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Tragic Hero

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A tragic hero is a protagonist with a tragic flaw, also known as fatal flaw, which eventually leads to his demise. The concept of the tragic hero was created in ancient Greek tragedy and defined by Aristotle. Usually, the realization of fatal flaw results in catharsis or epiphany. The tragic flaw is sometimes referred to as an Achilles' heel after the single fatal flaw of the Greek warrior Achilles. [citation needed]

Aristotelian tragic hero

In a complex Aristotelian tragedy, the hero is of noble birth and is more admirable than ordinary men. He cannot, however, be morally perfect because the best plots arise when his downfall is the inevitable consequence of some defect in character (or tragic flaw).The spectacle of a good man dragged to destruction by a single error arouses in the audience both pity and fear, leading to the catharsis, a psychological state through which those emotions are purged; the audience leaves the theater relieved, or even exalted, rather than depressed.


An Aristotelian tragic hero must have four characteristics:

  1. Nobleness (of a noble birth) or wisdom (by virtue of birth).

  2. Hamartia (translated as tragic flaw, somewhat related to hubris, but denoting excess in behavior or mistakes).

  3. A reversal of fortune (peripetia) brought about because of the hero's tragic error.

  4. The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own actions (anagnorisis).

Other common traits

Some other common traits characteristic of a tragic hero:

  • Hero must suffer more than he deserves.

  • Hero must be doomed from the start, but bear no responsibility for possessing his flaw.

  • Hero must be noble in nature, but imperfect so that the audience can see themselves in him.

  • Hero must have discovered his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.

  • Hero must see and understand his doom, as well as the fact that his fate was discovered by his own actions.

  • Hero's story should arouse fear and empathy.

  • Hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.

  • Ideally, the hero should be a king or leader of men, so that his people experience his fall with him.

  • The hero must be intelligent so he may learn from his mistakes.

Modern fictional tragic heroes

In the Modernist era, a new kind of tragic hero was synthesized as a reaction to the English Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, and Romanticism. The idea was that the hero, rather than falling calamitously from a high position, is actually a person less worthy of consideration. Not only that, the protagonist may not even have the needed catharsis to bring the story to a close. He may die without an epiphany of his destiny, or suffer without the ability to change events that are happening to him. The story may end without closure and even without the big death of the hero. This new tragic hero of Modernism is the anti-hero.


  • Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) of the Star Wars series

  • Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII

  • Creon from Antigone by Sophocles

  • Eddie, from Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge

  • Ethan Frome from Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

  • Hamlet from Shakespeare's Hamlet

  • Jack Bauer from the television series 24

  • James Gatz (Jay Gatsby) from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • JC Denton from the PC game Deus Ex

  • John-117 from the Halo video games

  • Michael Corleone, from The Godfather books (by Mario Puzo) and films (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

  • Napoleon Wilson from in John Carpenter's 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13

  • Oedipus from Oedipus the King by Sophocles

  • Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

  • Pentheus from Bacchae by Euripides

  • Romeo from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

  • Sirius Black in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

  • Tony Montana from Scarface a film by Brian De Palma

  • Wolverine from the X-Men comic book series

  • Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

  • John Proctor. fpr, The Crucible, also by Arthur Miller.

  • Arthur Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Edmond Dantès from Alexandre Dumas, père's The Count of Monte Cristo

  • Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth

  • Othello from Shakespeare's Othello

  • Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop [1]

  • John Hartigan from That Yellow Bastard

  • Eddie Carbone from A View from the Bridge (by Arthur Miller)

  • Beegs from Longmeadow High School

  • Rocky Balboa from Rocky

  • Big Boss from the Metal Gear Solid videogame series.

