Tragic Plot Applied to Trial


Aristotle in Poetics teaches the phenomena of tragedy and the elements of a tragic play. Applied to a personal injury case we must have a hero, who sustains adversity, does his best to overcome the adversity, but he will never fully overcome.  Our client is the hero. The adversity is the injury. Treatment is trying to overcome the injury. Not being able to fully recover is permanent injury.

Aristotle teaches plot distinguishes great tragedy. In great tragedy plot is bigger than the hero. Plot concerns how the universe works, which is universal truth. Plot is recognized as such by the audience (jury). In great tragedy the audience sees the hero like them subject to universal truth.  

According to Professor Barbara McManus, Outline of Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy, in Poetics:

 The most important feature of  great tragedy is “the arrangement of the incidents:” not the story itself  but the way the incidents are presented, the structure of the play. According to Aristotle, tragedies where the outcome depends on a tightly constructed cause-and-effect chain of actions are superior to those that depend primarily on the character and personality of the protagonist. Plots that meet this criterion will have the following qualities:

The plot must be “a whole,” with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning, called by modern critics the incentive moment, must start the cause-and-effect chain but not be dependent on anything outside the compass of the play (its causes are downplayed and its effects are stressed). The middle, or climax, must be caused by earlier incidents and itself cause the incidents that follow it (causes and effects are stressed). The end, or resolution, must be caused by the preceding events but not lead to other incidents outside the compass of the play (causes are stressed and effects downplayed); the end resolves the problem created during the incentive moment. Id. (Barbara McManus).

The plot must be “complete,” having “unity of action.” By this Aristotle means the trial must be structurally self-contained, with the incidents bound together by internal necessity, each action leading inevitably to the next. The worst kinds of trials are “‘episodic [where] acts succeed one another without probable or necessary sequence.” The only thing that ties the case together are events that happen to plaintiff. Events that occur to plaintiff must have a fated connection to the universal truth. While the lawyer cannot change the facts that make up the case, he “ought to show invention of his own and skillfully handle the traditional materials” to create unity of action in the trial. Barbara McManus, Outline of Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy in the POETICS.

The trial must be “of a certain magnitude,” both quantitatively (efficient and understandable) and qualitatively (universal significance). Today Aristotle would agree trials should be straight forward and efficient showing universal truth and significant meaning so the audience responds by implementing the universal truth. 

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7 Responses to “Tragic Plot Applied to Trial”

  1. […] posted here: Tragic Plot and the Personal injury Case | Zen Lawyer Seattle Segnala presso: This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged discussed-how, injury, […]

  2. Rodney M. says:

    What a good correlation between Hero and plot. Plot is the main source of the information and the hero serves as the “victim” of the plot.

    The final verdict of the jury or judge will depend on how the plot impacts the fact finder.

  3. Eryn Martina says:

    hi there, good site, and a very good understand! 1 for my favorites.

  4. John Galoni says:

    Wohh exactly what I was searching for, thanks for posting. “If it’s meant to be it’s up to me.” by Terri Gulick.

  5. Bobby Warr says:

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