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The Poetics of Plot

The Poetics of Plot: The Case of English Renaissance Drama

Thomas G. Pavel
Wlad Godzich
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 194
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  • Book Info
    The Poetics of Plot
    Book Description:

    A unique methodology for plot analysis focusing on an important body of English Renaissance dramas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8215-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword Where the Action Is
    (pp. vii-xxii)
    Wlad Godzich

    In his introduction toThe Poetics of Plot, Thomas Pavel characterizes his study as a quantitative contribution to the field of formal narrative analysis. Quite rightly he observes that “more often than not, recent plot analysis has operated on relatively simple literary artifacts, such as folktales, short stories, or small poems.” By contrast, his study “attempts to demonstrate the fruitfulness of formal analysis when applied to more sophisticated literary products,” namely, several well-known English Renaissance plays. The claim is quantitative because it suggests that there is but a difference in degree of sophistication between a Russian wonder-tale of the type...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  5. Chapter One Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    Literary criticism makes use of two distinct kinds of evaluation. One involves the explicit estimation of the literary value of a text. The other deals with questions like “Is this text a novel?” “Is this character the villain?” or “Is the conclusion of this play satisfactory?” It is sometimes assumed that while value questions are difficult to answer, solutions to the latter queries are widely known. During the process of canon constitution and revision, interminable attempts are made to decide whether a given literary work is good or not, with a definite answer resisting discovery for centuries. Racine’sAthalie, for...

  6. Chapter Two Plot-Grammar: Marlowe′s Tamburlaine I
    (pp. 25-42)

    In this chapter I will present an analysis ofTamburlaine’splot, explaining the fuctioning of theMove-grammar.

    The first episode of the tragedy is designed to present succinctly the strategic state of affairs at the beginning of the action.

    The tragedy begins “early,” before any major event determining the course of the action occurs. The episode in question consists of an unsuccessful attempt by the weak king, Mycetes, to convince Tamburlaine to abandon his paramilitary activities within the boundaries of the Persian kingdom. Theridamas, the king’s delegate, fails to persuade Tamburlaine, but is converted himself into an ally of Tamburlaine...

  7. Chapter Three Semantic Considerations: Narrative Domains
    (pp. 43-53)

    In this chapter, I shall explore the semantic dimension of the plot-grammar outlined above. The following proposals are considerably indebted to the pioneering work of Todorov (1966, 1968, and 1969), and Greimas (1966 and 1970), as well as to the important contributions of Doležel (1976a, b, and c), Hendricks (1976 and 1977), and Ryan (forthcoming).

    As we already have seen, in the system proposed herein the actions are not independent of the narrative context in which they occur. TheMove-structures explicitly relate every narrative predicate to a certain categorial symbol (Problem, Auxiliary, Solution) and to a certain domain in which...

  8. Chapter Four Marlowe—An Exercise in Inconstancy
    (pp. 54-84)

    The second part ofTamburlainediffers considerably from the first.32Instead of a coherent, if monotonous plot, one finds a play divided into episodes ill related among themselves. A simple group of semantic regularities is replaced by a more complex semantic component. The splendid poetic spell is still there, but its flamboyance cannot conceal the structural problems of the play.

    Superficially, the plot ofTamburlaine IIresembles that of the first part. In both plays the first scenes open with a secondary episode, leading, next, to a major confrontation between Tamburlaine and the Turks, after which a siege against a...

  9. Chapter Five Two Revenge Tragedies: The Spanish Tragedy and Arden of Feversham
    (pp. 85-98)

    The Spanish Tragedyby Thomas Kyd is contemporaneous withTamburlaine I, but displays a much more complex narrative structure than any of Marlowe’s tragedies, more complex even thanThe Jew of Malta. The modern reader is tempted to ask how the Elizabethan audience could remember all the details of such a ramified plot. A tentative answer is that it probably didnot. The activity of plot-understanding presumably proceeds in two different stages: (1) the processing of local narrative information and the detailed understanding of parts of the narrative tree; and (2) an operation of schematization of clusters of past events...

  10. Chapter Six King Lear
    (pp. 99-114)

    Critics and commentators writing aboutKing Learhave mentioned the unusual complexity of the plot.79It is the only major tragedy of Shakespeare to possess a secondary plot. Although it was possible for Charles Lamb to narrateKing Learwith minimal reference to the second plot, most commentators emphasize the links and parallelisms between Gloucester’s and Lear’s stories.80In their narrative appearance, however, the two plots are largely different. Dramatic-effect derives, among other things, from the common problems of the two plots unfolding asdissimilarstructures. Thus, while Lear’s plot is basically a polemical configuration, Gloucester’s plot starts with a...

  11. Chapter Seven Move-Grammars and Styles of Plot
    (pp. 115-128)

    A formal plot-grammar can be viewed as amodelin terms of which certain properties of literary texts can be better brought to attention and understood. A major way of gauging the value of such a grammar is to check the structural descriptions it supplies against the literary intuitions the text elicits in the reader.

    The proposedMove-grammar and its semantics are subject to this kind of intuitive evaluation. Their categorial load, abstract as it is, still has an intuitive correspondence: one “naturally” knows when a certain action is an importantMove, or an inconsequential one. In addition to the...

  12. Appendix: A Few Considerations on the Formalism of Move-Grammars
    (pp. 131-136)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 139-150)
  14. References
    (pp. 153-160)
  15. Index
    (pp. 163-168)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-169)