What is a tragic hero?
The tragic hero is a man of noble stature. He is not an ordinary man, but a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him. His own destruction is for a greater cause or principle.
Common characteristics of a tragic hero
According to Aristotle:
1. Usually of noble birth
2. Hamartia – a.k.a. the tragic flaw that eventually leads to his downfall.
3. Peripeteia – a reversal of fortune brought about by the hero’s tragic flaw
4. His actions result in an increase of self- awareness and self-knowledge
5. The audience must feel pity and fear for this character.
Above: Four of Shakespeare’s principal tragic characters: King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III and Hamlet.
Aristotle: “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall.”
It should be noted that the hero’s downfall is his own fault as a result of his own free choice, but his misfortune is not wholly deserved. Usually his death is seen as a waste of human potential. His death usually is not a pure loss, because it results in greater knowledge and awareness.
A tragic hero, in Shakespeare and such, is a character born noble, but no necessarily virtuous. There is some aspect of his personality that he has in great abundance.
ie. great intelligence, ambition, honour.
This great aspect of his personality is often his weakness, as well as his greatest personality trait, leads him into conflict. However often a lesser man would have been able to escape this tragic end because he wouldn't have this trait to such an abundance that it can interfere with his perceptions.
During this conflict the hero is torn by internal struggles. This tragic flaw leading to either action or inaction is the beginning of the character's downward sprial, which was originally caused by his great character trait.
" It is his greatest attribute, and his greatest weakness. "