What is tragedy or tragic hero

By Laurie Henderson,2014-10-15 23:53
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What is tragedy or tragic hero

What is tragedy or tragic hero?

    Step 1 Ask the students to come to class with a definition of “ tragedy” or “ tragic hero”. Students may look it up in a dictionary or develop a definition of their own.

    Step 2 Discuss each definition and ultimately come up with one definition written on the board and will be used later. Step 3 Ask each student to choose a tragic hero according to one’s understanding of the definition, and to give reasons for the choice. A tragic hero is a character in a work of fiction (often the protagonist) who commits an action or makes a mistake which eventually leads to his or her defeat.

An Aristotelian tragic hero must have four characteristics:

Nobility (of a noble birth) or wisdom (by virtue of birth).

    Hamartia (translated as flaw, mistake, or error, not an Elizabethan tragic flaw). A reversal of fortune(peripetia) brought about because of the hero's Hamartia. 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


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

    A tragic hero usually has the following sequence of "Great, Good, Flaw, Recognition, Downfall."

Tragic virtue

    An alternative view of the tragic hero, especially in Renaissance British literature, is one in which he or she possesses a tragic virtue (as opposed to the Classical idea of Hamartia). In this paradigm, the hero exhibits traits that would under other conditions be considered desirable, but due to external circumstances cause their eventual undoing. For example, Shakespeare's character Hamlet from the eponymous play is often criticized for his contemplative nature, and his failure to act is cited as his tragic flaw. Under other circumstances, however, such as the kingship that Hamlet was to inherit, a contemplative nature is certainly a virtue. The tragedy of Hamlet, then, is not that of a flawed character who simply succumbs to his failings, but that of a virtuous character who is consumed by circumstances not under his control.

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, Gothic 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 death of the hero. This new tragic hero of Modernism is the anti-hero.

    If you take all this into consideration, Victor Frankenstein can be deemed a tragic hero. He was of high birth, had a tragic flaw, fell to much lower position, but died without remorse or epiphany.

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