Narrative Structure: Aristotle & Bharata Muni

Posted by

EARLY LITERARY THEORY

The search for the earliest analysis of literary theory led me first to Aristotle and then later to Bharata Muni. Aristotle came first due to his connection to western culture. His text Poetics helped outline early literary theory as well as outline the “Three Act Model”. Both of these are important to help set up the story of how literary theory has changed over time.

While reading into Aristotle I came across another influential player, Bharata Muni, whose theory functions as a contemporary contradiction to Aristotle’s theory. Both of their theories together help outline, in broad strokes, the structure and format behind many of the stories, plays, and films that we see to this day.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Aristotle and Poetics
Six Aspects of Drama
Plot
Character
Reasoning
Diction
Lyric Poetry
Spectacle
Reversal & Recognition


Bharata Muni & Natyasastra
Unity
Four Aspects of Drama
10 Types of Plays
The Limbs of the Junctures
Plot
Five Stages of Action
Five Elements of Plot
Five Junctures
Spectacle
Differences & Similarities


ARISTOTLE and Poetics

335 BCE

The development of western storytelling seems to lead back to Aristotle. In Poetics, Aristotle goes into significant depth and analysis to convey the importance and form that a story must conform to in order to be successful.  He discusses different forms  of poetic structure (i.e. epic, tragedy, and comedy).  Although, most of Poetics is spent discussing tragedy.  This is mostly due to the incomplete nature of Poetics.  Heath mentions this in the introduction to his translation of Poetics.

“Unfortunately, the writings which earned him that esteem have not survived. What we read today are not the books which Aristotle prepared and polished for publication, but notes (perhaps in many cases lecture-notes) compiled for his own use or the use of his students.” 1

The fact that Poetics is an “[un]polished” collection of Aristotle’s thoughts makes the text disjointed at times and difficult to follow. With that said, there are “relatively” clear sections and categories that breakdown Aristotle’s train of thought.

Aristotle covers the key necessities that he believed every story needed. This included six main constituent parts of a story, as well as some main drivers for the emotional connection.  The six distinguishing parts are:

plot
character
reasoning
diction
lyrical poetry
and spectacle.

Each facet of Aristotle’s breakdown of literary theory holds a different degree of weight in his eyes. The order of magnitude descends in order of importance.

Plot

He spends more time dissecting Plot above any other characteristic of poetry’s structure.  On the topic of plot, Aristotle writes,

“Tragedy is not an imitation of persons, but of actions and of life. Well-being and ill-being reside in action, and the goal of life is an activity, not a quality; people possess certain qualities in accordance with their character, but they achieve well-being or its opposite on the basis of how they fare … so the events, i.e. the plot, are what tragedy is there for, and that is the most important thing of all.” 2

The key elements of plot that must be followed, by Aristotle’s standards, are completeness, magnitude, unity, and universality.  These elements are important in order to create a cohesive, comprehensive, and meaningful story.  When I first read these, the terms seemed vague and convoluted.  Although after going over the text several times, and reading Malcolm Heath’s introduction, they began to make more sense.

Completeness

The first facet is completeness, this means that the story must have a whole (i.e. beginning, middle, and end).  The story must contain, 1) an understandable starting point that “does not follow necessarily from something else”, 2)  A mid point that “which itself comes after something else,and some other things comes after it…”, 3) a conclusion that, “naturally follows from something else.”3  The idea here is that the story must be a connection of sequential events.  It cannot be made up of non sequiturs and disjointed actions or observations. This is also the basis for his “Three Act Model”.

Magnitude

Magnitude is about two factors, length and scope.  The length requirement depends on the subject matter, but the idea here seems to be that the length cannot be too short or too long.  This depends on the scope of what is being discussed.  The story must make a transition from good fortune to bad fortune or bad fortune to good fortune and do so within the prescribed length.  If the story is too short to cover the scope or too long for the audience to remember or follow along, then the correct magnitude has not been achieved.

Unity

Aristotle’s idea of “unity”, is to emphasize the importance of focus on a single action and not on a single person.  A single person will have many actions, but they will not all contribute to the story.  Telling the life story of a specific individual would fit under Aristotle’s Epic classification.  On the flip side, it is also important not to get caught up focusing on the minutia of the event that does not add anything to the story.  You do not need to include everyday details like, waking up, eating breakfast, etc… unless it directly ties into the primary story.  Lacking focus will derail the story.

