The last post highlighted the importance plot in Aristotle’s analysis of a tragedy. He distinguishes between simple and complex plots, but he ignores simple plots immediately and delves into complex plots.
What makes a plot complex? Reversal of the situation and recognition. The reversal is a change “by which the action veers round to its opposite” (Poetics, Chapter XI). He cites the example where a messenger comes to Oedipus to cheer him up and to alleviate his concerns about his mother by telling him who he really is. The effect is the exact opposite of the intent. In short, it is a change in fortune.
Recognition is moving from ignorance to knowledge. Not that having knowledge is necessarily a good thing. It can be quite damaging but is still preferable to ignorance. The “best form of recognition is coincident with a Reversal of the Situation” (ibid.). Finally, in addition to reversal and recognition, there must be suffering, a “destructive or painful action” (ibid.). So, to sum up, a good tragedy is characterized by a complex plot with action that aims to arouse fear and pity.