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Macbeth: a Tragic Hero Analysis

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The definition of a tragic hero, macbeth’s tragic flaw: ambition, the influence of the supernatural, moral decline and guilt, the tragic end.

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title for a tragic hero essay

Tragic Hero

Definition of tragic hero.

Tragic hero is a literary device utilized to create a protagonist for a tragic work of literature. A tragic hero is a character that represents the consequences that come from possessing one or more personal flaws or being doomed by a particular fate. Traditionally, the purpose of tragic hero as a literary device is to evoke pity and/or fear in an audience through the protagonist’s flaw and consequential downfall.

Aristotle categorized the characteristics of classic tragic hero in Greek drama as, in general, a male character of noble birth who experiences a reversal of fortune due to a tragic flaw . In addition, the realization of this flaw evokes sympathy from an audience. For example, Oedipus Rex, the title character of Sophocles’ tragedy , is considered a classic tragic hero. Oedipus experiences a terrible downfall due to hubris as his tragic flaw. As a result, the audience is left to sympathize with his tragic fate.

Familiar or Well-Known Examples of Tragic Hero

In contemporary society, examples of tragic heroes are often found among politicians, celebrities, athletes, and other famous public figures. Of course, actual people are far more complex in their motives and experiences than literary characters. Therefore, they can’t literally be considered tragic heroes. However, what we know of their stories can be similar to that of a modern tragic hero. Here are some examples:

  • Lori Loughlin (“Aunt Becky”)
  • Anthony Weiner
  • Lance Armstrong
  • Michael Richards
  • Richard Nixon
  • Michael Vick
  • Tonya Harding
  • Woody Allen
  • Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
  • Paul Reubens (“Pee Wee Herman”)
  • Martha Stewart
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Tiger Woods
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Roseanne Barr
  • Charlie Sheen
  • Lindsay Lohan

Classic Examples of Tragic Hero in Shakespeare

William Shakespeare made great use of tragic hero as a literary device in his Shakespearean tragedies. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes demonstrate the presence of fatal flaws within the powerful. Yet, the protagonists in his tragedies often experience moments of realization or redemption that result in compassion from the audience. Here are some classic examples of Shakespearean tragic heroes:

  • Romeo Montague
  • Richard III

Modern Examples of Tragic Hero in Fiction

The modern usage of tragic hero as a literary device has evolved from the classical characteristics established by Aristotle. For example, most modern tragic heroes are not limited by class or background, and they are not exclusively male protagonists. Here are some modern examples of tragic hero in works of fiction :

  • Scarlett O’Hara ( Gone with the Wind )
  • Don Draper ( Mad Men )
  • Captain Ahab ( moby dick )
  • Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris ( Training Day )
  • Kurtz ( Heart of Darkness )
  • Blanche DuBois ( A Streetcar Named Desire )
  • Andy Dufresne ( Shawshank Redemption )
  • Bigger Thomas ( Native Son )
  • Emma Bovary ( Madame Bovary )
  • Jay Gatsby ( The Great Gatsby )

Difference Between Tragic Hero and Anti-Hero

It can be difficult to distinguish between tragic hero and anti-hero in literary works. Essentially, for a character to be a tragic hero, they must have some initial virtue that makes them powerful, charismatic, or heroic in the minds of the audience. In addition, tragic heroes must possess some sort of tragic flaw as part of their internal make-up or nature that makes them at least partially responsible for their own destruction. Finally, a tragic hero should suffer a reversal of fortune from good to bad, often leading to death or punishment that appears to be greater than deserved. As a result, these elements work together to generate a sympathetic response from the audience for tragic heroes.

An anti-hero is also a protagonist in fiction. However, unlike a tragic hero, an anti-hero is lacking in virtues associated with heroism. The anti-hero may be deficient in characteristics such as courage or integrity. However, as a character, the anti-hero still has an audience’s sympathy. Though anti-heroes may do good things for wrong reasons, they are fundamentally flawed and their actions serve only themselves. Therefore, their downfall is deserved and due entirely to their choices and devices.

Writing Tragic Hero

Overall, as a literary device, the tragic hero functions as the main character or protagonist of a tragedy. The characteristics of the tragic hero have evolved since Aristotle’s time in the sense that they are not limited to nobility or the male gender. In addition, a modern tragic hero may not necessarily possess typical or conventional heroic qualities. They may even be somewhat villainous in nature.

However, all tragic heroes must have sympathy from the audience for their circumstances. Additionally, all tragic heroes must experience a downfall leading to some form of ruin as a result of a tragic flaw in their character.

Here are some ways that writers carefully incorporate tragic hero into their work:

Hamartia , sometimes known as tragic flaw, is a fault or failing withing a character that leads to their downfall. For example, hubris is a common tragic flaw in that its nature is excessive pride and even defiance of the gods in Greek tragedy. Overall, a tragic hero must possess hamartia .

Peripeteia refers to a sudden turning point , as in a reversal of fortune or negative change of circumstances. Therefore, a tragic hero must experience peripeteia for their downfall.

Catharsis is the necessary pity and fear that the audience feels for tragic heroes and their inescapable fate. As a result, this sympathetic feeling indicates a purge of pent-up emotions in the audience, released through the journey of tragic heroes.