The idea is that the story stays focused to a central theme and does not go off on tangents. A story that sticks with a consistent theme will be more successful.

Universality

Aristotle describes Universality as, “the function of the poet is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen, i.e. what is possible in accordance with probability or necessity.”4 This topic seems focused on comparing historical documentation to poetic verse.

Aristotle is saying that the story should not be solely based off of particular details of historical events, without connections that would make the scenario reasonable.  The story must be plausible that the ‘event’ would actually happen, even if it is based on a real event.  It is important that even if something happened (i.e. a murder or a robbery) it is not enough that one of those events takes place in your plot, it must also meet the requirements for completeness.  Malcolm Heath more eloquently explains how Aristotle differentiates between things that can happen and things that would happen.

“In other words, when Aristotle speaks of ‘the kind of thing that would happen’. he is not talking about individual events but about connected sequences of events. If a poet wants to construct a plot out of a given sequence of events, it is not enough that those events actually happened; what is essential is that they are connected with each other in the way defined in chapter 7 [completeness]; and if they are so connected, it does not matter whether they actually happened or not.”5

The main take away from plot is the story is an ‘imitation of action‘.  The focus is not on the individual players, but the events that take place.  It is important not to tell the life story of your main character, but stick only to the events related to the main story line.  The events are what create the purpose and magnitude behind the story.  Connecting the events together is key in making a fluid story and complete story.  It is also important to stay focused on a single event or action and avoid unnecessary minutia.

Character & Reasoning

After the ‘imitation of action’ has been achieved the next aspects that Aristotle emphasizes are character and reasoning.  For Aristotle character is defined as an “imitation of agents”6.  More specifically, it is the combination of the moral backbone as well as their consistency of the agent on how they make choices.

“As was said earlier, speech or action will possess character if it discloses the nature of a deliberate choice, the character is good if the choice is good.” 7

At first I thought Aristotle might be saying that only morally good characters can count as “characters”, but that would be outrageous.  The idea here seems to be that a character must make good choices that help progress the narrative. It is not a matter of morality, but one of function.

Aristotle describes reasoning as,

“The ability to say what is implicit in a situation and appropriate to it…the means by which people argue that something is or is not the case, or put forward some proposition.” 8

This is key to character because they both must be consistent and in tune with one another.  Malcolm Heath explains this well in the introduction.  Malcolm Heath writes,

“To see what Aristotle means by these two terms, imagine that you have left me alone with your silver spoons. Broadly speaking, there are two factors that will determine whether or not I steal them. One is whether I am honest; this is the kind of thing which Aristotle means by character — an agent’s settled moral disposition. The other relevant factor is how I interpret the situation: do I think that I am likely to avoid suspicion if I take the spoons? This is what Aristotle means by reasoning. If I am dishonest and reason that I can get away with it, I am likely to steal the spoons; to use a phrase that recurs persistently throughout the Poetics, it is ‘necessary or probable’ that I will steal the spoons if I am dishonest and think I can get away with it. Thus character sets my agenda (what would I like to do?), and reasoning relates that agenda to a given situation (what is it feasible to do in these circumstances?).”9

Maintaining a consistency with the characters is an important feature that Aristotle emphasized. Having character development that both progressed and maintained consistency was key.

Diction, Lyric Poetry, & Spectacle

After Aristotle explains the primary aspects of the context and content of the plot he moves on to the aspects that pertain to their delivery to the audience.  These include: diction, lyric poetry, and spectacle.  Diction refers to the way that the poetry, or story, is spoken, while lyric poetry refers to the aspects that are sung.  Spectacle is the way the content is presented to the audience.  In other words, spectacle, is the visual component.

The most important part of diction that Aristotle emphasized was ‘clarity’.  It was important for the agents to convey the words clearly and accurately to the audience in a way that the audience could understand.  In other words it is important for the “players” to communicate to the audience in a way that they could understand. Using slang, while it may be “distinguished” or “out of the ordinary” to use slang or “non-standard words”, however if the language makes it hard to understand the message then it ultimately takes away from the quality of the play. 

