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The meaning and origin of the expression: Poetic justice

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Poetic justice

Meaning

The allocation of an ideal form of justice, where virtue is rewarded and infamy punished, as befitting a work of poetry or drama.

Origin

Thomas Rymer - Poetic justiceThe English literary critic and historian Thomas Rymer coined the phrase poetic justice in his essay The Tragedies of the Last Age Considere'd, 1678. Rymer had strong views on how tragedy should be written and performed and wrote extensively on the subject. Poetic justice or, as Rymer expressed it, poetical justice, demanded that those of good character were rewarded and that the evil were punished. He was also of the view that plots should not be implausible and that dramatic works should have a moral.

Rymer wasn't disconcerted by reputation and directed his criticism at no less than William Shakespeare, making some suggestions as to how the Bard could have improved Othello. Whilst being somewhat out of favour in some circles for his hardline stance, he did have many supporters. Notably amongst those was the celebrated poet and playwright John Dryden. In a letter to the earl of Dorset, Dryden described Rymer's Tragedies as 'the best piece of Criticism in the English tongue ... and think my selfe happy he has not fallen upon me, as severely and as wittily as he has upon Shakespeare and Fletcher'.