Sunday, July 20, 2008

Aristotle’s Poetics – Part 1

Howdy campers. It's that time again. Yes, time for a new post. I know I should be finishing my comedy but writing comedy seems to be a little harder in terms of length(funny exchanges only get you so much "black space" - damn that punch line).
Anyway, as the title says, we're going to do an intro to The Poetics, perhaps the "granddaddy" of all screenwriting tomes. Written several THOUSAND years ago, its concepts of plot, character and dialog are still valid and perhaps the basis of all later theorems, whether philosophical, scientific or even artistic.

We will use the translated text and it will be in italics.

I was introduced to the Poetics recently in my screenwriting group. It's headed by this year's winner of the Sundance Lab, Steven Arvanites. We had a very inexpensive visit by Prof. Gordon Farrell of the Tisch School and many others.

The Poetics is not a book in the regular sense of the word in that it is compiled from lecture notes from Aristotle as there were no texts that survived. It is in-depth in terms of what he spoke of though. Depending upon the translation, it can be rather difficult to read as he analyzes the works of early Greek poets and dramatists and uses words that don't have the same meaning as now.

As an example, "imitation" in his time meant "a genuine representation" but now it means "a false representation." Contextually, this becomes apparent but the use of rhythmic speech is not as commonplace so words like "iambic pentameter" or "dithyrambic hexameter" are more so the domain of poets.

In his teachings he advocated that all stories must have a beginning, middle and end. But this is not in direct correlation to what evolved into the current three act structure. To Aristotle, this was time based.

Now, according to our definition Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

The substance of his theories though encompasses the gamut of cinematic representation - albeit then in stage form. His theories on Tragedy (qualitative) are the basis of the 3 Act structure currently in use - but ironically that was his definition of plot(qualitative) and not content(quantitative). His content involved four linear concepts.

Prologue, Episode, Exode, Choric song; this last being divided into Parode and Stasimon. The Prologue is that entire part of a tragedy which precedes the Parode of the Chorus. The Episode is that entire part of a tragedy which is between complete choric songs. The Exode is that entire part of a tragedy which has no choric song after it. Of the Choric part the Parode is the first undivided utterance of the Chorus: the Stasimon is a Choric ode without anapaests or trochaic tetrameters: the Commos is a joint lamentation of Chorus and actors. The parts of Tragedy which must be treated as elements of the whole have been already mentioned. The quantitative parts- the separate parts into which it is divided- are here enumerated.

Well, that's it for Part 1. We actually tried to post from Word but Blogger doesn't use the same <> syntax. Fricking JavaScript.