Aristotle only briefly mentions the last two topics in Poetics, compared to the previous four. Lyric Poetry and Spectacle were viewed as unimportant, from my reading of the text. He clearly sees these portions as less important.  Aristotle seems to view these facets of tragedy as necessary, but “inartistic” and ‘self-evident’.

Complex vs Simple Plots

After Aristotle explains the six main and basic component parts of tragedy, he goes into more complex aspects that distinguish the ‘complex’ plots from the ‘simple’.  This difference primarily surrounds the structure and emotion behind the plot.  A simple plot may just meet the basic requirements of plot, above.  However, a complex plot requires that you not only meet the basic requirements but also contain aspects of pity and fear, reversal, and recognition.  Aristotle writes,

“By a simple action I mean one which is, in the sense defined, continuous and unified, and in which the change of fortune comes about without reversal or recognition … By complex, I mean one in which the change of fortune involves reversal or recognition or both.  These must arise from the actual structure of the plot, so that they come about as a result of what has happened before, out of necessity or in accordance with probability.  There is an important difference between a set of events happening because  of certain other events and after certain other events.”10

The idea behind the complex plot that it meets the basic requirements for a simple plot and goes even further to contain an impactful and emotionally meaningful story arc and character development.  To better understand what Aristotle means it is important to understand reversal and recognition. 

Reversal and Recognition

Reversal and recognition are defined as, “a change to the opposite in the actions being performed…” and “change from ignorance to knowledge.”10  Malcolm Heath dissects these vague definitions in his introduction.  Heath breaks down reversal and recognition by relating it to the story of Oedipus. 

“Oedipus learns that he has killed his father and married his mother, and this recognition is the final blow that shatters his world.  Note that recognition is associated above all with ‘close relationship and enmity’, on the grounds that such relationships have the closest bearing on an individual’s good and bad fortune: Oedipus’ world would not have been shattered if the man he had killed had turned out to be a complete stranger… reversal involves an astonishing inversion of the expected outcome of some action, but that astonishment should not be achieved at the cost of necessary or probable connection.  So, for example, Oedipus’ discovery of the terrible truth is the paradoxical but necessary consequence of the arrival of a messenger who aims to bring good news and does everything he can to put an end to Oedipus’ worries.” 11

The twists and turns are necessary for a story to be impactful and resonate with the audience. The transition from good fortune to bad is the necessary step for the protagonist existing within a drama. This transitional event must tie in to the core dilemma or focus of the character.

In today’s vast collection of stories from film, to plays, to kids books, the existence of a “reveal” or “recognition” is commonplace. Once upon a time it must have been novel to tell writers that a story must have something unexpected happen in order for them to be complex.

This leads into the importance of astonishment.  Aristotle states that astonishment is not a requirement for a complex plot, however proper implementation will enhance recognition and reversal.

“…when something happens both unexpectedly and nevertheless as a necessary or probable consequence of what has gone before, this combination increases the audience’s astonishment and thus enhances the emotional impact of events.”12

 Without astonishment stories would lack interest.  There needs to be elements of surprise and change of fortune in order for there to be any merit to the actions taking place.  This is why Aristotle emphasizes the importance of structure.  Missing key aspects of necessary structure can take away from the impact of a story.

Aristotle goes into much greater depth on each topic, and several unmentioned topics, but I did not want to get too caught in the weeds.  The major takeaways are focused on cohesion and consequence.  There needs to be fluidity to the story that is comprehensible and the actions that make up the story need to be related to one another.  The requirements that Aristotle sets forth seem to be relatively straight forward and common sense.  Obviously, this is in terms of the broad strokes.

It is unfortunate that a more complete version of the text does not exist, although it is impressive enough that any kind of written text could survive this long at all.

Fear, Pity, and Catharsis

Perhaps the most important features that are highlighted in Aristotle’s description of tragedy are the relationships between fear and pity. Pity is described throughout as the catalyst for meaning and importance. Establishing pity will then lead to fear or anger, and potentially in catharsis depending on the outcome, when certain events or actions take place. Pity is the cornerstone in establishing whether good or bad fortune takes place, and if the audience cares.

