Poetics

by

Aristotle

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Aristotle defines reversal as “a change to the opposite in the actions being performed” that occurs in accordance with necessity or probability. In other words, it refers to the kind of plot twist where things seem to be going one way but then go in the opposite direction. In Poetics, Aristotle cites Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex as an example of reversal. A messenger brings Oedipus news meant to calm his fear that he has committed incest, but in disclosing Oedipus’s true identity, the messenger confirms Oedipus’s fears instead of allying them. Reversal is most powerful, Aristotle argues, when it occurs along with recognition (as it does in Oedipus), and he contends that both should arise from the plot and not from an outside source. Recognition and reversal combined produce either good or bad fortune as an outcome, and they involve fear and pity and thus produce catharsis, which Aristotle argues is the true aim of tragedy.

Reversal Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below are all either spoken by Reversal or refer to Reversal. 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 6 Quotes

So there are these two parts of the plot—reversal and recognition; a third is suffering. Of these, reversal and recognition have already been discussed; suffering is an action that involves destruction or pain (e.g. deaths in full view, extreme agony, woundings and so on).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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Reversal Term Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the term Reversal appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4. Tragedy: Definition and Analysis
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...of tragedy. Furthermore, the most effective way in which a tragedy produces catharsis is through reversal and recognition, both of which are part of the plot. (full context)
Chapter 6. Plot: Species and Components
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Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...a single action of unity is imitated, but the change of fortune is achieved without reversal or recognition. A complex plot is one in which the change of fortune comes about... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
6.3 Reversal. A reversal “is a change to the opposite in the actions being performed,” which, of course, occurs... (full context)
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Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...or bad fortune.” The best plot, according to Aristotle, is one in which recognition and reversal occur at the same time, as they do in Oedipus Rex. There are many kinds... (full context)
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Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Recognition combined with reversal involves fear and pity, which are the very foundation of tragedy, and either good fortune... (full context)
Chapter 8. Other Aspects of Tragedy
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Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...is employed merely for confirmation, this is less artistic than recognition that comes about from reversal, which is best. This superior kind of recognition can be observed “in the bath-scene” of... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...According to Aristotle, there are four different kinds of tragedy: complex tragedy, which relies on reversal and recognition; tragedy of suffering, like plays about Ajax; tragedy of character, like Women of... (full context)
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8.8 Astonishment. Poets should use astonishment when constructing reversals and simple actions. This is achieved when characters who are “clever but bad” are deceived.... (full context)
Chapter 10. Epic
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Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...too, except an epic does not have lyric poetry or spectacle. An epic should have reversal and recognition, and an epic should make good use of reasoning and diction. Homer was... (full context)