Poetics

by

Aristotle

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Character is one of the component parts of tragedy. By character, Aristotle does not always mean the people depicted in poetry; instead, character in Poetics often refers to a character’s moral fortitude and disposition. According to Aristotle, characters are either admirable or inferior, and their actions reflect this disposition. Aristotle argues that character is the second-most important component of tragedy after plot. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is an imitation of an action, not merely of a person, and character determines if that action will be admirable or inferior—that is, moral or immoral. Aristotle believes that the best tragedies have balance between good and evil character. A character shouldn’t be too moral, but their change of fortune should arise from an error that is not a moral deficiency.

Character Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below are all either spoken by Character or refer to Character. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Poetics published in 1997.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Those who imitate, imitate objects; and these must be either admirable or inferior. (Character almost always corresponds to just these two categories, since everyone is differentiated in character by defect or excellence.). Alternatively they must be better people than we are, or worse, or of the same sort (compare painters: Polygnotus portrayed better people, Pauson worse people, Dionysius people similar to us).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

So tragedy as a whole necessarily has six component parts, which determine the tragedy’s quality. The medium of imitation comprises two parts, the mode one, and object three; and there is nothing apart from these.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Tragedy is not an imitation of persons, but of actions and of life. Well-being and ill-being reside in actions, and the goal of life is an activity, not a quality; people possess certain qualities in accordance with their character, but they achieve well-being or its opposite on the basis of how they fare. So the imitation of a character is not the purpose of what the agents do; character is included along with and on account of the actions. So the events, i.e. the plot, are what tragedy is there for, and that is the most important thing of all.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Homer deserves praise for many reasons, but above all because he alone among poets is not ignorant of what he should do in his own person. The poet in person should say as little as possible; that is not what makes him an imitator. Other poets perform in person throughout, and imitate little and seldom; but after a brief preamble Homer introduces a man or a woman or some other character—and none of them are characterless: they have character.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Achilles
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Tragedy has everything epic does (and it can even make use of its verse-form), and additionally it has a major component part music and spectacle; this is a source of intense pleasure. […] Also, the end of imitation is attained in shorter length; what is more concentrated is more pleasant than what is watered down by being more extended in time ( I mean, for example, if one were to turn Sophocles’ Oedipus into as many lines as the Iliad has).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Sophocles, Homer
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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Character Term Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the term Character appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2. Poetry as a Species of Imitation
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...are either admirable or inferior. Characters especially fall under one of these two distinctions because characters imitate people, and people are either admirable or inferior. Characters must be better, worse, or... (full context)
Chapter 4. Tragedy: Definition and Analysis
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...(the plot) that is performed by actors, and these actors have a certain kind of character (they are either admirable or inferior). The actors express themselves through reasoning, which they use... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
4.3 The Primacy of Plot. Every tragedy, Aristotle repeats, has spectacle, character, plot, diction, lyric poetry, and reasoning; however, plot is the most important component part. Tragedy... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...The Ranking Completed. Plot is the most important component part of tragedy, Aristotle repeats, and character is second in importance. Reasoning is third: it allows for characters to say what is... (full context)
Chapter 7. The Best Kinds of Tragic Plot
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
The best tragedy finds balance between good and evil character. A character shouldn’t be too moral, but the change a character undergoes should be due... (full context)
Chapter 8. Other Aspects of Tragedy
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
8.1 Character. There are four things that go into making a good character. The first is goodness: speech and actions have character, as they reveal the essence of... (full context)
Chapter 10. Epic
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...what makes him an imitator.” Homer is the master of this craft. Homer briefly introduces characters with a short opening and then lets each one show their own character and speak... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
10.6 Diction. In parts of an epic where nothing much is happening and neither character nor reasoning are being expressed, it’s especially important to be careful about diction, because “excessively... (full context)