Definition of Tragic Hero
The term hero is derived from a Greek word that means a person who faces adversity, or demonstrates courage in the face of danger. However, sometimes he faces downfall as well. When a hero confronts downfall, he is recognized as a tragic hero or protagonist. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, characterizes these plays or stories as tragedies in which the main character is a tragic hero, who confronts his downfall due to fate, his mistake or any other social reason.
Aristotle defines a tragic hero as “a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgment” and brings his downfall to evoke the feelings of pity and fear among the audience.
Characteristics of the Tragic Hero
Here we have basic characteristics of a tragic hero explained by Aristotle, including:
- Hamartia – It is the tragic flaw that causes downfall of a hero.
- Hubris – It is excessive pride and disrespect of hero for natural order.
- Peripeteia – The reversal of fate that the hero experiences.
- Anagnorisis – This moment happens when hero makes an important discovery in the story.
- Nemesis – A fortune that protagonist cannot avoid, usually due to retribution of his hubris.
- Catharsis – These are the feelings of pity and fear that audience feels for the protagonist after his downfall.
Examples of Tragic Hero from Literature
Oedipus from “Oedipus Rex”
Aristotle has used Oedipus as a perfect example of a tragic hero, as he has hubris that is his pride makes him blind to the truth. He refuses to listen to wise men like Tiresias, who predicts that Oedipus has killed his father, Laius. He is tragic because he struggles against the forces of his fate and pitiable due to his weakness, which arouses fear in the audience. Thus, he is an ideal example of the tragic hero for causing his own downfall, falling from his own estate and facing undeserved punishment.
Prince Hamlet from “Hamlet”
He is the prince of Denmark, a man of high social status and noble by birth. He is almost driven to madness by his father’s tortured ghost, who convinces him that Claudius is responsible for his father’s death and that he has committed treachery. He then makes a plan to avenge upon his father’s killer, but he is blinded by his hamartia, neglecting his relations with other loved ones — Ophelia and his mother Gertrude. Hamlet’s hamartia is his constant contemplation and brooding, which causes his delay to ultimately result in his destruction. By the end, he also falls into his bloodbath, touching the hearts of the audience by highlighting the most primal fear, death.
Romeo from “Romeo and Juliet”
Romeo is also a very good example of a tragic hero, who is a man of high social standing, falls in love easily with the girl whose family holds animosity with his family. His tragic flaw is start believing on his fate immediately. Juliet acts like a dead person, and Romeo thinks her actually dead. Therefore, he kills himself. When she wakes up and sees him dead, she also kills herself. Thus, it is not only fate, but also his actions and choices, which bring his downfall and eventually cause death.
Davy Jones from “Pirates of the Caribbean”
Davy Jones is a modern example of a typical tragic hero. He is basically a sea captain, who falls in love with sea goddess, Calypso. However, Calypso breaks Jones’ heart, making him enraged, tragic and bitter. He grows into a mixture of a humanoid and octopus and leads his savage crew on raids in the entire sea on his ship, the Flying Dutchman. At first, he was not bad, but his beloved breaks his heart that turns him into bad man. Eventually, Will Sparrow kills him. Jones’ hamartia is that he is a broken-hearted hero, who suffers at the hands of his beloved, Calypso.
Function of Tragic Hero
The purpose of a tragic hero is to evoke sad emotions such a pity and fear, which makes the audience to experience catharsis and relieve them of their pent up emotions. The tragic flaw of the hero leads to his demise or downfall that in turn brings tragic end. This gives wisdom to the audience to avoid such things in their everyday lives. The sufferings and fall of a hero, arousing feelings of pity and fear through catharsis, purges the audiences of those emotions, to transform them into good human beings and good citizens.