Essay On Crito As An Aristotelian Tragedy
Tragedy according to Aristotle is an imitation of a serious action, that is complete and something that has a certain magnitude. A tragedy according to him also contains language that is embellished with artistic ornaments that can be found in parts of the play and could be in the form of action, with the incidents bringing pity and fear in the reader and with the aim of accomplishing catharsis of these emotions. Tragedy according to Aristotle then must have six parts Diction, Spectacle, plot, Characters, thought and melody. Plato’s Crito is a dialogue between Socrates and Crito in the prison where Crito is trying to convince Socrates to escape from prison. Although Crito tries to persuade Socrates using arguments such as sparing his friends the anguish of his death and his children the death of their father, Socrates convinces him that he will not escape because as an Athenian citizen he has to obey the laws of the state.
The plot of Crito is quite serious although the format is a little unusual in the form of a simple conversation between the two friends- Crito and Socrates. Although Crito is not a philosopher like Socrates, he is a friend who sticks with Socrates through all the ups and downs of his life. Considering the sentence given to Socrates as unjust, Crito is ready to sacrifice his wealth and rights as an Athenian citizen to get him out of prison. But as much Crito tries, Socrates himself stands in the way and refuses to escape from prison. Socrates’ reason for staying in prison is that he believed that as an Athenian citizen he had to obey the laws of the state, however unjust they may be and he also urges that others should do the same. In spite of the treatment meted out to him and his many opposing views against the Athenian form of democracy, Socrates submits to the laws and his punishment without any reservation. Socrates firmly believes that obeying the law was the primary duty of an Athenian citizen. The serious conversation and the dialogue between the two friends is quite dramatic in nature reminiscent of Greek tragedy, an element that Aristotle says is essential for a tragedy.
In the opening scene, there is a prologue where the two characters in the play are introduced and the state of mind of the two characters are established- Socrates is unusually calm for a man about to be executed the next day and Crito as his friend and well-wisher is very anxious . The scene is also set in the opening scene; this dramatic introduction and prologue is an aspect of a Greek tragedy. The magnitude of the situation is very important when it comes to a Greek tragedy and the form of tragedy that Aristotle believed in. The tragedy always involves the death of about Socrates’ impending death. one of the main characters and in Crito the readers are privy to the conversation between Crito and Socrates In the manner of all Greek tragic characters, the two principal characters carry on their conversations without any interruptions- Crito begins the conversation urging Socrates to escape and lays down his arguments as to why he should escape. He also tells Socrates why he should escape and why it is logical for Socrates to follow that course of action and refers to the feelings of his friends, family, and the reaction of the public and that of his enemies.
Socrates listens to the arguments of Crito without any interruption and then goes on to give his reasons as to why he would never escape from prison. He tells Crito his arguments for setting justice as his main priority in life. He refers to duty and says that nothing should be permitted to warp the idea of duty. He explains to Crito that running away from prison is something that is wrong and that a wrong committed in retaliation of another wrong does not make anything right.
Another element in the play which is similar to a Greek tragedy is how the whole conversation between Socrates and Crito is concluded. Socrates’ speech is akin to that of a dramatic messenger’s. Just as there is an appearance of divinity to solve the problems of a Greek hero is a typical element in a tragedy, in Crito there is the appearance of the “Laws”. As Socrates waits to be put to death, he is more open to the idea of a prophecy. He refers to the dream that he had the previous night where his death would be postponed by a day. This reference to the ‘laws’ and the belief in the dream is an example of the spectacle that Aristotle says should be a part of every tragedy. The “Laws” which Socrates says speaks to him demand that he submit to the rules and accept death even if it is not agreeable to him, his family or his friends. He has promised to obey the laws and is convinced that disobedience will do him no good. He says that not only does he believe and follow in the ‘laws but that everyone else should also do that. Socrates makes a reference to the existence of ‘laws’ in Hades, the kingdom of death in the epilogue too and tells Crito that the people who have escaped the laws in this world cannot escape the laws in the kingdom of death. The ‘Laws’ are personified here, and underlies Socrates’ personal obligation to them.
The first scene in Crito is very typical of an Aristotelian tragedy. Not only are the characters in the play are introduced but the weight of the situation is also explained to the reader. The imminence of Socrates’ impending death is not lost on anyone. The magnitude of the situation is evident to the reader although Socrates maintains an unusual calm about his death the next day. The thought of Socrates and Crito is explained in great detail and Plato gives importance to the diction of these two characters. For example, Socrates gives the following arguments in favor of letting himself get martyred. He says that, “Any citizen is constitutively bound into a lifelong contract to keep the laws of the state in which he lives (49a-50c),” that it is “wrong to do an injustice in return for an injustice, and that “To break the laws of the state is to destroy the state.” Socrates gives clear reasons as to why he blindly accepts the punishment the state gives him and why he would never dream of breaking them and getting out of prison even if the action would make his friends blameless and his family happy.
Although Crito is an essential Aristotelian tragedy, there are some who would say that is not so. Aristotle was an ardent admirer of Oedipus, Sophocles’ tragic tale about the Greek hero who killed his father and married his own mother. Crito cannot be compared to the tragedy of Oedipus say the critics as Socrates tries nothing to beat fate. Rather than trying to change the course of fate or the situations that would eventually lead to tragedy, Socrates accepts his fate blindly. This says some is an element that is different from a typical tragedy. Other aspects where Crito cannot be classified as a tragedy is when Socrates refuses to do any wrong that would justify the wrong that has been done to him. If Socrates were the typical Greek tragic hero, he would have escaped from prison causing damage to not only him but also to his friends, especially Crito who has risked his wealth and reputation in trying to save Socrates from prison. Crito they would argue does not have a complex plot with too many twists and turns. But it is complex enough as it brings out the complexities of the arguments of Socrates.
Socrates however does not completely differ from a tragic hero as he similar to a Greek tragic hero succumbs to fate in the end. There is a tragic element as he accepts the blame and goes down without much of a struggle. Each of the character, Socrates and Crito also say what has to be said and what should be said at the right moment. The thought then is clear. Crito does everything in his power to persuade Socrates to escape from prison and says everything that a friend has to say. Crito reminds Socrates that his death would affect his children and that they would be robbed of a father in unjust terms. He goes on to tell Socrates that if ‘a citizen cannot persuade other citizens to change laws that he disagrees with, then his options are emigration or obedience. But Socrates has not emigrated; therefore he is committed to obedience, even if this means his own death.’ Socrates too tells Crito in detail about how he is committed to the laws of the state and how he would never break them. The Laws in Crito are not of human origin but exist by themselves. Diction in a tragedy deals with how the thought is expressed by each character. Crito is an epitome of earnestness and Plato an epitome of calm in the play. Crito is excited and wants to help Socrates in whatever way possible and Socrates accepts his situation in a clam manner. Crito’s dialogues are clearly expressive of his state of mind and Socrates’ too. They both know what they are doing and it reflects in their dialogues. Socrates has made peace with the way his life is going to end and makes clear and rational arguments as to why he will not try to change it. Crito on the other hand uses emotional tactics to make Socrates change his mind.
Thus Crito has all of the major elements that Aristotle says makes an essential Greek tragedy. There is the dramatic prologue, the characters and the situation is explained and the seriousness of the situation is explained at the very beginning, the thought and diction are clear and there is the spectacle too. The melody is missing in the play and since it has no place in such a grave situation, Plato does not see it fit to include it. Crito may not have a complex plot in having too many characters, but it still discusses complex elements of the minds of the characters.
Plato. “Crito.” classics.mit.edu. n.d. Web. 21 Mar 2015.
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