The audience’s ability to connect to a character is essential for them to have any level of engagement or interest. A “good” story is one that is able to establish pity for a character, transfer that energy to fear by way of actions and events, and then either resolve the actions for a “good fortune” ending or have things fall apart even further for a “bad fortune” ending.

Flexibility in Poetics

Poetics functions as a general foundation in terms of structure, but it is too rigid. The issue is it is too general and not inclusive enough of narratives “outside of the norm” or that do not fit Aristotle’s preferences. Examples exist where story is not plot driven, and yet the film is critically received and stands the test of time (e.g. Le Chien Andolou, Man With the Movie Camera) It could be used as a guideline to make sure a story is not incoherent and boring, although it does not function as a “how to”. Although, to be fair that would be impossible. 

Even Aristotle understood the rigid nature of formulaic structure was flawed. No matter how hard you try to frame in the idea of a “perfect narrative structure”, there will always be exceptions that are extraordinary and fit outside that framework.

“There is ample evidence later in the Poetics of Aristotle’s flexibility in this regard.  In chapters 24 and 25 he approaches ‘irrationalities’ in plot with caution, but does not absolutely rule them out.  Aristotle sets out his requirements for a well-formed plot as things which in principle poetry ought to aim for, but his application of this principle is by no means rigid or doctrinaire; as we shall see (§11), he recognizes that departures from the norm he has defined may be advantageous in some circumstances.13

The “flaws” here are really that the analysis is so simplistic that by today’s standards it seems to be just common sense. Hard to use it to analyze form in today’s world, however it is a solid basic foundation. Which is all I guess it is at this point.


BHARATA MUNI and the Natyasastra

300 BCE – 100 CE

The identity of Bharata Muni is unclear.  “An ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist who wrote the Natyasastra (Natya Shastra)…” that dates back to the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE .14  However, while reading Manomohan Ghosh’s translation and introduction, I found an alternative theory.  Ghosh states in the introduction that,

“The Natyasastra is commonly attributed to Bharata Muni But Bharata cannot be taken as its author, for in the Natyasastra itself his mythical character is very obvious, and the majority of the Puranas are silent about the so-called author of the Natyasastra, and there is not a single legend about him in any of the extant Puranas or the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.  The word Bharata which originally meant ‘an actor’ seems to have given rise to an eponymous author of the Bharatasastra or the Natyasastra (the manual of actors).”15

Ghosh writes how several different authors have been credited with portions of the Natyasastra16. Given the age of the document, it is not surprising that a lack of clarity exists around the author.  The author is less important than the impact that the Natyasastra has had on the evolution of art and drama in Indian culture and worldwide.

According to Ghosh, there are references to text absorbed into the current body of Natysastra that date back to 500 B.C.15 This makes portions of Natyasastra possible predecessors or contemporaries of Aristotle’s Poetics.  It is interesting how ancient documents could have been created around the same time about similar subject matter and be separated by such a vast geological distance.

The Natyasastra is a text focused on the arts within Indian culture at the time of its creation. It is a guide to artistry, acting, music, dance, play writing, and other aspects of performing arts. The text is important for many reasons, although here the primary importance is to show the sophistication and detailed theory behind ancient storytelling.

In a broad sense, the Natysastra breaks down dramatic structure in a similar manner as Poetics. There are distinct guidelines and goals set out to help playwrights successfully craft their performance. One major similarity is for the playwright to avoid “the absurd” and to strive for realism in a technical sense. This is to say that natural behavior should be captured through the theater opposed to “speeches uttered ‘aside’ or as soliloquy.”15

Other similarities between the Natyasastra and Poetics are: the importance of Unity, mimicry of actions (realism), as well as the fact that the texts themselves are similar in their goals to clearly establish a set standard of narrative structure.

One major difference is that the plays of ancient India had a significantly higher focus on music, dance, and spectacle, than their Greek counterparts. Although, several other aspects and structure are surprisingly paralleled.

Unity

The first major parallel is the concept of unity. The requirement for strong storytelling to stay focused is important. A story that does not stay on subject, or thematic arc, would become confusing.

