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 What are the four basic elements of a tragedy? Relate them to Oedipus Rex.

Ans. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher who laid the rules for intellectuals' thoughts deduced key characteristics of a tragedy from his study of the Greek plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. He wrote about four basic elements of tragedy - mimesis, catharsis, peripeteia and anagnorisis.

                Mimesis is the imitation of life in art and literature. Aristotle and Plato, the two Greek geniuses spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature. Re-presentation is different from representation. ‘Representation’ means copying. Tragedy presents a hero that the audience can recognize as an extraordinary person, they are saddened by his fall or death, but Tragedy does not stop there. It exalts him through his suffering to a higher plane of the cognitive and spiritual dimension to produce an effect of awe and reverence in the viewer. In the play Oedipus Rex, the hero, King Oedipus falls from his kingly stature to that of a sinner who was responsible for the suffering of his people due to the visitation of the deadly plague. Even though his earlier actions were not intentionally evil, he still recognises that his inadvertent guilt is the cause behind the plague and blinds himself and walks out of his city as an exile. The tragic action ends on a note of grace.

                 Aristotle describes catharsis as the purging of the emotions of pity and fear when viewing a tragedy. It is a release of emotional tension – as, after an overwhelming experience, it restores or refreshes the spirit. Catharsis is a Greek word and refers to the cleansing of the emotions of the characters. In the play, Oedipus Rex, the fall of the great King Oedipus evokes pity and fear in the audience is transformed into awe and reverence as his self-blinding heals all the negative emotions. The catharsis converts excess emotions into virtuous dispositions.

                   Peripeteia is a sudden change of events or reversal of circumstances, especially in a literary work, in particular, drama. The reversal of the hero’s fortune from good to bad is basic to the plot of a tragedy. It is a single important and powerful element of the plot in tragedy. Peripeteia marks the dark moment which hinges on the whole plot of the story. It is the moment of self-discovery for the protagonist of the story. Aristotle says: “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall.”

                    Anagnorisis means recognition. This term refers to the recognition or discovery by the protagonist of the nature of his own predicament, which leads to the resolution of the plot. It is a startling discovery that brings a change in the protagonist from ignorance to knowledge and effects a change in his fortunes, from good to bad. In Oedipus Rex, anagnorisis is seen in Oedipus’ discovery that he killed his own father and married his own mother (though unknowingly) and brought the plague upon his city and his people.  This recognition of his fault is known as anagnorisis and it coincides with the dark moment of peripeteia or reversal of fortunes.

                         Overall, tragedy is a great literary device that is being used by the dramatist to give a clear point of view. The basic elements of tragedy help to understand the play and give a clear point of view. It undergoes purification of the human soul. With the help of these elements, Aristotle helps the playwrights to express themselves clearly.

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