Introduction to Literary Studies

Aristotelian Criticism

Aristotelian Criticism
Psychological Approach
Marxist Approach
Cultural Studies
Myths and Archetypes
Lit Terms

Aristotelian Approach to Literature


Who is Aristotle?

  • Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, who developed theories about drama and the characteristic of what makes a work of literature a drama.  His theories can be found in Poetics, written in fourth century B.C.


Poetics gives us the basic notions of:

  • Catharsis
  • The characteristics of a tragic hero
  • The formative elements of  drama
  • The necessary unity of plot
  • The basic concept of mimesis, or imitation, the idea that works of literature are imitations of actions, the difference among them result from means, objects, and manner


What makes a hero tragic?

  • A tragic hero is the noble figure in the plot
  • He has a tragic flaw, usually hubris or tragic pride
  • Example, Oedipus from the Oedipus Cycle.  Oedipus, because of his pride, determined to find who killed the previous king, revealing that it was him.  He killed his father and married his mother, proving that he could not escape his destiny.


Aristotelian criticism is usually applied to plays, and even then it is often used in Greek tragedies.  However, according to Aristotelian criticism, Willy Loman from The Death of a Salesman is often considered a tragic hero.  His downfall was als brought about by hubris, believing that he was the greatest salesman and that his family was perfect.



Taken from A Handbook of Critical Approaches ot Literature, Fouth ed. Guren, et al.

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