“…the playwright had to be careful about the unity of impression which it was calculated to produce. For this purpose the Natyasastra seems to have the following devices:
The Germ (bija) of the play as well as its Prominent Point (bindu) was always to relate to every Act…
An Act was not to present too many incidents, and such subsidiary events as might affect the unity of impression…” 17

This concept is highlighted in Poetics as well. Consistency is important for a smooth and clear story. This seems to be a common sense concept, although at the time the exposure and prevalence of storytelling perhaps led to emphasis on simplicity.

Drama

The Natyasastra goes on to break drama down into four distinct aspects, whereas, Poetics has six. These fundamental characteristics are Verbal, Grand, Energetic, and Graceful. These four categories are much less focused on general story structure and more on potential character types. They are more descriptors for roles that may exist within the story being told.

Four techniques/aspects of drama Verbal, Grand, Energetic, and Graceful.

Verbal (bharati) “The theatrical presentation which is characterized by a preponderating use of speech and in which male characters are exclusively to be employed, is said to be in the Verbal style.”18 “This is applicable mainly in the evocation of the Pathetic and the Mervellous sentiments.18

Grand (sattvati) – “The presentation which depends for its effect on various gestures and speeches, display of stregth as well as acts showing the rise of the spirits, is considered to be in the Grand style.”18

Energetic (arabhati) – “The style which includes the presentation of a bold person speaking many words, practising deceoption, falsehood and bragging and of falling down, jumping, crossing over, doing deeds of magic and conjuration etc, is called the Energetic one.18

Graceful (kaisiki) – “The presentation which is specially intersting on account of charming costumes worn mostly by female characters and in which many kinds of dancing and signing are included, and the themes acted relate to the practicve of love and its enjoyment, is said to constitute the Graceful Style.18

The Natyasastra goes even further in depth by breaking down ten distinct types of plays. This is where more focus is placed on structure and fundamental differences between varying story arcs.

10 Types of Hindu Play

  1. Nataka

The most important form is Nataka. This is described as “a well known story and for its Hero a celebrated person of exalted nature.” There are interesting specifics prescribed to this type of story. It must have more than 5 and less than 10 acts, the hero will display many superhuman powers and exploits, such as success in different undertakings and amorous pastimes. 19 The acts are also not structured in the same way as Greek theory.20 An act is more fluid and less connected than the Greek version. The story is also restricted to the success of the various undertakings, “including love-matters”, making the story more of a comedy than drama.

  1. Prakaraya

The Prakaraya is described as similar to the Nataka style. The primary difference is that the story is to be original and from real life. The main theme should be love and of the female characters should include “a [courtezan] or a depraved woman of good family.” Ghosh describes this style as “a bourgeois comedy or comedy of manners of a rank below royalty.”21

  1. Samavakara

The Samavakara is a mythological story where an Asura (demigod) is the hero. The structure is specific in that there must be three acts, it must be seven hours and twelve minutes long, it must incorporate deception, excitement or love, and twelve characters are allowed. Ghosh describes this style as “not fully developed”22. At the time of his research there were no examples of this style outside of the Natyasastra.

  1. Ihamrga

Consisting of four acts, the Ihamrga concentrates on a story comprised of gods fighting over divine females. The love sparks conflict that is then resolved before any killing. Ghosh states that , “No old specimen of this type of play has been found. From the description given in the Natyasastra it seems that the Ihamrga was a play of intrigue, in which gods and godesses only took part.”22

  1. Dima

The Dima appears to be an all out action spectacle. A hero protagonist, of the “exalted type”, and incidents that are, “mostly earthquake, fall of meteors, eclipses, battle, personal combat, challenge and angry conflict.”22Ghosh goes on to say, “It seems that like the Samakavara this was a dramatic [s]pectacle rather than a fulfledged drama. With the advent of literary plays of a more developed kind, it naturally became extinct.”22 This leads me to believe that it was all action with little to no drama to accompany it. I imagine sequences like these fulfilling the definition of Dima.

Vyayoga

Vyayoga is a play that spans the course of one day. It follows a hero and a small number of female characters. Much like the Dima style, Vyayoga must “include battle, personal combat, challenge,and angry combat”22, which all sounds like the same thing to be honest. Perhaps just a Dima-lite.

