Action or plot to him is not merely the organism of external incidents and events which make up the action of the play but also an inwards process, the expression of a man’s self, of his thoughts and emotions. If we accept this version, plot itself gets a prominent position, because character is also built out of a person’s emotions and feelings. Secondly, a character is what he does. Thirdly drama is story enacted on the stage, hence action is more important than anything. Without plot the writer will find it rather impossible to arouse the feelings of pity and fear. It is the plot which shows a character passing from happiness to misery. So in our actual life also, these are actions which govern the character.
Aristotle was of the view that in a tragedy, plot or action is more important than characterisation. Plot according to him is the soul, the basis or the very foundation to the majestic edifice of tragedy. He says, “A tragedy is impossible without plot, but there may be one without character.” His concepts holds true to a great extent if we understand what he means by action.
Dramatic history also justifies the soundness of Aristotle’s dictum. There have been successful dramas without character, but dramas without a suitable plot have been failures. Oedipus Tyrannus, according to Aristotle is an ideal play, a play in which there is plot but no character in the sense that the fate of the hero is not determined by his own actions. King Oedipus is a man doomed before his birth, in his case character is not destiny.” In detective plays character tends to be sub-ordinate to intrigue and this is the first and the most famous of detective plays” (F.L.Lucas).
It should also be remembered that by ‘character’ Aristotle does not mean dramatic personage but the bent or tendency; a bent of mind which can be revealed only in what a dramatic personage says or does. A character is made up of two elements Ethos (moral element) and Dionia (intellectual element).
Hence Plot is the soul of tragedy: Character holds the second place. “One may string together a set of speeches expressive of character, but they will not be able to produce the essential tragic effect, if they are not well-knit in the chain of dramatic incidents. On the other hand a play which has a plot artistically constructed incidents may produce a better effect. It is the plot which provides the elements of emotional interest in a tragedy. Reversal of Situation and the Recognition of Scenes which awaken and intensify tragic feeling are part of the plot. Again, it is in the background of given situation that the character acts and these situations are provided by the plot. Character is subordinate to action because it is a product of action. Without action we cannot conceive of the very existence of drama for action is the differentia of drama and must ever remain the primary and controlling principle.
This should also be borne in mind that by giving supremacy to plot Aristotle does not altogether ignore character. Nor does he really mean that there can really be a tragedy without character, for in the absence of agent there can be no action. Hence both plot and character, action and actor are essential. Aristotle himself recognises the importance of character when he says,”the tragedies of most of our modern poets fail in the rendering of character.” When he says there may be a tragedy without character, he probably means as Prof. Butcher has suggested, that there may be a tragedy if the moral character of the individual agents is so weakly portrayed as to be of no account in the evolution of the action. The persons may be mere types or marked only by class characteristics, or lacking in those distinctive qualities out of which dramatic action grows.”
Many modern critics have, however, challenged Aristotle’s doctrine of the primary importance of Plot. They argue that Aristotle’s thesis is based on the tragedies of the Greek writers of his time, who believed in fatalism and made man a puppet in the hands of Destiny. De Quincey said, Man being “the puppet of fate could not with any effect display what we call character for the will which is the central pivot of character was obliterated, thwarted, cancelled, by the dark fatalism which brooded over the Grecian stage. Powerful and elaborate character would have been wasted, nay, would have been defeated and interrupted by the blind agencies of fate.”
With the rise of romantic individualism, the interest shifted from plot to character. The sense of personality was deepened. The dramatists began to portray the inner conflict of their characters and opened up a richer and more varied life of emotions and passions. In Shakespeare’s tragedies particularly character assumed an infinite variety. But the greatness of Shakespeare lies in the fact that he tried to find a happy co-ordination between plot and character. The centre of interest shifted to his heroes no doubt but he did “not permit the dramatized action to be subservient to the portrayal of individual character.”
The modern dramas says Professor Butcher “introduces us into another world of poetic emotion. But in general the modern introspective habit, the psychological interest felt in character has produced many dramatic lyrics, but few dramas. “The importance of plot, therefore cannot be ignored.” W.K. Wimsatt has rightly said that “there can be no basic consideration of character and action separately. Or one might say, plot without character is a puzzle as in a detective story, character without plot is a series of conversations or soliloquies as in some romantic closet dramas.” Henry James has made the mutual relationship of the plot and character more clear by saying, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”