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What Is the Theory of Imitation? Aristotle's Theory of Imitation Explained

Updated on March 14, 2018
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Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a Master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

Aristotle's Theory of Imitation

Aristotle was not the first to use the term imitation. It was also employed by Plato before him, but Aristotle gave a new meaning to the term imitation.

Plato thought of poetry as a shadow of a shadow or an imitation of an imitation and so twice removed from reality. Therefore, he expelled poets from his ideal republic. He, being the first idealistic philosopher, said that God has created the word in the imitation of an idea that came into His mind. The poet, imitating this world and life, imitates an imitation. Therefore, poetry is twice removed from reality. Secondly, Plato condemned poetry because he considered poetry as a mother of lies.

Aristotle came forward and put his arguments in favour of poetry. He rejected the idea of imitation of Plato regarding poetry and gave significance to the imitative art. According to him, poetry is an imitation of an ideal reality rather than an imitation of an imitation or a shadow of a shadow. He said that poetry deals with the universal and ideal. It is an imitation of a deeper reality. To him, poetic imitation is creative. The medium of imitation with a painter is colour and form and with the poet is rhythm and harmony. A musician also imitates through rhythm and harmony.

Aristotle says that art deals with the very essence of things Poetic imitation, to him, is not a slavish copy. It is an imitation of inner feeling. It is the imitation of human nature. It is a creative imitation. According to him, there are different kinds of imitation. The difference is in the mode of imitation. Poetry is near to music as it is also imitates through harmony and rhythm. The objects of poetic imitation are men in action. Tragedy and epic deal with those men, who are better than other in real life, while comedy and satire are concerned with those men who are worse than other in real life.

Aristotle says that the aim of art is to produce an inward process. Men in action include their thoughts, feelings, will, motives and emotion. The objects of imitation are the men of action. That's why; it deals with as they were, as they are and as they ought to be. The different modes of imitation of poetry are narrative, semi narrative and dramatic. The whole universe is not the field of poetry. It deals only with human life. Through the poetic imitation, a poet creates and not merely imitates. Through it, he presents something new.

Poetry is concerned with universal rather than the particular. It is more philosophical than history. It does not deal with the particular truth of history, but with an ideal truth. It transforms everyday life into something that is of universal value. It deals with human nature and as human nature is same everywhere and in every age, hence the universality of poetry.

© 2018 Muhammad Rafiq


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