Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...
, particularly the tragedies of classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...
, the catastrophe
is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot, which unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close. In comedies, this may be a marriage between main characters; in tragedies, it may be the death of one or more main characters. It is the final part of a play, following the protasis
In drama, a protasis is the introductory part of a play, usually its first act. The term was coined by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus. He defined a play as being made up of three separate parts, the other two being epitasis and catastrophe. In modern dramatic theory the term...
In Classical drama, the epitasis is the main action of a play, in which the trials and tribulations of the main character increase and build toward a climax and dénouement. It was coined by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus. He defined a play as being made up of three separate...
, and catastasis
In classical tragedies, the catastasis is the third part of an ancient drama, in which the intrigue or action that was initiated in the epitasis, is supported and heightened, until ready to be unravelled in the catastrophe...
The catastrophe is either simple or complex, for which also the fable
A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized , and that illustrates a moral lesson , which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.A fable differs from...
and action are denominated. In a simple catastrophe, there is no change in the state of the main characters, nor any discovery or unravelling; the plot being only a mere passage out of agitation, to quiet and repose. This catastrophe is rather accommodated to the nature of the epic
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...
poem, than of the tragedy.
In a complex catastrophe, the main character undergoes a change of fortune, sometimes by means of a discovery, and sometimes without. The qualifications of this change are that it be probable and necessary: in order to be probable, it must be the natural result or effect of the foregoing actions, i.e.
it must spring from the subject itself, or take its rise from the incidents, and not be introduced merely to serve a turn.
in a complex catastrophe must have the same qualifications as the catastrophe itself, of which it is a principal part: it must be both probable and necessary. To be probable, it must spring out of the subject itself; not effected by means of marks or tokens, rings, bracelets, or by a mere recollection, as is frequently done both in ancient and modern times. To be necessary, it must never leave the characters it concerns in the same sentiments they had before, but still produce either love or hatred, etc. Sometimes, the change consists in the discovery, sometimes it follows at a distance, and sometimes results immediately from it; the last was used, for example, in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...
Among critics, it has long been debated whether the catastrophe should always end happily, and favorably on the side of virtue, or not; i.e.
whether virtue is always to be rewarded, and vice punished, in the catastrophe. Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...
, for example, preferred a shocking catastrophe, rather than a happy one; in that regard, the moving of terror and pity, which is the aim of tragedy, is better effected by the former than the latter.
René Le Bossu
René Le Bossu was a French critic.He was born in Paris, studied at Nanterre, and in 1649 became one of the regular canons of Sainte-Geneviève. He wrote Parallèle des principes de la physique d'Aristote et de celle de René Descartes , and Traité du poème épique...
, a 17th-century French critic, divides the catastrophe, at least with regards to epics, into the unravelling, or denouement
, and the finishing, or achievement
; the latter of which he makes the result of the former, and to consist in the hero's passage out of a state of trouble and agitation, to rest and quiet. This period is but a point, without extent or duration; in which it differs from the former, which comprehends everything after the plot is laid. He adds, that there are several unravellings in a piece, each interconnected. The finishing
is the end of the last unravelling.
In the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien distinguished between what he called the catastrophe
and the eucatastrophe
Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which result in the protagonist's well-being. He formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired...
. The eucatastrophe is a classical catastrophe with an unexpected positive outcome for the protagonist. This term was coined to distance itself from the vernacular use of the word 'catastrophe' to signify disaster (which gave the term negative connotations in everyday usage).