What is the origin of the phrase 'poetic justice'?
According to wikipedia
English drama critic Thomas Rymer coined the phrase in The Tragedies of the Last Age Considere'd (1678) to describe how a work should inspire proper moral behaviour in its audience by illustrating the triumph of good over evil.
I don't think so. I am unable to find an online copy of The Tragedies of the Last Age Considere'd, but the matters of 'inspiring proper moral behaviour' and 'the triumph of good over evil' go back a very long way.
Friedrich Nietzsche knew this. The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik, 1872), reissued in 1886 as The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism (Die Geburt der Tragödie, Oder: Griechentum und Pessimismus) harks back to Ancient Greece, to music, to poetry and to Aristotle.
It is in Poetics, Aristotle's writings on poetry that we find this gem:
But again, Tragedy is an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity. Such an effect is best produced when the events come on us by surprise; and the effect is heightened when, at the same time, they follows as cause and effect. The tragic wonder will then be greater than if they happened of themselves or by accident; for even coincidences are most striking when they have an air of design. We may instance the statue of Mitys at Argos, which fell upon his murderer while he was a spectator at a festival, and killed him. Such events seem not to be due to mere chance. Plots, therefore, constructed on these principles are necessarily the best.The story of justice falling almost literally on Mitys' murderer is a fine instance of poetic justice incorporated into a treatise on poetry and illustrating a point about the art of poetry.
In passing, I should, perhaps, remark that Aristotle had some interesting evolutionary ideas many hundreds of years before Darwin. Why do humans engage in music and poetry? Perhaps our love of mimicry led to music and poetry. Did Music Evolve Before Language?
... Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.
Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects- the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.
For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of color and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or 'harmony,' either singly or combined. Thus in the music of the flute and of the lyre, 'harmony' and rhythm alone are employed; also in other arts, such as that of the shepherd's pipe, which are essentially similar to these. In dancing, rhythm alone is used without 'harmony'; for even dancing imitates character, emotion, and action, by rhythmical movement.There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse- which verse, again, may either combine different meters or consist of but one kind- but this has hitherto been without a name. For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegiac, or any similar meter.
Extracts from 'Poetics' by Aristotle. Full text here:
Finally, may I share this gem:
in 1999, Spanish judge Alvaro Gaspar Pardo de Andrade came under the collective beady eye of CGPJ (Consejo General de Poder Judicial), the General Judicial Powers Council, for, shall we say, stylistic embellishments to his findings.
The judge, sitting in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, a city in the Spanish Canary Islands, would embellish his findings with poetry, barbs and prose. His response when asked about this was:
"debe entenderse no como un pero sino como un plus, pues si el fallo es bello además de justo, el derecho sale ganando"."You should understand it not as a minus but a plus, since if a verdict is beautiful on top of being fair, then justice comes out ahead." (My translation.)
He may have a good point there. The world has much need of poetic justice.