'Catharsis'. From Lessing's Moral Purification to Goethe's Purity of Form


  • Sotera Fornaro University of Sassari




The present essay addresses Goethe’s interpretation of ‘catharsis’. Goethe reacted to a moral interpretation of catharsis (propounded by a long line of critics from Brumoy to Lessing) by maintaining that Aristotle understood catharsis as an artistic process only. In his opinion, catharsis was a kind of ultimate effect that, while not acting on the spectators’ morality, certainly affected their satisfaction and contentment and was, in fact, the necessary fulfilment of any well-structured and consistent tragedy. In addition, Goethe conceived the act of writing poetry itself as a cathartic process; this entails that a “purged” work of art is also the outcome of an ideal Classicism. Indeed, the attainment of “pure” poetic forms is the main topic over which Goethe and Schiller debated in their correspondence.