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ARISTOTLE is, to modern thinking, a most unlikely champion of tragicomedy: for us, he is the tragic theorist par excellence. There are very few discussions of tragedy, even today, which do not register some debt to Aristotelian theory, and the Poetics has provided us with a set of terms and concepts which have become something of a fixture in our critical vocabulary. Here we might think of the ‘Aristotelian Unities’ – an idea which is not straightforwardly Aristotelian at all, but was first formulated in the terms that are now familiar to us by the Italian critic Lodovico Castelvetro (c.1505–71). Yet however secure our modern understanding of the Poetics might seem, it is only the most recent stage in a critical evolution in which many different cultural and aesthetic imperatives have been mapped onto it.
In the sixteenth century the reception of the Poetics entered into a particularly active phase. During the period, it was not only Aristotle's formulations of tragedy which generated great critical excitement: commentators were also interested in what the text might imply about other forms of drama, such as tragicomedy. Of course, this reading of the Poetics did not develop in isolation. Many of Aristotle's Italian critics, in particular, maintained a strong sense of the relationship between theory and practice and were keen to identify classical texts which might endorse this kind of reading of the Poetics.
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