English Literature » Notes » Discuss Aristotle’s concept of a tragic hero

Discuss Aristotle’s concept of a tragic hero

The ‘term’ hero is derived from a Greek word ‘heros’ that means a person who faces adversity or demonstrates courage in the face of danger. However, sometimes he faces downfall as well. When a hero confronts downfall, he is recognized` as a tragic hero or protagonist. Aristotle says, the tragic hero has some frailties or errors in judgement as a result of which he moves from happiness to misery, and ultimately dies, but he is neither villainous nor virtuous. In ‘Poetics’, Aristotle says about tragic hero that is-

This is the sort of man who is not conspicuous for virtue and justice, and whose fall into misery is not due to vice and depravity, but rather to some errors, a man who enjoys prosperity and high reputation, like Oedipus and Thystes and other famous members of families like theirs.

Characteristics of a tragic hero

Here, we have basic characteristics of a tragic hero, as explained by Aristotle-

  1. Hamartia: a tragic flaw that causes the downfall of a hero.
  2. Hubris: excessive pride and disrespect for the natural order of things.
  3. Peripeteia: the reversal of fate that the hero experiences.
  4. Anagnorisis: a moment in time when hero makes an important discovery in the story.
  5. Nemesis: a punishment that the protagonist can not avoid, usually occurring at the result of his hubris.
  6. Catharsis: feeling of pity and fear felt by the audience, for the inevitable downfall of the protagonist.

Some examples of an ideal tragic hero-

Oedipus from `Oedipus Rex’

Oedipus is a perfect example of an ideal tragic hero. He is tragic because of his tragic flaws. His first flaw is his stubbornness. He is also a high tempered person which causes his downfall.

Prince Hamlet from ‘Hamlet’

Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, a man of high social status and noble by birth. He is almost driven to madness by his father’s deathly ghost. Hamlet makes a plan to take revenge on his father’s killer, but it blinded by his hamartia, neglecting his relations with other loved ones. Hamlet’s hamartia is his constant contemplation and brooding, which causes him to delay the final destruction.

Romeo from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Romeo is a man of high social standing, who falls in love with a girl who is his family’s enemy. Romeo’s tragic flaw is his fate. Julia acts like a dead so Romeo thinks her as a dead person. Then Romeo stabs himself. His haste decision is also the cause of death and his doom.

Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean’

Davy Jones is a modern tragic hero who falls in love with a sea goddess, Calipso. But the goddess breaks Davy`s heart so he leads his -savage crew on raids in the entire sea but finally killed by Will Spraw.

Besides these features, a tragic hero should be good, appropriate, brave, consistent in his oath.

On the whole, we see that Aristotle’s concept of the tragic hero is not unacceptable. Tragedy isn’t possible with a villainous hero, which has been remarkably shown by Renaissance dramatists, especially Shakespeare. Further, tragedy arises from hamartia. However, the chief limitation of Aristotle`s concept is that it is based on one section of world drama.


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