Plato, dialogues, philosophical drama, Greek dramatists, Greek poets


Plato's decision to use heuristic drama (in the tradition of Aeschylus and Sophocles) as a vehicle for his philosophical teachings forces the serious reader to make a careful examination of the literary elements of the dialogues. Plato's basic reason for using this literary form is to provide guidance for the interpretation of the content. As Kitto has observed, "In a great work of art, whether a play, a picture, or a piece of music, the connexion between the form and the content is so vital that the two may be said to be ultimately identical." It is therefore counterproductive to analyze the content without considering the form or control mechanisms provided by the author. As we attempt to interpret these dramatic dialogues, we must advance an interpretation which gives full credit for the dramatist's abilities. If we see imperfections of design, it may be because we have not yet seen the form the artist created. In other words, “If you will trust the dramatist, if you will consider the form of his play, patiently and with some imagination, as being probably the best possible expression of what he meant, then you will be giving yourself the best chance of appreciating what impact he was hoping to make on the audience for which he was writing.” The best justification for using this approach in reading Plato's dialogues is that it works. New interpretations do emerge, and once glimpsed, they cannot be denied. The complete integration of form and content cannot occur by accident, dialogue after dialogue. Plato emerges from such an analysis as one of our great dramatists, and possibly the only one who has successfully integrated the analysis of complex philosophical themes into his literary work.

Original Publication Citation

Charles E. Merrill Monographs, No. 9, 1988.

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BYU College of Humanities




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Political Science

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Full Professor