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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: April 25, 2024


Peripeteia is a key literary device used to denote a sudden and dramatic reversal of circumstances or fortune within a narrative. Originating from Greek tragedy, it plays a crucial role in storytelling by shifting the protagonist’s journey from one extreme to another, often unexpectedly. This turn of events is pivotal in classical and modern literature, creating suspense and deepening the plot. For instance, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the protagonist’s discovery of his true parentage and consequent downfall is a classic example of peripeteia, dramatically altering the story’s direction and the protagonist’s fate.

What is a Peripeteia?

Peripeteia is a literary term that signifies a sudden, dramatic reversal of fortune or circumstances in a narrative. This crucial device shifts a story’s direction dramatically, impacting the protagonist’s fate deeply. A well-known example is in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus learns his true parentage, leading to his tragic downfall. This element enriches the plot and heightens emotional impact in literature.

Pronunciation of Peripeteia

The term “peripeteia” is pronounced as:


This word has four syllables, with the emphasis placed on the third syllable. Make sure to stress the “PEI” when pronouncing it to capture its correct sound and rhythm. This pronunciation respects its Greek roots and its significant role in storytelling.

Importance of Using Peripeteia

Peripeteia is a powerful literary device that serves several key functions in storytelling:

  1. Enhances Plot Complexity
    • By introducing a sudden reversal, peripeteia adds depth and complexity to the plot. It challenges the characters and the audience, making the narrative more engaging and less predictable.
  2. Increases Emotional Impact
    • These dramatic shifts in fortune or circumstances evoke strong emotional responses from the audience. The sudden change can elicit feelings of surprise, sympathy, or shock, making the story more memorable.
  3. Drives Character Development
    • Peripeteia often forces characters to confront unexpected challenges or revelations. This confrontation can lead to significant character growth or highlight their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Symbolizes Theme and Conflict
    • The use of peripeteia can symbolize the central themes of a story, such as fate versus free will, or highlight the conflicts within the narrative. It serves as a turning point that pushes the story towards its climax.
  5. Maintains Audience Interest
    • Introducing a sudden twist keeps the audience intrigued and invested in the story. It creates suspense and anticipation about how the story will resolve after such a pivotal turn.

Synonyms & Antonyms of Peripeteia

Synonyms & Antonyms of Peripeteia
Turning pointContinuity
Sudden changeStability
Plot twistPredictability
Climactic shiftUnchanging scenario


  1. Reversal – A complete change in direction or action.
  2. Turning Point – A moment when a significant change occurs, often deciding a new direction.
  3. Twist – An unexpected change in a situation or story.
  4. Shift – A change in position, direction, or tendency.
  5. Sudden Change – A rapid transition from one state to another without much warning.
  6. Plot Twist – A sudden development in a storyline that changes the expected direction of the plot.
  7. Climactic Shift – A dramatic change that occurs at the climax of a story, altering the outcome.


  1. Stagnation – A lack of activity, growth, or development.
  2. Continuity – The maintenance of continuous action and consistent operation over time.
  3. Constant – Something that does not change or vary.
  4. Steadiness – Remaining stable and unchanged, showing little variation.
  5. Stability – The state of being steady and not likely to move or change.
  6. Predictability – The trait of being predictable, where things happen as expected and changes are minimal.
  7. Unchanging Scenario – A situation that does not develop or evolve, remaining the same throughout.

Peripeteia vs. Anagnorisis

DefinitionA sudden and dramatic reversal in circumstances or fortune.A critical discovery made by a character, revealing a hidden truth.
Purpose in PlotCreates a turning point that significantly alters the story’s direction.Leads to a moment of insight that changes a character’s understanding.
Impact on StoryIntroduces conflict or escalates existing tensions.Provides clarity or resolution to the character’s confusion or conflict.
Emotional EffectEvokes surprise or shock from the audience.Often results in an emotional catharsis for the character and audience.
ExamplesIn Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello’s realization of Iago’s deceit is a peripeteia.In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Oedipus discovering his true parentage is an anagnorisis.
Role in Character DevelopmentTests characters’ ability to adapt to new challenges.Promotes deep self-awareness and often leads to personal transformation.

Examples of Peripeteia in movies

Peripeteia, the dramatic reversal of fortune, is a compelling narrative device used in many movies to create pivotal turning points. Here are ten notable examples from films:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back – The revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father turns Luke’s world upside down and drastically changes his mission and perspective.
  2. Fight Club – The protagonist discovers that Tyler Durden, his alter ego, is actually a figment of his imagination, completely changing the narrative and his understanding of his actions.
  3. Gone Girl – When Amy reveals she has staged her own disappearance to frame her husband, the plot takes a drastic turn from a missing-person case to a twisted tale of manipulation.
  4. Psycho – The sudden death of Marion Crane in the shower, who up until her death seemed to be the protagonist, shifts the focus of the film dramatically.
  5. Se7en – The delivery of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box reveals the killer’s plan and leads to a tragic decision by her husband, dramatically shifting the climax.
  6. The Sixth Sense – The reveal that Dr. Malcolm Crowe has been dead throughout the movie changes the entire perspective of the film for the audience.
  7. Primal Fear – The moment when Aaron admits he was faking his personality disorder all along, revealing his true manipulative nature and guilt in the murder case.
  8. The Usual Suspects – The realization that Verbal Kint is actually Keyser Söze, as he walks away from the police station, dramatically alters the perceived storyline.
  9. Shutter Island – When Teddy learns that he is actually a patient and not a U.S. Marshal, the entire investigation on the island is seen in a new light.
  10. Oldboy – The protagonist discovers that he has unknowingly fallen in love with his own daughter, which is part of the antagonist’s horrific plan of revenge.

