not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not
by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who
is highly renowned and prosperous- a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes,
or other illustrious men of such families.
A well-constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue,
rather than double as some maintain. The change of fortune should be
not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come
about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty,
in a character either such as we have described, or better rather than
worse. The practice of the stage bears out our view. At first the
poets recounted any legend that came in their way. Now, the best
tragedies are founded on the story of a few houses- on the fortunes of
Alcmaeon, Oedipus, Orestes, Meleager, Thyestes, Telephus, and those
others who have done or suffered something terrible. A tragedy, then,
to be perfect according to the rules of art should be of this
construction. Hence they are in error who censure Euripides just
because he follows this principle in his plays, many of which end
unhappily. It is, as we have said, the right ending. The best proof is
that on the stage and in dramatic competition, such plays, if well
worked out, are the most tragic in effect; and Euripides, faulty
though he may be in the general management of his subject, yet is felt
to be the most tragic of the poets.
In the second rank comes the kind of tragedy which some place first.
Like the Odyssey, it has a double thread of plot, and also an opposite
catastrophe for the good and for the bad. It is accounted the best
because of the weakness of the spectators; for the poet is guided in
what he writes by the wishes of his audience. The pleasure, however,
thence derived is not the true tragic pleasure. It is proper rather to
Comedy, where those who, in the piece, are the deadliest enemies- like
Orestes and Aegisthus- quit the stage as friends at the close, and
no one slays or is slain.