Aristotle’s Concept of Unity in Poetry

Aristotle’s Unities

Aristotle is one of the greatest Greek philosophers who gave an excellent concept on the poetry. In his “Poetics,” he examined plays as a separate art form and discussed how they differed from epic poetry. He deduced the elements that created a successful tragedy. According to his concept, there are three unities in poetry and they are unity of time, place and action.

Unity of Time

According to the proposal of Aristotle, the action of a play should take place within a short period of time, covering no more than twenty-four hours. Real-time performances captured the audience’s attention and created a sense of immediacy. The characters may refer to events outside the time period of the play in order to set the tone and context of the performance. However, the actual action of the play should be contained within the time limits of the play itself.

Unity of Place

Similarly, Aristotle resisted that plays should take place in only one setting. He felt that moving from one location to another was confusing to the audience and distracted from the plot. To his way of thinking, the plot was the most important aspect of the performance. Characters, setting and other elements were considered secondary to the strong flow of action leading inevitably to a conclusion.

Unity of Action

Unity of action refers to Aristotle’s contention that a play should contain one central plot or theme and a clear beginning, middle and end. He considered the worst plot to be made up of a string of episodes; it lacked the “cause and effect” that a true plot should have. All scenes within the play should further the plot; digressions should be discouraged. Nothing random or illogical should break up the flow of the action. Aristotle was particularly critical of using divine intervention to extricate characters from their circumstances.