Examples of Peripeteia in literature

Peripeteia, or the sudden reversal of fortune, is a pivotal element in many classic and contemporary literary works. Here are some compelling examples from literature:

  1. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles – The protagonist, Oedipus, discovers he has unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, drastically reversing his fortune from king to tragic outcast.
  2. Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Macbeth’s fortune changes drastically when he realizes the witches’ prophecies foretell his downfall, which is compounded by his increasing isolation and paranoia.
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings for Mr. Darcy undergo a dramatic reversal when she reads his explanatory letter, shifting from disdain to an eventual love.
  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gatsby’s reunion and burgeoning relationship with Daisy is abruptly shattered by the car accident that kills Myrtle, leading to his ultimate downfall.
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Victor Frankenstein’s life takes a tragic turn when his creation demands a mate and threatens revenge, drastically altering Victor’s future prospects.
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – The trial’s outcome, where Tom Robinson is convicted despite clear evidence of his innocence, serves as a peripeteia that affects the moral compass of Scout and alters her view of her community.
  7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Jane’s fortune reverses dramatically upon discovering Mr. Rochester’s existing marriage, leading her to flee from what she believed was her happily-ever-after.
  8. Animal Farm by George Orwell – The moment when the pigs walk on two legs signifies a peripeteia, revealing that they have become indistinguishable from the humans they once overthrew.
  9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Sydney Carton’s decision to swap places with Charles Darnay, leading to his own execution, is a sudden reversal of fate that highlights his transformation from a dissolute lawyer to a selfless hero.
  10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – Heathcliff’s disappearance and unexpected return as a wealthy man marks a peripeteia that changes the dynamics and fortunes of the Earnshaw and Linton families.

Examples of Peripeteia in Sentence

  1. In her book, the main character goes from rich to poor overnight, showing a major change in her life.
  2. In the movie, everyone thought the hero was gone, but he came back at the last minute to save the day, changing the whole story.
  3. During the big game, the team everyone thought would lose scored at the last second and won, which was a huge surprise.
  4. In the play, the story takes a big turn when the servant reveals he’s the real king, shaking up everything at court.
  5. She talks about a big change in her life in her book, when meeting someone new on a train led to an unexpected job offer.
  6. The mystery book has a big twist when the person everyone least suspected admits to the crime, turning all the clues upside down.
  7. Their relationship changed suddenly when she found out he had a secret life, making her rethink if they should be together.
  8. The documentary shows a big turnaround for the environment when new laws help fix years of damage to nature.
  9. In the space story, the crew finds out the new planet they want to live on is already home to other beings, which is a big shock.
  10. The political debate had a surprising moment when one candidate decided to support another, changing the direction of the race.

Examples of Peripeteia in Drama

Peripeteia, the dramatic reversal of circumstances, is a crucial element in dramatic storytelling, often serving as the turning point that shifts the plot’s trajectory. Here are examples of peripeteia in various dramatic works:

  1. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare – The play’s peripeteia occurs when Hamlet stages a play to “catch the conscience of the king,” confirming Claudius’s guilt. This revelation dramatically shifts Hamlet’s approach from suspicion to action.
  2. “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller – The peripeteia in this drama occurs when Biff confronts Willy with the truth about being a failure, which not only shatters Willy’s illusions but also leads to his tragic decision.
  3. “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen – Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children serves as the peripeteia, drastically shifting from a submissive housewife to an independent woman seeking self-discovery.
  4. “Othello” by William Shakespeare – The peripeteia happens when Othello, manipulated by Iago’s lies, turns from loving husband to jealous murderer, leading to the play’s tragic conclusion.
  5. “King Lear” by William Shakespeare – The peripeteia is marked by Lear’s realization of his folly and mistreatment of Cordelia, which comes too late, leading to profound tragedy.
  6. “Antigone” by Sophocles – The peripeteia occurs when Creon decides too late to heed the warnings about punishing Antigone, resulting in the deaths of his family members and his great suffering.
  7. “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller – John Proctor’s revelation of his affair in an attempt to discredit Abigail marks the peripeteia, altering his reputation and catalyzing the climax of the play.
  8. “An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley – The dramatic twist when it is revealed that Inspector Goole might not be a real inspector at all changes the dynamics among the characters and the moral message of the play.
  9. “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov – The sale of the orchard to Lopakhin, once a family servant, signifies the peripeteia, representing the shift of power and the decline of the aristocracy.
  10. “Medea” by Euripides – The peripeteia occurs when Medea decides to exact her revenge by killing her own children, shifting her role from a wronged wife to a monstrous figure.

