cohesive storyline that happens in a condensed amount of time and in a single setting. By fostering a sense of oneness, the story’s emotional effect is enhanced and the viewer is drawn further into the action as it unfolds.


Aristotle’s literary philosophy heavily relies on his concept of catharsis. According to him, the goal of the tragedy was to cause the audience to have a strong emotional reaction that would enable them to clear or purge their own feelings. According to Aristotle, this cathartic experience offers a sense of comfort and clarity and eventually leads to a greater comprehension of the human situation.

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Mimesis: Life Imitation

The idea of mimesis, which holds that art imitates life, was first proposed by Aristotle. He contends that theatre and literature represent human experiences and give readers a planned and regulated way to interact with the complexity of life. Aristotle contended that artists provide a mirror to society through mimesis, allowing people to see themselves and their own feelings, motives, and interpersonal interactions.

Character, Plot, and Diction

Three elements are essential to every effective tragedy, according to Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’: narrative, character, and diction. According to him, the story must be well-developed, coherent, and convey a sense of the inevitable outcome. Characters should be nuanced, with unique qualities and weaknesses that add to the story’s overall thematic relevance. Furthermore, effective diction, or language choice, will increase the work’s emotional impact.

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The Impact of Aristotle 

Over the decades, literary theory and criticism have been greatly influenced by Aristotle’s “Poetics.” Scholars, authors, and critics have continually returned to and reinterpreted his ideas from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment and into the contemporary period. Shakespeare, Goethe, and subsequent writers and intellectuals like Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud were all influenced by Aristotle’s ideas on tragedy and psychological complexities.

What I Mean…

Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ is still a fundamental text for studying literature since it provides an ageless understanding of character development, narrative, and the emotional resonance of art. His ideas on mimesis, catharsis, and the tragic hero still influence how we read and value play and literature today. Aristotle’s legacy lives on, reminding us of the deep link between art and the human experience as we continue to delve into the depths of human expression.

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