FUNDED ARISTOTLE AND A WORLD OF WONDER: ARISTOTLE'S POETICS AND ITS USE
IN ENGLISH 102|
(Writing about Literature)
by Dipo Kalejaiye
(Associate Professor, English)
Aristotelian Concepts and the English 102 Syllabus:
I began by incorporating Aristotle, and the classical Greek Theater, into the syllabus, which I then presented to the students in a series of "simple" lectures they could understand. Next, they were required to read the play Oedipus the King, which became the focal point for understanding Greek Theater and Aristotle’s criticism. Since Aristotle referred to the play as the best, and as an example of a "well made play," it was worthy of our study. We discussed Greek concepts such as "hamartia" – the tragic flaw, "hubris" – excessive pride, "logos" – reason, "ethos" – character, and the Greek "cosmos," or universe. We discussed these concepts as they related to Oedipus the King. I also spent some time explaining the "cosmos" and its relationship to the concept of the gods, since that was a good tie in to the major religious, philosophical, and political bent of the play.
As we discussed these concepts, I took care to use the famous Aristotelian six elements of drama, namely action, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle. I tried to explain to them how these elements might have worked in the play during the classical Theater of Dionysus, where the play was first produced. Then, as a class, we tried to figure out these elements in the text of the play. For example, the fifth element mentioned by Aristotle was "music," which would have worked quite well in the semblance of the chorus who, during the classical Greek Theater period, would have actually "sung" their lines!
Another element of the play was "thought," or dianoia. As a class, we tried to see how this was handled in the play by Sophocles. We used the example of the quest for the killer of Laius by Oedipus. The search was logical, and each character concerned with the search used sound thinking, or dianoia, to buttress their points. The students seemed excited by all these, but I was not satisfied! I wanted them to get a "feeling" for what might have happened during the production of the play some five thousand years ago.
Group Project (Oedipus the King):
Occasionally, I would allow them in-class time to rehearse and work on their "Greek masks," which they found interesting and challenging. They found out quickly that a "tragic mask," such as would have been worn by Oedipus, must look "sad"! My intention was not to require that everything be perfect and excellent, but to check for the level of participation, feeling, enthusiasm, commitment, and knowledge of the Greek theater I had been trying to give them. I also hoped that all the excitement generated by their scene presentations would translate into excitement about writing and critical analysis.
Finally, I had to consider the issue of how to grade this assignment. I wanted to make sure that the assessment was fair and that it properly reflected the nature of the project. So, I decided to have two types of grading criteria. The first would be a "group grade." In this category, I was looking for the following:
1. Preparation: (Does the student appear to be prepared for all
The second set of criteria would be for an individual grades, and contained the following"
Preparation: 20 points
These criteria allowed me to monitor the students in two ways, and to evolve a proper overall grade for the project.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 1