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Literature Glossary

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Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.

Catharsis

Definition:

Remember when your main squeeze broke your heart? All it took was a night on the couch in front of Dirty Dancing or The Dirty Dozen and all was good in the world again. Pretty cathartic, right?

Theorized by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics, catharsis is the desired emotional effect of many a tragedy. The idea is that the play will produce a bad feeling (pity and fear) in the spectator, thereby purging those emotions. Though you're afraid (or sad or angry) during the play, once you leave the theater, you've got all those bad vibes out of your system. Out with the bad and in with the good and all that.