Theory of Catharsis: Various Interpretations and Analyses



 ‘Catharsis’ is a Greek word. It means “purgation”, “purification” and “clarification”. It has been used only once by Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’ while defining Tragedy, “Tragedy then is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude through pity and fear effecting the proper ‘Catharsis’ of these emotions” Based on the three meanings of the word, ‘Catharsis’ different theories have been evolved to explain Aristotle’s conception of tragic ‘Catharsis. Read More Criticism

(A) Purgation Theory
(i) Medical Interpretation: ‘Catharsis’ has been taken to be a medical metaphor. ‘Purgation’ denotes a pathological effect on the soul similar to the effect of medicine on the body. Some have referred it to Homeopathic treatment with the like curing the like. Thus, pity and fear are roused and form ‘purgation’ of these emotions. Read More CriticismThus, ‘Catharsis’ implies relief. As per Pathological treatment with the unlike curing unlike, the arousing of pity and fear was supposed to bring about the purgation of other emotions like anger and pride.




(ii) Psychological Interpretation: Lucas and l. A. Richards reject the medical interpretation. Lucas says, “The theatre is not a hospital. LA. Richards says that both pity and fear are harmonized and blended in tragedy, and this balance brings relief. Read More Criticism

(iii) Ethical interpretation: In Ethical Interpretation it is explained that Divine law is working to make the universe the best place for living. Read More Criticism The ethical interpretation is a kind of inner illumination resulting in a more balanced attitude to life. Tragedy makes us realize that divine law operates in the universe shaping everything for the best.

(B) The Purification Theory: Humphrey House points out. “Purgation means cleansing”. According to him, Catharsis is an educative and controlling power. Read More Criticism According to ‘The Purification Theory ‘Catharsis’ means that our emotions are purified of excess and defect, or reduced to intermediate state. Thus, ‘Catharsis’ is a kind of moral conditioning.

(C) The Clarification Theory: Neither the ‘Purgation Theory’ nor the ‘Purification Theory’ examines the whole thing. They are occupied with the psychology of the audience. Aristotle was chiefly concerned with the technique of tragedy, not with its psychological effects. Therefore, ‘Clarification Theory’ is more appropriate. Tragic incidents are pitiable and painful. They include murders of dear ones. Such incidents when presented in a great tragedy produce pleasure. Read More Criticism This is the tragic paradox; this is the pleasure peculiar to tragedy. When we see Shakespeare’s plays-Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, we see tragic deaths and murders, yet we get aesthetic pleasure. This pleasure is of tragic variety. Generally Tragedies are more popular on the stage than Comedies. Thus, Tragedy provides the universal truth. Catharsis refers to the tragic variety of pleasure. The Catharsis clause is thus definition of the function of tragedy and not of its emotional effect on the audience.

Thus the ‘clarification Theory’ recognizes the true nature of the ‘Poetics’ as a technical treatise. It relates to the theory of imitation and to the discussion of probability and necessity. By ‘Catharsis’ particular is generalized, individual is universalized. Thus, Catharsis is a process of learning and therefore pleasurable.

  Aristotle’s conception of ‘Catharsis’ is purely intellectual. It is neither didactic nor theological nor is it a moral doctrine. Read More Criticism Aristotle lays it down that Tragedy at all times makes its appeal through emotions- through pity and fear. It can succeed only when it arouses the pity and fear proper to it. The doctrine of Catharsis has been interpreted in many ways. Since ‘Catharsis’ is a Greek word, and every language has its own nature, its own Grammar, and since every word of every language has its own syntax and meaning, the debate over the meaning of ‘Catharsis’ will continue.

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