- The moment in the plot of a drama in which the hero makes adiscovery that explains previously unexplained events or situations.
Anagnorisis (; ), also known as discovery, originally meant recognitionin its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for, what he or she represented; it was the hero’s suddenly becoming aware of a real situation and therefore the realisation of things as they stood; and finally it was a perception that resulted in an insight the hero had into his relationship with often antagonistic characterswithin Aristotelian tragedy.
In Aristotelian definition of tragedy it was the discovery of one’s own identity or true character (Cordelia, Edgar, Edmund, etc. inShakespeare’s King Lear) or of someone else’s identity or true nature (Lear’s children, Gloucester’s children) by the tragic hero. In his Poetics, Aristotle defined anagnorisis as “a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune”.
It should be noted that Shakespeare did not base his works on Aristotelian theory of tragedy, including use of hamartia, yet his tragic characters still commonly undergo anagnorisis as a result of their struggles.
Aristotle was the first writer to discuss the uses of anagnorisis, withperipeteia caused by it. He considered it the mark of a superior tragedy, as when Oedipus killed his father and married his mother in ignorance, and later learned the truth, or when Iphigeneia in Tauris realizes that the strangers she is to sacrifice are her brother and his friend in time to refrain from it. These plots, he considered complex and superior to simple plots without anagnorisis or peripetia, such as when Medearesolves to kill her children, knowing they are her children, and does so.
Anagnorisis is not limited to classical or Elizabethan sources. Author and lecturer Ivan Pintor Iranzo points out that contemporary auteur M. Night Shyamalan uses similar revelations in The Sixth Sense, in which child psychologist Malcolm Crowe successfully treats a child who is having visions of dead people, only to realize at the close of the film that Crowe himself is dead, and in Unbreakable, the character of David conversely realizes that he has survived a train crash that killed the other passengers, due to a supernatural power.
The section of Aristotle’s Poetics dealing with comedy did not survive, but many critics also speak of recognition in comedies. A standard plot of the New Comedy was the final revelation, by birth tokens, that the heroine was of respectable birth and so suitable for the hero to marry; this was often brought about by the machinations of the tricky slave. This plot appears in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, where a recognition scene in the final act reveals that Perdita is a king’s daughter rather than a shepherdess, and so suitable for her prince lover.