Anagnorisis: A term used by Aristotle in his Poetics (c. 330 B.C.) to refer to the moment in a drama when the protagonist gains some crucial knowledge that he or she did not have that either leads to or explains a reversal of fortune. In a tragedy, the revelation is usually closely associated with the protagonist’s downfall, whereas in a comedy it usually signals his or her success.
EXAMPLES: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (c. 430 B.C.) presents a well-known example of anagnorisis. Having married the widow of the murdered King Laius, Oedipus vows to bring Laius’s killer to justice, only to discover that he himself killed Laius and that Laius was his father. This revelation portends a reversal of fortune for Oedipus, who ultimately blinds and banishes himself as punishment for having, however unwittingly, killed his father and married his mother. The term anagnorisis might also be loosely applied to the most famous scene in Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game (1992), in which the male protagonist’s relationship with another character is drastically altered by the startling revelation that the character — to all appearances an attractive woman — is actually a man. A more recent example of anagnorisis occurs in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999), in which the protagonist, a psychologist, discovers he is dead.