For other uses, see Tragic hero (disambiguation).
A tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragedy in drama. In his Poetics, Aristotle records the descriptions of the tragic hero to the playwright and strictly defines the place that the tragic hero must play and the kind of man he must be. Aristotle based his observations on previous dramas. Many of the most famous instances of tragic heroes appear in Greek literature, most notably the works of Sophocles and Euripides.
Aristotle's tragic hero
In his Poetics, Aristotle suggests that a hero of a tragedy must evoke in the audience a sense of pity or fear, saying, “the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity." In other words, the focus of the tragic hero should not be in the loss of his prosperity. He establishes the concept that the emotion of pity stems not from a person becoming better but when a person receives undeserved misfortune - and fear comes when the misfortune befalls a man like us. This is why Aristotle points out the simple fact that, “The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad.” According to Aristotle a tragic hero is thought to be a man whose misfortune comes to him, "not through vice or depravity but by some error of judgment." In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, for example, the title character kills a man without knowing that the man in question is his father, then marries his mother out of ignorance.
Creon of Sophocles' Antigone is another notable example of a tragic hero. Polyneices and his brother, Eteocles, were kings, and the former wanted more power, so he left and assembled an army from a neighboring city. They attacked and the two brothers killed each other. Through Creon's law forbidding the burial of Polyneices, Creon dooms his own family. Other examples provided by Aristotle include Thyestes.
Therefore, the Aristotelian hero is characterized as virtuous but not "eminently good," which suggests a noble or important personage who is upstanding and morally inclined while nonetheless subject to human error. Aristotle's tragic heroes are flawed individuals who commit, without evil intent, great wrongs or injuries that ultimately lead to their misfortune, often followed by tragic realization of the true nature of events that led to this destiny. This means the hero still must be - to some degree - morally grounded. The usual irony in Greek tragedy is that the hero is both extraordinarily capable and highly moral (in the Greek honor-culture sense of being duty-bound to moral expectations), and it is these exact, highly-admirable qualities that lead the hero into tragic circumstances. The tragic hero is snared by his or her own greatness: extraordinary competence, a righteous passion for duty, and (often) the arrogance associated with greatness (hubris).
In other media
The influence of the Aristotelian hero extends past classical Greek literary criticism. Greek theater had a direct and profound influence on Roman theater, and both formed the basis of Western theater continuing into the modern era, and deeply influenced theater, literature and film throughout the world. Many iconic characters in literature, theater, and film are considered by some critics to follow the archetype of the tragic hero. These include Anakin Skywalker of the Star Warsprequels (1999–2005) and Return of the Jedi (1983), Okonkwo of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958), Arthas Menethil of Warcraft (2003-2008), Stannis Baratheon of A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–present) and Game of Thrones (2011–2015). A minority of critics have also called Michael Corleone of the Godfathertrilogy (1972–1990) a tragic hero, although traditional literary conventions would classify him as a villain, not a tragic hero.
- Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP. ISBN 0-8014-8154-6.
- Janko, Richard, trans. 1987. Poetics with Tractatus Coislinianus, Reconstruction of Poetics II and the Fragments of the On Poets. By Aristotle. Cambridge: Hackett. ISBN 978-0-87220-033-3.
- Pavis, Patrice. 1998. Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis. Trans. Christine Shantz. Toronto and Buffalo: U of Toronto P. ISBN 978-0-8020-8163-6.
- ^Aristotle, On Poetics, Ingram Bywater
- ^S.H. Butcher, The Poetic of Aristotle (1902), pp. 45-47
- ^Charles H. Reeves, The Aristotelian Concept of The Tragic Hero, Vol. 73, No. 2 (1952), Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/291812 pp. 172-188
Who Are Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay?
When you start writing your paper, it is not easy to pick hero examples for a heroic essay. Before you make up your mind, you should consider the following aspects of a tragic hero as a character. Some of them are relevant to these days, and there are many modern tragic hero examples based on them. Others, on the other hand, are considered by writers to be archaic and unnecessary, just like the rule of the three unities.
- A tragic hero had to be a protagonist of the literary piece. We observe it in ancient plays, Shakespearean works, and in some of the novels and drama works written in the 20th century. Today, however, this is not so. Even tragic heroes examples in the contemporary media are not the main characters. It is peculiar that it would be natural to make them tragic, but today's writers prefer happy-endings for their protagonists, unlike other notable characters of their books and plays.
- A tragic hero had to be high on the social scale. Again, a high social position is not a must anymore. Although tragic heroes still have to be noble (in the general sense) and decent, their virtues can't be absolute. Otherwise, they wouldn't commit the mistake on which the whole plot is built.
- Any of the tragic hero examples for a heroic essay have to commit something terrible. It can be a crime, but sometimes, this is an action considered as a crime only in this particular situation.
