• Tragedy and the Tragic Hero


    The elements of a classical TRAGEDY were spelled out by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in The Poetics. According to Aristotle, drama, including tragedy, is “an imitation of an action.” This means that a play is not real life, just an imitation, largely because as a work of art, drama is symbolic.
    So, what exactly is tragedy? In drama, tragedy has come to mean a particular kind of play that leaves members of the audience with conflicting emotions: they feel profoundly sad, but they also feel exhilarated or uplifted. The feeling of excitement or inspiration comes from watching noble characters fight courageously against overwhelming odds. This is why William Butler Yeats called tragedy a “ terrible beauty.” The audience will experience a purging of emotions – a CATHARSIS.
    NOTE: Today, we say a lot of sad things are tragic, but in art, tragedy is a specific type of dramatic art that may be sad or depressing, but because it is art, it can be described as intellectually enlarging, ennobling, and uplifting.


    1. The subject is serious.
    2. The tragic hero or heroine (protagonist) is of noble birth/and or displays nobility of spirit which the audience admires.
    2. The tragic figure is pitted against forces beyond his or her control.
    4. The tragic figure makes decisions that lead to a “no-win” situation.
    5. The tragic figure struggles courageously until his or her fall.
    6. The tragic figure, though defeated, usually gains a measure of increased wisdom, self awareness, or nobility.

    A tragic hero is a noble and mighty figure who suffers a reversal of fortune, endures his suffering, and recognizes the consequences of his actions. Don’t assume all heroes who die in a story or film are a tragic hero. First the story must be a tragedy according to the literary guidelines, and next, the figure must have a flaw that leads to his downfall.

    1. He/She is noble or of noble birth.
    2. He has great promise, ability, and integrity.
    3. He has a tragic flaw or weakness.
    4. He has the capacity for suffering (conscience). He does not endure passively; he fights back; he seeks remedies.
    5. His actions will involve him in choices.
    6. He dies at the end of the play, either spiritually or physically. His downfall may come about through the following:
    a. tragic flaw
    b. supernatural
    c. fate or ill-luck
    d. combination of these


    1. Nobility - The tragic hero or heroine (protagonist) is of noble birth/and or displays nobility of spirit which the audience admires.
    2. Flaw – Although he has great promise and ability, he has a tragic flaw that will lead to his downfall.

    3.  Choices – He will be pitted against forces beyond his control, and his actions will force him to make decisions that will put him in a no-win situation. 

    4. Suffering & Punishment – The tragic hero will experience a reversal of fortune as a result of his choices and flaw.  He must have the capacity for suffering.  He will fight back or seek remedies. 

    5. Self-Knowledge – The tragic figure will struggle courageously until his or her fall, and though defeated, he will usually gain a measure of increased wisdom, self awareness, or nobility.

    6. Death - The tragic hero will die spiritually or physically.

    7.  Catharsis - The audience will experience a purging of emotions, or CATHARSIS, as they watch the tragic figure suffer nobly.  The audience usually feels both pity and fear.
    Remember:  The Tragic Flaw is not an obvious weakness, nor is it another person.  So, you wouldn't want to state that Hamlet's weakness is his cowardice or Macbeth's weakness is his wife.  Hamlet's flaw might be his "thinking too precisely" because of his great intellect and introspective personality.  Although Lady Macbeth knows how to get to her husband and motivate him, she is only able to do this because of his already deeply felt ambition and secret desire for the throne.  He is not a dupe talked into all of this by his wife, but a man who has already considered all of this and is receiving some validation.  She is not his flaw, nor is his flaw being a dumb man who can't think for himself.  That wouldn't make him very heroic.  Macbeth's flaw might be his ambition or hubris.  
    Here is an example of HUBRIS:  http://youtu.be/nMeYdSYCC7A