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Pages of Poetics

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The action may be done consciously and with knowledge of the

persons, in the manner of the older poets. It is thus too that

Euripides makes Medea slay her children. Or, again, the deed of horror

may be done, but done in ignorance, and the tie of kinship or

friendship be discovered afterwards. The Oedipus of Sophocles is an

example. Here, indeed, the incident is outside the drama proper; but

cases occur where it falls within the action of the play: one may cite

the Alcmaeon of Astydamas, or Telegonus in the Wounded Odysseus.

Again, there is a third case- [to be about to act with knowledge of

the persons and then not to act. The fourth case] is when some one

is about to do an irreparable deed through ignorance, and makes the

discovery before it is done. These are the only possible ways. For the

deed must either be done or not done- and that wittingly or

unwittingly. But of all these ways, to be about to act knowing the

persons, and then not to act, is the worst. It is shocking without

being tragic, for no disaster follows It is, therefore, never, or very

rarely, found in poetry. One instance, however, is in the Antigone,

where Haemon threatens to kill Creon. The next and better way is

that the deed should be perpetrated. Still better, that it should be

perpetrated in ignorance, and the discovery made afterwards. There

is then nothing to shock us, while the discovery produces a

startling effect. The last case is the best, as when in the

Cresphontes Merope is about to slay her son, but, recognizing who he

is, spares his life. So in the Iphigenia, the sister recognizes the

brother just in time. Again in the Helle, the son recognizes the

mother when on the point of giving her up. This, then, is why a few

families only, as has been already observed, furnish the subjects of

tragedy. It was not art, but happy chance, that led the poets in

search of subjects to impress the tragic quality upon their plots.

They are compelled, therefore, to have recourse to those houses

whose history contains moving incidents like these.

Enough has now been said concerning the structure of the

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