FOR the earliest known dramatic criticism we turn back to the literature of ancient Greece, there to find in Aristotle's Poetics a statement of first principles which, in relation to tragedy, is still valid. But though it is likely that the Poetics will remain for all time the bible of the critics, not all its lessons have so far been learned.
In the present age it has become a fashionable practice in criticism first to conjure a theory from the nebular spaces of the mind and then to adjust the evidence to support the theory. That was not Aristotle's way. He was a deductive critic whose conclusions were based upon a close examination of the output of Greek dramatic poets. In this respect he did work which it has not been necessary to do again, but we need not carry intellectual modesty so far as to suppose that if Aristotle had not arrived at the doctrine of katharsis we should have failed to reach it in the meantime. Since the authority of a great man tends to have a deadening effect upon lesser ones who come after, it is well to consider from time to time the shortcomings of the great, though without intent to underestimate their achievements. Nowadays it is less necessary to recall what Aristotle did than what he left undone. In the extant plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides there is available a body of material sufficient for the extraction of a theory of tragedy if the Aristotelian theory did not happen to exist. Where Aristotle fails us as a theatre critic is in saying excessively little about acting and staging. He left us to grope in perpetual semi-darkness in relation to such matters and not all his