  1. Utsrstikanka

A one act plot focused on the “Pathetic Sentiment” and on the characters fall (end of rise). Utsrstikanka is to “treat women’s lamentations and despondent utterances at a time when battle and violet fighting has ceased; it should include bewildered movements [of mourners] and it must be devoid of the Grand, the Energetic and the Graceful Styles.” 23

  1. Prahasana

The Parahasana is differentiated into two styles, pure and mixed. Muni and Ghosh both describe this style as a form of satire. The pure style has characters of “ill repute” speaking comically and hypocritically to Saiva gurus (teachers of Shiva – Hinduism) and Brahmins (elite hindu caste). Mixed Prahasana style apparently has “courtezans, servants, eunuchs, parasites, rogues, and unchaste women appear in immodest appearance, dress and movements.”24

These distinctions seem to be completely different considering they are describing two facets of the same style of play. This appears to be a theme I am picking up within the Natyasastra. The distinctions seem to be extremely specific in their segregation. They are not covering wide spectrums or distinguished styles or types. They seem to be so focused on their description that they are perhaps simply describing one example of a play, while somehow missing the key aspects of the story itself.

  1. Bhana

The Bhana style is a monologue. It can either take the form of autobiographical or biographical. Conversations can be played out with the speaker saying “someone else’s words”, but only one character can be acted out. 25

  1. Vithi

A play that is to be acted by either two persons or one. 26 The possibilities within this style are so vast that there are thirteen variations of the Vithi style play. Styles include:


– Accidental Interpretation.

If, in order to explain them men connect words of obscure meaning with words other than [those intended by the speaker] it becomes Accidental Interpretation. 26

– Transference.

When [anthing] occuring in [relation to] something, will be made to accomplish something else, it becomes [an instance of] Transference. 26

– Ominous Significance.

That one attaches (lit. creates) out of misunderstanding an auspicious or inauspicious meaning (lit. auspicious or inauspicious rise) to the words (lit. meaning) mentioned, is [an instance of] Ominous Significance.26

– Incoherent Chatter.

When an irrelevant quesetion (lit. sentence) is followed by [an equally] irrelevant answer, it is [an instance of] Incoherent Chatter. 27

– Compliment.

When comic and untrue words purporting to be mutual praise of two persons, are uttered in the interest of one [of them] it is [an instance of] Compliment. 27

– Enigma.

An enigmatic remark that gives rise to laughter (lit. followed by laughter) is called an Enigma. 27

– Repartee.

Repartee arises from a single or twofold reply. 27

– Outvying.

When somebody else’s words and those of one’s own-self, in course of a dialogue, lead to their mutual modification, it is [an instance of] Outvying. 27

– Deception.

When after alluring one by replies, something opposite is done (lit. takes place) through those very replies being considered meaningless, it is [an instance of] Deception.27

– Declaration.

If anything [liable to occur] is described vividly in the presence of the Hero and is similarly made to happen [there] without any fear, it is [an instance of] Declaration. 28

– Crushing.

That due to an alteration one represents [another’s] merits as demerits by [showing] cause [for it] and vice versa, is called Crushing. 28

Three Men’s Talk.

When exalted words with the Comic Sentiment are shared three [characters] it should be known as Three Men’s Talk. 28

– Undue Combination of Words.

Undue combination of words according to the wise, occurs due to excitement, confusion, quarrel, reviling and many people’s abusive words. 28

Each style of Vithi describes a style or form of interaction that might span only one scene, or act. These must either be really short plays or used to describe conversation styles within plays in general.

Even with all of these different divisions of play style Ghosh acknowledges, in the introduction of The Natyasastra, the possible variance and loose association to drama that the plot styles have.

Though the Hindu plays are usually referred to as ‘drama’ all the ten varieties of play described in the Natyasatra are not strictly speaking dramas in the modern sense. Due to the peculiar technique of their construction and production they would partially at least partake of the nature of pure drama, opera, ballet or merely dramatic spectacle. 29

The ten types of play all seem to be incomplete variations of a fully formed story. Each style describes a narrow aspect of a conversation or a rigidly formed story line that must be followed. It is interesting that with all of the different delineations there seems to be limited range in story telling styles, subjects, lengths, characters, etc…

The Limbs of the Junctures

The Natyasastra, much Like Aristotle’s Poetics, has a breakdown analyzing the framework of a play’s structure. There are many similarities to Poetics, although I am not sure how some of the types of plays would be structured to both fit the five junctures, as well as accomplish the rules laid out in each style.