Examples of Peripeteia in macbeth

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is rich with moments of peripeteia, where the dramatic reversal of fortune profoundly impacts the protagonist’s path and the play’s trajectory. Here are notable examples of peripeteia in “Macbeth”:

  1. The Witches’ Initial Prophecy: The witches predict Macbeth’s rise to kingship, which reverses his perspective and ambitions almost instantly, setting him on a path to murder and kingship.
  2. Macbeth Kills Duncan: The act of murdering King Duncan marks the first major reversal of Macbeth’s fate, transitioning him from a loyal thane to a regicidal usurper.
  3. Fleance Escapes: Banquo’s son, Fleance, escapes assassination, which is a significant reversal because it keeps alive the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s descendants will inherit the throne.
  4. The Appearance of Banquo’s Ghost: The ghost’s appearance at the banquet shatters Macbeth’s composure, exposing his guilt and paranoia to his guests and marking a shift in his mental stability.
  5. The Third Prophecy: The witches’ prophecy that Macbeth should beware Macduff, and that no man born of woman shall harm him, gives Macbeth a false sense of security, which is later dramatically reversed.
  6. Macduff Flees to England: Macduff’s departure to gather forces for an insurrection significantly changes the political landscape and heightens the tension in the play.
  7. The Murder of Macduff’s Family: The killing of Macduff’s wife and children marks a dark turn in Macbeth’s reign of terror, sparking further opposition against him.
  8. Lady Macbeth’s Sleepwalking: Her descent into madness and eventual suicide signify a profound reversal from her earlier, more composed and ruthless self, affecting Macbeth deeply.
  9. Birnam Wood Moves to Dunsinane: Soldiers disguising themselves with branches from Birnam Wood approaching Dunsinane Castle fulfill the witches’ prophecy in a way Macbeth did not anticipate, leading to his downfall.
  10. Macduff’s Revelation of His Birth: The revelation that Macduff was not “born of woman” but rather “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” is the ultimate reversal, as it upends Macbeth’s belief in his invulnerability.

Examples of Peripeteia in Hamlet

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is rich with peripeteia, or sudden reversals, that significantly impact the narrative and character development. Here are notable examples of peripeteia from the play:

  1. The Ghost’s Revelation: Hamlet learns from his father’s ghost that his uncle Claudius murdered King Hamlet. This knowledge fundamentally changes Hamlet’s perception of his family and the court, spurring his quest for revenge.
  2. The Play Within a Play: Hamlet stages a play that mirrors his father’s murder to observe Claudius’s reaction. Claudius’s disturbed response confirms his guilt, decisively altering Hamlet’s approach from suspicion to action.
  3. Polonius’s Death: Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius. This act escalates the conflict, leading to Ophelia’s madness, Laertes’s quest for revenge, and Hamlet’s exile to England.
  4. Hamlet’s Return from the Sea: After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fail to execute Claudius’s orders to have Hamlet killed in England, Hamlet returns to Denmark. This unexpected return surprises everyone and sets the stage for the final tragic events.
  5. Ophelia’s Death: Ophelia’s unexpected death, whether by suicide or accident, catalyzes the final tragic sequence of events, including the duel and the multiple deaths that conclude the play.
  6. Laertes’s Plot Revealed: In the final act, Laertes conspires with Claudius to kill Hamlet using a poisoned sword. However, the plan’s exposure during the duel scene brings about a fatal reversal for all involved.
  7. The Exchange of Swords: Hamlet and Laertes accidentally exchange swords during their duel, leading to Laertes’s death by his own poisoned weapon—a crucial and dramatic reversal.
  8. Gertrude’s Accidental Poisoning: Queen Gertrude inadvertently drinks the poisoned wine intended for Hamlet, leading to her death and adding to the tragic culmination of the plot.
  9. Hamlet Learns of the King’s Treachery: Only in his final moments does Hamlet learn from Laertes about Claudius’s plot to poison him, which prompts him to kill Claudius, fulfilling his revenge.
  10. Fortinbras’s Arrival: As the tragedy concludes, Fortinbras arrives in Denmark to find the royal family dead, which allows him to take control of the throne, signaling a political and leadership reversal in Denmark.

What is the concept of Peripeteia?

Peripeteia is a sudden change in a story that drastically alters the main character’s life or situation.

What did Aristotle say about Peripeteia?

Aristotle said peripeteia is a surprising twist in the story that is crucial for making a tragedy impactful.

What is Peripeteia in Oedipus?

In “Oedipus Rex,” the main character, Oedipus, finds out he has accidentally married his own mother, completely changing his life from king to outcast.

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