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Aristotle. He knows a lot, right? And if you choose to believe Aristotle, then you must believe all the mechanics of tragedy that Mike is about to lay on you. This week, we're looking at Aristotle's rules for the basic elements of theater, and how those can be used to bring about catharsis, the emotional release triggered by onstage trauma. You know you love the catharsis.

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Hey there. I'm Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash Course Theater, and today is going to be a tragedy. A Greak tragedy. Which is a lot like a regular tragedy, only older and with more stuffed grape leaves.

We'll be exploring Aristotle's theories on this art form, written more than a century after the golden age of Athenian drama. Then we'll apply them retrospectively to the only surviving tragic trilogy we have, the Oresteia of Aeschylus. Get ready for some husband-killing, some mother-killing and, maybe unsurprisingly, the invention of the jury trial!

[Theme music]

Meet Aristotle. Just Aristotle. No last name. Like Cher!—but older. Also believes in life after love, though! He was born in 384 BCE and lived in Greece and Macedonia. He spent many years studying with Plato, a philosopher who wasn't a big fan of drama or poetry. Plato wrote that poets encourage a false vision of reality and should all be excluded from the ideal state. Wow. Harsh, dude.

Luckily for us, his pupil Aristotle was more open-minded. In 335 BCE, a little while after he'd finished tutoring Alexander the Great, Aristotle sat down to write The Poetics, the first substantial work of literary criticism. Originally, The Poetics was in two parts: a section on tragedy and a section on comedy, but only the tragedy part survives.

Aristotle was writing 200 years after the City Dionysia really got going and 150 years after the beginning of the golden age of Greek drama.