- An indelible part of creating a proper tragic hero and one of the basics for you to analyze tragic hero examples for a heroic essay is hubris. This is the pride that leads the hero to the fatal mistake. The hubris can't exist in a tragic hero without the tragic guilt. The clash of these traits brings us to a particular outcome.
- All tragic hero examples in the history of literature have had a tragic end. But! Death is rarely the outcome. Usually, heroes are brought to a tragic revelation that the life they knew is over, but they continue existing with this truth.
Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay
Oedipus is the protagonist of Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus Rex created in the 5th century BC. Oedipus is the king of Thebes admired by his people for helping them in all their troubles. As we can see, the requirement of high (the highest, in this case) position is fulfilled. This is no surprise, as Aristotle considered Oedipus the best of tragic hero examples. The king's personal qualities are very high too. His moral standards never allow him to do anything indecent in his life. When he finds out that it is predetermined to him to become a murderer of his own father, he leaves his home without understanding that he has made a step toward his tragic destiny.
The reader cannot but sympathize the hero. None of Oedipus's misfortune results from his own misdeeds. However, there is hubris in the character. Oedipus thought that he could trick his destiny and he couldn't be more wrong. His destiny is his nemesis, another indelible part of the tragedy. All actions the characters do join in the highest act of destiny. So, we can observe a perfect example of the unity of action.
It is peculiar that Oedipus' mother takes death as freedom. That is why he can't allow himself to die because in his opinion he doesn't deserve freedom. And this is also a reason why tragic heroes rarely die in any literary works. Another tragic hero that stayed alive proves that sometimes living brings the greater catharsis to the reader than the hero's demise.
Tragic heroes don't always commit their crimes unconsciously. They may be planned and executed with a clear picture of the consequences in the hero's head. But these ideas are always delusional, and the hero always understands it, once the crime is committed. The most prominent example of such a crime is the murder described in The Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A young man, Rodion Raskolnikov kills an old money-lender and her sister who witnessed the first murder. At first, he is convinced that this is the right thing to do. He doesn't do it for money, although he is penniless. Raskolnikov has drawn the conclusion that killing this person will make the society better and some of the injustice can be stopped. Besides, he thinks that his intellectual level is higher than that of many others, which, from his perspective, gives him the right to decide what is better for his society and country. He can't be seen as a cold-blooded killer, somehow. His thoughts are occupied with the ideas of the perfect environment with no miseries that he sees every day. Dostoevsky describes the pictures of the city in detail for a good reason - this is a reflection of the despair that has mastered Rodion's mind.
The hero himself is opposed to this all. He is very handsome, and he is a good person, indeed. He saves children; he pays for the funeral of a person he knew. It may even seem that the good deeds Raskolnikov does in his life can compensate this terrible, terrible mistake he has done. But it wouldn't be one of the best examples of tragic heroes if Raskolnikov didn't have the tragic guilt we have discussed above. After all, he has a breakdown, and in the epilogue, he finally decides to confess. The name of the character speaks for the clash of his hubris and guilt, as in can be interpreted as 'controversy.'
Mr. Gatsby is one of the most popular hero examples for a heroic essay writing. The plot of Fitzgerald's novel has all the required elements to make him a perfect tragic hero. Gatsby is also one of the latest protagonists known as modern tragic hero examples all over the world.
Although Gatsby appears to be very mysterious about his life and income (which is no surprise given that he is not exactly what everybody thinks of him), the reader can see him as a person led by his love through all his life. This doesn't make him flawless, but we still can understand his actions and sympathize with him. However, the hubris of the character is evident too. He thinks he knows better - he is sure that when he gets Dasy, the love of his life, everything will change and all the vanity around him will disappear because he doesn't need it. But this doesn't happen. Although, there is no unity of time at all in the novel and the unity of place in very vague, the unity of action is striking. All the character are used by F.S. Fitzgerald to bring the reader to the tragic end. Besides, all the people from the parties are used to demonstrate that even if Gatsby has a higher reason for gathering them together, he has failed to build a network that could have saved him from loneliness and, eventually, from death. Except for Nick, of course, who could have become a real friend, but didn't have an opportunity, because Gatsby didn't want him around. He wanted the only person, or even the image he created in his mind - Daisy he used to know. It was before Daisy declined to say that she never loved Tom, her husband when Gatsby understood that her love and the peace it would bring to his soul were an illusion.
Gatsby is a very, very lonely person. This is rooted in his mind. But, the catharsis is still devastating for the reader. He has done the noblest thing - took the blame for the terrible crime that he didn't commit. But this could change nothing. Daisy didn't leave her husband, in fact, she didn't even show up at Gatsby's funeral, knowing that he literally died for her. All the qualities that the author endowed to Jay Gatsby allow us to add him to the list of tragic heroes admired worldwide.