Saturday, August 7, 2010

Logos and Pathos

This might be a minor point, but a common aspect about Shakespeare that I hear is that the situations presented aren't complex, that it is simply the language of the time that comes across as complex. The situations are rather rudimentary and easy to pick up. While this might be true, I don't think it is for lack of complexity.

Literature has three words that are well known, pathos, logos, and ethos. Logos is the logic, Pathos the emotion. Yet, some people seem to consider Pathos to be of lesser importance in the grand scheme of things. From essays to plays the ability to engage ones emotions seems to take a back seat to the works of high intellectual prowess, why is that?

I think the answer is simple, people put more trust, or would like to, put more trust into their brain and logic than their heart and emotions. Emotions are feeble, fickle things, easily manipulated and controlled, but one's mind is a stalwart fortress unable to be penetrated by such cheap tactics, right?

Now, this idea tends to be specific to the 'intellectuals', those of higher intelligence who think such pleas to their hearts to be beneath the coaxing of their minds. Emotions simply get in the way of clear thinking and reasoning, after all. Yet, I think this is a very detrimental mindset to have, and I shall show why using Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, The Bard, is well known as the grandmaster of drama, the greatest mind to ever produce a script. However, if you look at most of his plays, they are actually deceivingly simple. Take Hamlet, for example. The plot is simple, Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, we know that it isn't just his imagination because his friends see the ghost before him. The ghost tells Hamlet that Hamlet's uncle, the new king and husband to his mother, murdered him and that he must avenge him. Why must he avenge him, no reason given. Via confession we learn that Hamlet's uncle, Claudius is absolutely guilty, Hamlet delays killing him due to over thinking the scenario.

If one were to look at a simple plot analysis they could be confused as to why this seemingly basic plot has become one of the most famous and performed plays of all time. The reason? Pathos. Shakespeare was not only the master of the word, but the master of emotions. He knew how to produce humans. Not to say that all of his plays were photo-realistic, nay, most of them were not, but the characters developed like real people, they faced the same turmoil of conscience that we all do. They appealed to our humanity, whether villain or hero, because they indeed had a conscience and had a heart.

Another deception is the idea that it's harder to touch the mind than to touch the heart. I think this not to be completely true. While yes, it is relatively easy to yank a sensation of fear, of joy, or of sorrow from an audience, it's indeed much harder to penetrate the simplicity of such emotions and instead strike people to their core. To make them question themselves and their morals, not because the evidence was objectively sound, but because it introduced a perspective previously unknown to someone. It took them out of their own sees and watched an event, possibly similar to one they encountered, taken in a direction far different than how they would have intended, yet, they cannot disagree with it completely, they see the point.

I think the misconception lies in the idea that emotions are fleeting. While the emotions everyone is aware about might be so, there is also the core of one's being, the true heart, their morals, their dogma, and this is shaped through experiencing events that they cannot ignore and that they cannot help, but have affect them. This is what shapes one's inclinations, one's habits, and one's lifestyle choices. If you really boil down to it, very few of these are objectively decided, but instead ruled by the one's heart, the sooner we learn this the sooner we might see the severe magnitude of pathos.