The word Catharsis is a Greek word meaning “cleansing" which is actually an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal. It is a state of liberation from anxiety and stress is. In literature, it is used for cleansing of emotions of the characters.
The term was originally used as a metaphor in Poetics by Aristotle, to explain the impact of tragedy on the audiences. According to him catharsis is the ultimate end of a tragic artistic work, and it also mark its quality. He further said, in Poetics:
Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; … through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions
1. Macbeth by William Shakespeare:
William Shakespeare provided two famous examples of catharsis. One of these is his tragic drama Macbeth. After watching or reading Macbeth the readers or audiences usually pity the tragic central figure of the play because he was blinded by his destructive preoccupation with ambition.
He was made the thane of Cawdor by King Duncan, which makes him a prodigy, well-regarded for histalent in Act 1. However, the era of his doom starts when he gets carried away by ambition, and the supernatural world as well. Along with this he loses his wife, his veracity, and eventually his life. His desires robs him of his existence as a human being, and leaves behind nothing but a worthless life. In Act V he says:
"… 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,
2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo commits suicide by drinking the poison that he thinks Juliet had tasted too. The audience finds themselves crying at this particular moment for several reasons. Primarily because losing a loved one is a feeling that most 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.
The term catharsis explains the impact of tragedy, comedy, or any other form of art on the audience and in some cases even on the performers themselves in dramatic art. Aristotle did not elaborate on the meaning of “catharsis,” and the way he used it in defining tragedy in Poetics. According to G. F. Else, the most prevalent explanation of catharsis as “purgation” or “cleansing” does not have a basis in Poetics. It came from other non-Aristotelian and Aristotelian contexts. And such confusion regarding the origin of the term has led to different interpretations of its meaning.
A version of Poetics by D. W. Lucas thoroughly covered, in an appendix dedicated to “Pity, Fear, and Katharsis,” shows the different shades of meaning and aspects inherent in the interpretation of the word. Lucas identifies that catharsis may have some aspect of meanings like “purgation,” “intellectual clarification,” and “purification.” He does not consider any other interpretations than his own, and rather takes a different approach which is centered on “the Greek doctrine of Humours,” which was not received too well.
The common interpretations of the term Catharsis are purgation and purification, which are still widely used. The most recent interpretation of the term catharsis is “intellectual clarification.”