The Natyasastra describes how some styles of play are fulfilled by following the rules within the junctures (i.e. Nataka and Prakarana are fulfilled by following the rules within the five stages of action.) Although, it is not clear how some of the one act plays or monologues are to be structured, or if there are strict rules set out for those styles.

Plot

The plot is the body of the drama. The Natyasastra describes two kinds of plot, Principal and Subsidiary. The principal is the storyline that directly pushes the story forward through the various and necessary junctures. The subsidiary plot is any incidents mentioned that push any narrative forward that are not critical to the Principal plot.

Five Stages of Action

The five stages of action are primarily followed in the Nataka and Prakarana story types. These stories are the Hero quest story lines that have a clear arc related to character development. Think of movies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Rocky, just about any kids animated movie (i.e. Hercules, Moana, etc…). These stages are as follows:

– Beginning.

That part of the play which merely records eagerness about the final attainment of the result with reference to the Germ. 30 Simply put this is the setup that outlines the goal for our hero to attain through their story.

– Effort.

[Heroe’s] striving towards an attainment of the Result when the same is not in view, and showing further eagerness [about it]. 30 The hero working towards their goal in the form of training or pursuing logical steps

– Possibility of Attainment.

When the attainment of the object is slightly suggested by an idea, it is to be known as the Possibility of Attainment. 30 An opportunity is presented where the hero can attain his goal.

– Certainty of Attainment.

When one visualizes in idea a sure attainment of the result, it is called Certainty of Attainment. 30 When the attainment is within reach.

– Attainment of the Result.

When the intended result appears in full at the end of events [of a play] and corresponds to them. 30

Five Elements of the Plot

The five elements of the plot are the key aspects that form the backbone of the story.

– Germ.

The initial idea or concept of the play that starts small and grows as the play develops.

– Prominent Point.

That which sustains the continuity (lit. non-separation) till the end of the play even when the chief object [of the play] is [for the time being] suspended. 31 The main goal or task that is driving the characters progression.

– The Episode.

The event which is introduced in the interest of the Principal [Plot] and is treated like it. 31 A major event that has the main directive of driving the principal plot forward.

– The Episodical Incident.

When merely the result of such an event is presented for the purpose of another (i.e. the Principal Plot) and it has no Secondary Juncture. 31 An event that does not fundamentally push the principal plot forward, but perhaps surrounds a secondary characters relationship to the primary. An event that has more of a supportive role, and is not required in all stories.

– The Denouement.

The efforts made for the purpose of the Principal Plot introduced [in play] by experts. 31 This is the climax that is the culmination of the events and plot of the play/story.

The Five Junctures

The five junctures are the Natyasastra version of the Three Act Structure from Poetics. The five junctures are essential 5 acts, or segments, of progression of a story.

(Principal Plot)

The name given to the story as a whole. The Principal Plot includes the entire body of the story. The principle plot includes all five junctures: The Opening, The Progression, The Development, The Pause, & The Conclusion. Each phase outlined in the Natyasastra as follows:

1. The Opening.

That part of a play, in which the creation of the Germ as the source of many objects and Sentiments takes place. 32 This is where the story is set up. The characters, purpose, concept, object (i.e. the germ) are all established.

2. The Progression.

Uncovering of the Germ placed at the Opening after it has sometimes been perceptible and sometimes been lost. 32 After the introduction (The Opening), the germ, or the focal goal/idea, is initiated and set into motion.

3. The Development.

The sprouting of the Germ, its attainment or non-attainment and search for it, is called the Development. 32 This phase of the story is the journey or work put forth to attain or accomplish the goal. This is where the Episode may take place.

