Flowchart for Aristotelian Plot Analysis (Tragedy)
Here’s a handy flowchart I created back in 2018, when my MFA cohort at Dell’Arte International was devising our original tragedy, Citizens of Nowhere. It can help you determine whether the plot of a play you’re reading, writing, or devising is “simple” or “complex”, contains recognitions or reversals of various kinds, and/or otherwise conforms or diverges from some of the classic dramaturgical structures which Aristotle articulated in his Poetics.
Citizens of Nowhere, A 4th Formulation Complex Plot
For example, according to this system, Citizens of Nowhere can be considered a 4th Formulation tragedy in which the protagonist, Jama, who is neither morally good nor bad (she steals rations from the ration center to feed her family, a morally ambiguous act) suffers a fortune which gets worse. The plot is arguably “Complex” because the reversal of fortune stems from a Plot Reversal (otherwise known as a reversal of intention) wherein her best efforts to get her people out of the city are precisely what lead to their ultimate demise. Her tragic deed is arguably “unknowing” since she is unaware that the Young Soldier has betrayed her to The Guardian and that the army is waiting outside the walls.
But that’s not all (Beyond Plots and Flowcharts)…
It’s important to know that there’s a lot more to the style and form of tragedy than just the dramaturgical formula or what can be conveyed in a flow-chart. “A sense of foreboding“, “forces greater than ourselves“, “spectacle, voice, and song“, “crisis located in the body” are some of the additional pillars of the territory which our teacher Sayda Trujillo helped us to identify and embody in our studies at Dell’Arte International.
Butoh Dance was also an especially useful parallel form for my company, The Ume Group in presenting the “body in crisis” at the heart of Sophocles’ Electra when we set about adapting it from 2010 – 2012 in New York.
Other highly physical approaches to Actor Training such as Suzuki Technique and Viewpoints have yielded some incredible performances of Tragedies (new and old) as well.