Shakespearean Tragedy and Aristotle's Poetics: Close Reading, Debate, & MORE

Aristotle's Poetics Cover RESIZED.png
Aristotle's Poetics Cover RESIZED.png

Shakespearean Tragedy and Aristotle's Poetics: Close Reading, Debate, & MORE

3.00

Task: 
To analyze Shakespeare’s work in terms of Aristotle’s literary theories from Poetics

Objectives: 
To develop criteria for analyzing literary elements
To support analysis with textual evidence
To use rhetorical skills for constructing and supporting oral and written arguments
To construct an effective argument supported with logical reasoning and textual evidence
To apply literary theories to other texts
To close read a text for main ideas

Common Core Standards: 
R1, 3, 6, 11/ W1, 2, 4, 10/ SL 1, 3, 4, 6/ L1-3

Instructions:
Aristotle’s literary theories have helped to set the precedent for what determines “high quality” literature. Writers either follow his methods, or they rebel against them. While it is not known if Shakespeare read or studied Aristotle’s Poetics, it is a fascinating study to apply Aristotle’s theories to Shakespeare’s work in order to observe how Shakespeare innovated new concepts for drama.

In this unit, students will:

Complete the pre-reading strategy in order to define key terms found in Aristotle’s Poetics.

Close read excerpts from Poetics and answer comprehension/discussion questions for each section. Note that students may answer the questions in terms of one, single Shakespearean tragedy but may reference any other plays they may have read.

Map out the plot of at least one Shakespearean Tragedy and identify examples of key terms from Aristotle’s Poetics.

Debate whether or not Shakespeare follows Aristotle’s literary theories.

Synthesize their conclusions in a post-debate writeup. 

This unit contains SIX excerpts from Aristotle’s Poetics for students to close read. Each excerpt contains a few close reading/ discussion questions in order to both comprehend Aristotle’s main ideas as well as apply them to Shakespeare’s works. There are a few different ways to use these excerpts in your classes:

1. Have students read all six excerpts and discuss the questions included in each one.

2. Divide students into groups and assign each group 1-2 excerpts to close read. 

3. Students can then present their findings to the class, and the whole class can discuss the application questions included.

4. Use the “Overview of Aristotle’s Poetics” handout included here and have students close read only a couple of the excerpts instead of all six.

For the remaining activities, students can focus on a single Shakespearean tragedy of your choice, or allow students to use evidence from multiple plays as best fits your curriculum reading list, their reading experiences, and level of course difficulty. 

This is an excellent addition to any Shakespeare unit and will deepen the complexity of students' interaction with tragedy.

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