A tragic hero is the main character in a tragedy. The modern use of the term usually involves the notion that such a hero makes an error in his actions that leads to his or her downfall. Usually, the hero's misfortune is not brought about "by vice and depravity but by some error of judgment." In Aristotle's Poetics it is imperative that the tragic hero be noble. Later tragedians deviated from this tradition: the more prone the tragic hero was to vice, the less noble and the less tragic the tragic hero happened to be.
Tragic heroes appear in the dramatic works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Seneca, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, Achebe, Marston, Corneille, Racine, Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Strindberg, and many other writers.
Common traits of Tragic or Fallen Heroes
The flaw is, most frequently Hubris.
The hero discovers that his downfall is a result of his own actions, not by things happening to him.
The hero sees and understands his doom, and that his fate was revealed by his own actions.
The hero's downfall is understood to arouse pity and fear that leads to an epiphany and a catharsis (for hero and audience). It is not necessary by the Aristotelian standard that the downfall or suffering be death/total ruin, as in the myth of Hercules, who ultimately ascends to Mount Olympus and immortality.
Since at least the time of William Shakespeare, however, the flaw of a tragic hero has generally been regarded to necessarily result in his death, or a fate worse than death. The Shakespearean tragic hero dies at some point in the story; one example is the eponymous protagonist of the play Macbeth.
Shakespeare's characters show that tragic heroes are neither fully good nor fully evil.
A tragic hero is often of noble birth, or rises to noble standing (King Arthur, Okonkwo, the main character in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart).
The hero learns something from his/her mistake.
The hero is faced with a serious decision.
The suffering of the hero is meaningful, because although the suffering is a result of the hero's own volition, it is not wholly deserved and may be cruelly disproportionate.
There may sometimes be supernatural involvement (in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Caesar is warned of his death via Calpurnia's vision and Brutus is warned of his impending death by the ghost of Caesar).
The archetypal hero of classical tragedies is, almost universally, male. Later tragedies (like Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra) introduced the female tragic hero. Portrayals of female tragic heroes are notable because they are rare.
Name: ___________________________ Date Due: June 12
"A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall.” Aristotle
Assignment: Write an essay that focuses on the following: Compare the character of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe OR John Proctor in The Crucible, by Arthur Miller to the character of Macbeth in the tragic play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Explain how the characters are tragic heroes and provide examples to support your answer. Why do you think the authors chose to make these characters the focus of their work? What positive qualities can we take away from the characters? What can we learn from their mistakes?
I can explain theme in a text and analyze how literary devices contribute to a text’s theme.
I can identify a tragic flaw in a tragic hero and analyze how it leads to his downfall.
I can write a well-developed essay that includes a thesis statement, clear topic sentences followed by specific evidence to support a claim, an analysis of the evidence, and commentary that demonstrates a thorough understanding of the thesis.
I can incorporate transitions to connect ideas, and use a variety of sentence structures avoiding fragments and run-on sentences, demonstrating mainstream English grammar, usage, and mechanics.
I can uses MLA format for in-text documentation and Works Cited.
Correctly identifies a tragic flaw for the characters chosen
Analyzes the tragic flaw and explains how it caused the characters’ downfall
Explains a theme created by the tragic hero’s life and death
Includes a clear thesis statement
Uses logical organizational pattern in the essay
Provides specific evidence (direct quotations) to support claims
Explains how evidence supports claim
Includes transitions among paragraphs
Uses a variety of sentence structures
Demonstrates proper paragraph format (CLAIM/EVIDENCE/ANALYSIS/COMMENTARY)
Uses mainstream conventional grammar, usage, and mechanics throughout the essay
Please note that although I am not providing a required number of paragraphs, or word count, this is considered a culminating essay for your Junior year, and should demonstrate your ability to write a well thought out, final paper. RUBRIC
Demonstrates Exceptional Effort
Demonstrates Little to No Effort
Correctly identifies the tragic flaw of the characters
"A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall."-Aristotle, Poetics. Aristotle in this quote makes an excellent point that even to this day is used to define tragic heroes in modern movies and plays. And in the Shakespearian play, Othello, Othello is most certainly portrayed as a tragic hero according to Aristotle. However, some argue that Othello is in fact not a tragic hero, which is puzzling to me but it does have a valid point that can easily be found and explored.
In the opening of the play, Shakespeare gives us a “sneak peak” of Othello and what is to come regarding his personality and in conjunction helps the audience decide if Othello is a tragic hero. This is shown by a multitude of things, the biggest one being Othello’s long speech beginning with “Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors”. The speech truly highlights Othello’s personality and also shows that he is very noble, which is a very important part of his character, and goes hand in hand with his tendency to meet things head on and his respectfulness. We also find out that Othello has a very high position in his environment, which is a trait that most tragic heroes have.
Another reason Othello would be considered a tragic hero is that he has a “Hamartia”, or tragic flaw. Othello’s tragic flaw is that he is naïve, which is the reason he is simply too trusting. This is shown by a few things, such as him referring to Iago as “Honest Iago” repeatedly, “the Moor is of a free and open nature”, and “that thinks honest that would seem to be so”. His trusting nature leads to his downfall, therefore his being naïve and as a result of, his trusting nature leads to his eventual death and loss of everything that mattered to him- his wife, position, and life. This character flaw is mostly of free will, which also points to him being a tragic hero.
Othello is not a perfect person like he seems to be. Aristotle states that the tragic hero should be relatable to normal people, and as the audience digs deeper, than can find Othello very relatable. Othello displays a lack of self-esteem mostly caused by his outsider status and his being a Moor. He also radiates extreme emotions of jealously, which in one’s life one must deal with. Also he is old, which makes him feel that Desdemona might want someone younger, which plays a part in his jealously later on.
A third reason Othello might be considered a tragic hero is that his downfall was a result of his tragic flaw. He trusted Iago too much, and that led to him seeing his love of Desdemona through Iago’s eyes instead of his own. This leads to him seeing Desdemona has a harlot of sorts and him imagining that she is cheating on him with Cassio. However, some may argue that it is not in fact his character flaw that causes his downfall, but it is his jealously that is his downfall. Now this is true in a sense, but the jealously is only caused by him being as naïve as he is. On a grander scale, it is clear that it was Othello being naïve that caused his downfall and not his jealously.
Othello’s misfortune and death clearly is not deserved by Othello. Sadly in society greed and only caring for oneself has taken over and crushed any sense of openness and trustfulness that some might have of others. But there is still a small amount of people that are trusting, but they are susceptible to fates similar to Othello’s as some people truly do not care about what happens to their fellow human beings, as long as they gain something from this (note, when saying this I am not implying Iago in the latter category, as he seemingly gained nothing from destroying Othello and others).
Othello’s fall is not a pure loss. The final trait of a tragic hero, it is perhaps the most important. Human life should be valued and in any loss of life it can be deemed successful if, as a society, we can learn something from it and improve our future generation’s lives because of it. Othello’s death was one such case. We gain an increase in awareness and self-knowledge due to Othello’s death. Right before he died, Othello said “one that lov’d not wisely but too well”. This shows that Othello realizes what happened to him before he died, and along with his final speech, we can learn something from Othello’s death.
In conclusion, Othello is absolutely a tragic hero. His tragic flaw is that he is naïve, which leads to his downfall and also makes his death not a pure loss. He is not perfect, which is an important part of a true tragic hero. Because he is a Moor, an outsider, and old, he lacks self-esteem that makes him relatable to a vast majority of society. Also he is very jealous, which also makes him relatable.