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Anagnorisis (IPA: /ˌænəgˈnɒrɨsɨs/; Ancient Greek: ἀναγνώρισις), also known as discovery, originally meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for, what he or she represented; it was the hero's suddenly becoming aware of a real situation and therefore the realisation of things as they stood; and finally it was a perception that resulted in an insight the hero had into his relationship with often antagonistic characters within Aristotelian tragedy.[1]


[edit] Tragedy

"Lear and Cordelia" by Ford Madox Brown: Lear, driven out by his older daughter and rescued by his youngest, realizes their true characters.

In the Aristotelian definition of tragedy, it was the discovery of one's own identity or true character (e.g. Cordelia, Edgar, Edmund, etc. in Shakespeare's King Lear) or of someone else's identity or true nature (e.g. Lear's children, Gloucester's children) by the tragic hero. In his Poetics, Aristotle defined anagnorisis as "a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune" (Part II: Section A.3:d. Recognition).

It should be noted that Shakespeare did not base his works on Aristotelian theory of tragedy, including use of hamartia, yet his tragic characters still commonly undergo anagnorisis as a result of their struggles[citations needed].

Aristotle was the first writer to discuss the uses of anagnorisis, with peripeteia caused by it. He considered it the mark of a superior tragedy, as when Oedipus killed his father and married his mother in ignorance, and later learned the truth, or when Iphigeneia in Tauris realizes in time that the strangers she is to sacrifice are her brother and his friend, and refrains from sacrificing them. Aristotle considered these complex plots superior to simple plots without anagnorisis or peripetia, such as when Medea resolves to kill her children, knowing they are her children, and does so.

[edit] Comedy

Poster for a performance of The Comedy of Errors: When the twins, confused with each other throughout the play, recognize each other's existence, the play reaches its happy ending.

The section of Aristotle's Poetics dealing with comedy did not survive, but many critics also speak of recognition in comedies. A standard plot of the New Comedy was the final revelation, by birth tokens, that the heroine was of respectable birth and so suitable for the hero to marry; this was often brought about by the machinations of the tricky slave. This plot appears in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, where a recognition scene in the final act reveals that Perdita is a king's daughter rather than a shepherdess, and so suitable for her prince lover.[2]

[edit] Sanskrit drama

A similar literary device is found in ancient Sanskrit drama. A notable example would be Kālidāsa's play Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Shakuntala), based on an episode from the earlier Indian epic, the Mahabharata. As the title suggests, The Recognition of Shakuntala revolves around the idea of recognition. It tells the story of King Dushyanta who, while on a hunting trip, meets Shakuntala and marries her. A mishap befalls them when he is summoned back to court: Shakuntala, pregnant with their child, inadvertently offends a visiting sage and incurs a curse, by which Dushyanta will forget her completely until he sees the ring he has left with her. On her trip to Dushyanta's court in an advanced state of pregnancy, she loses the ring, and has to come away unrecognized. The ring is found by a fisherman who recognizes the royal seal and returns it to Dushyanta, who regains his memory of Shakuntala and sets out to find her. After more travails, they are finally reunited.

[edit] Mystery

The earliest use of anagnorisis in a murder mystery was in "The Three Apples", a classical Arabian Nights tale, where the device is employed to great effect in its twist ending.[citation needed] The protagonist of the story, Ja'far ibn Yahya, is ordered by Harun al-Rashid to find the culprit behind a murder mystery within three days or else be executed. It is only after the deadline has past, and as he prepares to be executed, that he discovers that the culprit was his own slave all along.[3][4]

Anagnorisis, however, is not limited to classical or Elizabethan sources. Author and lecturer Ivan Pintor Iranzo points out that contemporary auteur M. Night Shyamalan uses similar revelations in The Sixth Sense, in which child psychologist Malcolm Crowe successfully treats a child who is having visions of dead people, only to realize at the close of the film that Crowe himself is dead, and in Unbreakable, the character of David conversely realizes that he has survived a train crash that killed the other passengers, due to a supernatural power.[5]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Northrop Frye, "Myth, Fiction, And Displacement" p 25 Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, ISBN 0-15-629730-2
  2. ^ Northrop Frye, "Recognition in The Winter's Tale" p 108-9 Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology, ISBN 0-15-629730-2
  3. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, pp. 95-6, ISBN 9004095306 
  4. ^ Marzolph, Ulrich (2006), The Arabian Nights Reader, Wayne State University Press, pp. 241-2, ISBN 0814332595 
  5. ^ Ivan Pintor Iranzo. The naked and the dead. The Representation of the dead and the construction of the other in contemporary cinema: The case of M. Night Shyamalan, No. 4, 2005
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