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Catharsis is the purification and purgation of emotions (particularly pity and fear) through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning “cleansing.”

Examples of Catharsis from Literature

1: Macbeth (By William Shakespeare)

William Shakespeare wrote two famous examples of catharsis. One of these catharsis examples is his tragic drama Macbeth. The audience and readers of Macbeth usually pity the tragic central figure of the play because he was blinded by his destructive preoccupation with ambition.

In Act 1, he is made the thane of Cawdor by King Duncan, which makes him a prodigy, well-regarded for his valor and talent. However, the era of his doom starts when he, like most people, gets carried away by ambition and the supernatural world as well. Subsequently, he loses his wife, his veracity, and eventually his life. The temptation of ambition robs him of the essence of his existence as a human being, and leaves behind nothing but discontent and a worthless life. In Act V, Macbeth gathers this idea in his soliloquy. He says, while speaking of his life:

“… A poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.  It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

2: Romeo and Juliet (By William Shakespeare)

“Here’s to my love! [Drinks] O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. [Falls]”

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo commits suicide by drinking the poison that he erroneously thinks Juliet had tasted too. The audience usually finds themselves crying at this particular moment for several reasons. Primarily because losing a loved one is a feeling that all of us have experienced. Watching or reading such a scene triggers the memories of someone we have lost (either by death or by mere separation), and because we are able to relate to it, we suddenly release the emotions that we have been repressing.

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