CATAHARSIS:While defining tragedy Aristotle writes that tragedy aims at arousing the emotion of pity and fear to affect the “Katharsis” of these emotions. Confusion arises due to aristotle’s use of the term “Katharsis” for he never elucidated the term or even mentioned it again in the whole Poetics. The Greek word “Katharsis” has three meanings – “purgation”, “purification” and “clarification”. Critics have taken each meaning to give a new interpretation of the term.
Catharsis has often been taken as a medical metaphor – “purgation”. Some critics regards this process as similar to homeopathic treatment with like curing the like. A similar view is expressed by Aristotle in The Politics where he refers to religious frenzy being cured by certain tunes which create religious frenzy. Tragedy offers an excess of emotion of pity and fear that bring to surface our latent emotion of pity and fear which we bring with us in real life. Thus it purges us of those excess of emotion and restores a healthy state of emotional equilibrium.
Humphrey House rejects the idea of “purgation” as a medical metaphor to propound his own theory of “purification” which involves the idea of moral instruction and moral learning. Humphrey House points out that “purgation means cleansing”. Now cleansing may be a “quantitative evacuation”, or a “qualitative change” in the body brought about by a restoration of proper equilibrium. According to Humphrey House, a qualitative change is brought about in our system of emotional responses and the result is emotional health. Thus our emotions are purified of excess and defect and are reduced to intermediate state, trained and directed towards the attainment of the “Golden Mean” which is the focal point of discussion in Aristotle’s Ethics.
It was forgotten that Aristotle was writing treatise not on psychology but on art of poetry. He is more concerned with the technique, the way in which ideal tragedy can be written than its psychological effects on the audience. Leon Golden translates the relevant part of Aristotle’s famous definition of poetry in the following way: “...through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, tragedy achieves the catharsis of such incidents.” Thus he relates catharsis not to the emotions of the spectators, as in other theories but to the incidents which form the plot of tragedy, to happen in tragedy itself. This is known as “clarification theory”.
Thus “purgation”, “purgation”, “clarification”, each interpretation is justified in themselves. Though the critics differ from each other considerably, they agree on point that tragedy arouses the emotions of pity and fear thereby pleasing us in its final effect.