4. The Pause.

One’s pause (lit. deliberation) over the Germ that has sprouted in the Development on account of some temptation, anger or distress, is called the Juncture of that name (i.e. Pause). 33 – A Pause takes place when a disruption takes place that veers the Hero off path. Thus requiring serious thought and reflection to move past the distress. This juncture is not found in Dima, Samvakara, Vyayoga, Ihamrga, Prahasana, Vithi, or Anka.

5. The Conclusion.

Bringing together the objects [of the Junctures] such as the Opening etc. along with the Germ, when they have attained fruition, is called the Conclusion. 34 The closure of the play. This juncture is preceded by the Denouement and wraps up the story.

Spectacle

Spectacle has a much different level of importance in the Natyasastra than in Poetics. There is a significant amount of the text of the Natyasastra that is devoted to music, dance, and performance that is just not seen in Poetics. Furthermore, Aristole goes even further to highlight how much more important the narrative and drama of the plot is than spectacle.

“Another peculiarity of the Hindu dramas was their general dependence on dance, song, and instrumental music. Though the chorus of the Greek tragedy introduced in it some sort of dance and songs, the function of these elements seem to have been considerably different in the Hindu drama.” 35

It is clear t this day how this vastly different approach has influenced films in the “west” vs films in India. The prominent role that spectacle takes in Bollywood films compared to Hollywood films is clear. This can be seen through the musical and dance sequences that are a staple of Indian filmmaking.

I would be remiss if I did not include this incredible relic of a Bollywood performance.

Spectacle is not just limited to song and dance. The entertainment value of the performance is ultimately what defines spectacle. The separation between Aristotle’s goals of realism and Muni’s vision for entertainment are clear. This fundamental difference is likely one reason there are many films that feature, highlight, and exaggerate the spectacle almost to the point of sport.

Bahubali 2


Singham

Differences and Similarities

It is interesting how Natyasastra compares to poetics.  Poetics focuses more on the plot and mimicking action with an explicit de-emphasis on spectacle.  Conversely, the Natyasastra puts a much larger emphasis on the spectacle, dance, and song. This is perhaps why many Bollywood films heavily incorporate song and dance. 

The distinct separation between the two styles in terms of importance of spectacle, can also be seen in the importance tied to realism. The quality of a play, as determined by Aristotle, appears to depend on the level of realism and ability for the play to relate to the audience. The quality of a play, as determined by the Natyasastra, seems to depend on the level and quality of spectacle as well as the adherence to one of the predefined structures.

Ghosh writes about another difference between the texts and that is how they both relate to duration. The length of the play within the Natyasastra appear to be more open ended in terms of length. More restrictions surround the quantity of acts and number of players instead of length.

“Hindu playwrights, unlike the majority of Greek tragedians, did never make any attempt to restrict the fictional action to a length of time roughly similar to that taken up by the production of a drama on the stage. 36

Much like Aristotle’s Poetics, the Natyasastra breaks down the required structure for a unified play as well as outline different styles of storytelling. The texts are surprisingly similar in terms of their content as well as the defined categories of importance (e.g. unity, diction, spectacle, etc…). Each text singles out specific important attributes of storytelling and then each weighs the importance of each one differently.

Both texts have made an important and lasting affect on play-writing, screen-writing, and performance around the globe.


References

1 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. VII.

2 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 11.

3 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 13.

4 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 16.

5 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. XXVII.

6 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 12.

7 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 24.

8 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 12-13.

9 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. XIX.

10 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. 18.

11 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. XXX.

12 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. PXLIX.

13 – Aristotle., and Malcolm Heath. Poetics. London ; New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1996. XXIX.

14 – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharata_Muni

15 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. LXXI.

16 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959.LXIV.

17 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLV.

18 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLVIII.

19 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLIX.

20 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. L.

21 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. LII.

22 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. LIII.

23 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 371.

24 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 372.

25 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 373.

26 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 374.

27 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 375.

28 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 376.

29 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLVII.

30 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 381.

31 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 383.

32 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 385.

33 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 385-386.

34 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. 386.

35 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLIII.

36 – Muni, Bharata., and Manomohan Ghosh. The Natyashastra: A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics ascribed to Bharata-Muni, translated by Dr. M.M. Ghosh, Vol. I, Chapters I-XXVI, The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta 1959. XLV.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s