Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper
While Aristotle’s analysis of tragedy may not be directly related to his philosophy of rhetoric, no study of Aristotle would by complete without a short introduction.
According to Aristotle, tragedy is “the imitation of an action that is serious and . . . complete in itself,” incorporating “incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions.” The following elements, according to Aristotle, must be found within a literary text in order for it to be truly considered a “tragedy.”
I. The tragic hero is of high social and moral stature. This stature provides the “height” from which the hero “falls.”
Example In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character is the Prince of Denmark. Shakespeare’s tragedies center around royalty and military leaders, not clowns and drunkards (although both character types may be present in a tragedy, such as in King Lear and Henry IV, Part I.)
II. In accordance with the tragic hero’s stature, his or her entire society suffers repercussions from the fall.
Example When Hamlet allows his vengeance to get the best of him and kills Polonius, which indirectily leads to the deaths of Ophelia, Leartes, and his own mother, the entire kingdom is thrown into a state of upheaval.
III. The tragic hero’s fall results from a critical flaw or weakness in his or her character. Aristotle calls this flaw or “error of judgement” the hamartia.
Example Hamlet’s fall results from his inability to act and to thus deal with the overwhelming grief of the death of his father and his blind allegiance to vengeance. Some critics would even argue that Hamlet’s flaw is his tendency to overanalyze his situation, to think instead of act.
IV. The tragic hero comes to a point of epiphany regarding the error of his or her ways. Aristotle calls this moment of recognition the anagnorisis.
Example After Hamlet has been mortally wounded in his fight with Laertes, he realizes the folly of his ways and, in an attempt to make up for his actions to the people of his kingdom, proclaims that Fortinbras shall become king and thus once again bring structure and harmony to Denmark.
V. The fall of the tragic hero arouses feelings of “pity and fear” in the audience. Audience members experience a catharsis as they witness the tragedy.
Example Perhaps readers must decide the success of this aspect of a given dramatic work on an individual basis. However, very few people who have truly read and studied Hamlet are not moved to some degree by the events of the play.