  • Gregory House from the television series House

Retrieved from ""

Oedipus as the
Ideal Tragic Hero


  In his famous "Poetics," the philosopher Aristotle laid the foundations for literary criticism of Greek tragedy. His famous connection between "pity and fear" and "catharsis" developed into one of Western philosophy's greatest questions: why is it that people are drawn to watching tragic heroes suffer horrible fates? Aristotle's ideas revolve around three crucial effects: First, the audience develops an emotional attachment to the tragic hero; second, the audience fears what may befall the hero; and finally (after misfortune strikes) the audience pities the suffering hero. Through these attachments the individual members of the audience go through a catharsis, a term which Aristotle borrowed from the medical writers of his day, which means a "purging." Clearly, for Aristotle's theory to work, the tragic hero must be a complex and well-constructed character, as in Sophocles' Oedipus the King. As a tragic hero, Oedipus elicits the three needed responses from the audience far better than most; indeed, Aristotle and subsequent critics have labeled Oedipus the ideal tragic hero. A careful examination of Oedipus and how he meets and exceeds the parameters of the tragic hero reveals that he legitimately deserves this title.

Oedipus' nobility and virtue provide his first key to success as a tragic hero. Following Aristotle, the audience must respect the tragic hero as a "larger and better" version of themselves. The dynamic nature of Oedipus' nobility earns him this respect. First, as any Greek audience member would know, Oedipus is actually the son of Laius and Jocasta, the King and Queen of Thebes. Thus, he is a noble in the simplest sense; that is, his parents were themselves royalty. Second, Oedipus himself believes he is the son of Polybus and Merope, the King and Queen of Corinth. Again, Oedipus attains a second kind of nobility, albeit a false one. Finally, Oedipus earns royal respect at Thebes when he solves the riddle of the Sphinx. As a gift for freeing the city, Creon gives Oedipus dominion over the city. Thus, Oedipus' nobility derives from many and diverse sources, and the audience develops a great respect and emotional attachment to him.

  The complex nature of Oedipus' "harmartia," is also important. The Greek term "harmartia," typically translated as "tragic flaw," actually is closer in meaning to a "mistake" or an "error," "failing," rather than an innate flaw. In Aristotle's understanding, all tragic heroes have a "harmartia," but this is not inherent in their characters, for then the audience would lose respect for them and be unable to pity them; likewise, if the hero's failing were entirely accidental and involuntary, the audience would not fear for the hero. Instead, the character's flaw must result from something that is also a central part of their virtue, which goes somewhat arwry, usually due to a lack of knowledge. By defining the notion this way, Aristotle indicates that a truly tragic hero must have a failing that is neither idiosyncratic nor arbitrary, but is somehow more deeply imbedded -- a kind of human failing and human weakness. Oedipus fits this precisely, for his basic flaw is his lack of knowledge about his own identity. Moreover, no amount of foresight or preemptive action could remedy Oedipus' harmartia; unlike other tragic heroes, Oedipus bears no responsibility for his flaw. The audience fears for Oedipus because nothing he does can change the tragedy's outcome.

  Finally, Oedipus' downfall elicits a great sense of pity from the audience. First, by blinding himself, as opposed to committing suicide, Oedipus achieves a kind of surrogate death that intensifies his suffering. He comments on the darkness - not just the literal inability to see, but also religious and intellectual darkness - that he faces after becoming blind. In effect, Oedipus is dead, for he receives none of the benefits of the living; at the same time, he is not dead by definition, and so his suffering cannot end. Oedipus receives the worst of both worlds between life and death, and he elicits greater pity from the audience. Second, Oedipus himself and the Chorus both note that Oedipus will continue after the tragedy's conclusion. Unlike, for example Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Orestes (the heroes in the Orestia trilogy), Oedipus' suffering does not end with the play; even so, the conclusion also presents a sense of closure to the play. This odd amalgam of continued suffering and closure make the audience feel as if Oedipus' suffering is his proper and natural state. Clearly, Oedipus' unique downfall demands greater pity from the audience.

  Oedipus fulfills the three parameters that define the tragic hero. His dynamic and multifaceted character emotionally bonds the audience; his tragic flaw forces the audience to fear for him, without losing any respect; and his horrific punishment elicits a great sense of pity from the audience. Though Sophocles crafted Oedipus long before Aristotle developed his ideas, Oedipus fits Aristotle's definition with startling accuracy. He is the tragic hero par excellence and richly deserves the title as "the ideal tragic hero."

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