Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.
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.