The UVic Writer's Guide
Poetic justice is a term invented by the critic Thomas Rymer in the late seventeenth
century to describe the proper moral resolution that he believed
drama or narrative should have. That is, unlike the often random
justice in real life, literary plots should end with the reward
of the good and the punishment of the evil.
Obviously, such an outcome greatly narrows the scope of literature,
for one thing making tragic error (hamartia) and catharsis impossible. It is the kind of ending which Aristotle blamed people
for preferring, ascribing its preference to their "weakness."
In Shakespeare's King Lear, it is highly ironic when Albany tries to establish some kind
of poetic justice while Lear grieves over the body of the innocent
"All friends shall taste / The wages of their virtue, and all
foes / The cup of their deservings."
Literary Terms (By Category)
Literary Terms (Alphabetized)
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria,
This page updated September 23, 1995