Have you ever wondered why you start crying when the tragic hero of a movie dies? Do you often get emotional or make your self attached to any character of a play, story or movie? Even sometimes you may start cursing the villain of the movie. Aristotle’s theory of catharsis in literature aims to explain this phenomenon.
Catharsis is believed to be an emotional discharge. This helps the spectator to vent their emotions. This purification or purgation of emotions through literature is known as Aristotle’s theory of catharsis. It is a connecting bridge of emotions between the character and the spectator.
The term catharsis literally means purification or purgation in Greek. Aristotle coined his theory of Catharsis in his exemplary work ‘Poetics’ as a metaphor which meant the impact of tragedy on the audience.
According to Aristotle, catharsis was the penultimate goal of an artistic work where it leaves a great impact on the audience. It helps the spectators to release their suppressed emotions.
Let’s take the example of Shakespeare’s famous work Romeo and Juliet. In the play, assuming that Juliet has already tasted the poison, Romeo commits suicide by drinking it. Almost everyone in the audience cries at this scene, thus experiencing the theory of catharsis in action.
This happens primarily because losing a loved one is a common experience for people and that specific scene triggers those memories. The loss may be by death or by separation but the emotions will remain the same. As this situation is quite relatable for almost all in the audience, they are likely to cry to release the emotions.
This is Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis. This theory is not necessarily restricted to the genre of tragedy or even to written work only. It is also applicable for comedy or any other genre and in all of the art forms of art.
There have been various interpretations of the term catharsis. However, the widely accepted definition is purification or purgation of emotions.
Illustration by Lita Heifetz