Examples of Tragic Hero in Literature

Many great works of literature feature tragic hero as a literary device. Here are some examples of tragic hero in literature:

Example 1: Hester Prynne ( The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness … Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods… The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.

This passage from Hawthorne’s novel indicates the hamartia and peripeteia experienced by the protagonist Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne has been convicted of adultery in a Puritan community . She remains loyal to her lover by refusing to reveal the paternity of her daughter Pearl. This results in Hester’s isolation from society and a punishment of wearing a scarlet “A” on her chest, indicating her crime and shame.

Hester Prynne is a tragic heroine due to her tragic flaw of fidelity outside her marriage to a weak man who doesn’t grant her the same sense of loyalty. For this, she suffers a consequential reversal of circumstances through imprisonment and public ridicule. Additionally, she is a tragic heroine in that her journey as a protagonist generates catharsis in readers. As Hawthorne’s novel progresses, readers feel both pity and fear for Hester. By the novel’s end, reader sympathy for her character results in a release of pent-up sadness and despair, mirroring Hester’s own experience.

Example 2: Victor Frankenstein ( Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)

It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical , or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

Victor Frankenstein is the tragic hero of Mary Shelley ’s novel. Frankenstein’s statements regarding learning the physical secrets of the world demonstrate his character’s hamartia in the form of hubris. Frankenstein succumbs to blind ambition, believing that he can conquer death with science. Therefore, by recklessly playing the role of creator and ignoring natural order, Frankenstein feels he has unlocked the mysteries of nature and defeated death. This results in over-confidence and pride to the point that Frankenstein does not believe his actions will have detrimental consequences. However, he only believes this until the “monster” begins killing people.

The audience is witness to this hubris as Frankenstein’s tragic flaw. Therefore, because of this hubris, Frankenstein’s fate is tied to the monster and his promising life and career are ruined. His downfall is clear in the novel, yet the audience retains their pity for this tragic hero.

Example 3: Othello ( Othello by William Shakespeare)

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am . Nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely, but too well. Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme. Of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe

Related posts:

  • Tragic Flaw
  • 10 Hero Archetypes with Examples  
  • Anti-Hero Archetype

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title for a tragic hero essay

title for a tragic hero essay

Tragic Hero

title for a tragic hero essay

Tragic Hero Definition

What is a tragic hero? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy , and is usually the protagonist . Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo is a tragic hero. His reckless passion in love, which makes him a compelling character, also leads directly to the tragedy of his death.

Some additional key details about tragic heroes:

  • The idea of the tragic hero was first defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle based on his study of Greek drama.
  • Despite the term "tragic hero," it's sometimes the case that tragic heroes are not really heroes at all in the typical sense—and in a few cases, antagonists may even be described as tragic heroes.

Tragic Hero Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce tragic hero: tra -jik hee -roh

The Evolution of the Tragic Hero

Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that make tragedies, well, tragic. That said, the idea of the characteristics that make a tragic hero have changed over time.

Aristotle and the Tragic Hero

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define a "tragic hero." He believed that a good tragedy must evoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience, since he saw these two emotions as being fundamental to the experience of catharsis (the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art). As Aristotle puts it, when the tragic hero meets his demise, "pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves."

Aristotle strictly defined the characteristics that a tragic hero must have in order to evoke these feelings in an audience. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must:

  • Be virtuous: In Aristotle's time, this meant that the character should be a noble. It also meant that the character should be both capable and powerful (i.e. "heroic"), and also feel responsible to the rules of honor and morality that guided Greek culture. These traits make the hero attractive and compelling, and gain the audience's sympathy.
  • Be flawed: While being heroic, the character must also have a tragic flaw (also called hamartia ) or more generally be subject to human error, and the flaw must lead to the character's downfall. On the one hand, these flaws make the character "relatable," someone with whom the audience can identify. Just as important, the tragic flaw makes the tragedy more powerful because it means that the source of the tragedy is internal to the character, not merely some outside force. In the most successful tragedies, the tragic hero's flaw is not just a characteristic they have in addition to their heroic qualities, but one that emerges from their heroic qualities—for instance, a righteous quest for justice or truth that leads to terrible conclusions, or hubris (the arrogance that often accompanies greatness). In such cases, it is as if the character is fated to destruction by his or her own nature.
  • Suffer a reversal of fortune: The character should suffer a terrible reversal of fortune, from good to bad. Such a reversal does not merely mean a loss of money or status. It means that the work should end with the character dead or in immense suffering, and to a degree that outweighs what it seems like the character deserved.

To sum up: Aristotle defined a tragic hero rather strictly as a man of noble birth with heroic qualities whose fortunes change due to a tragic flaw or mistake (often emerging from the character's own heroic qualities) that ultimately brings about the tragic hero's terrible, excessive downfall.

The Modern Tragic Hero

Over time, the definition of a tragic hero has relaxed considerably. It can now include

  • Characters of all genders and class backgrounds. Tragic heroes no longer have to be only nobles, or only men.
  • Characters who don't fit the conventional definition of a hero. This might mean that a tragic hero could be regular person who lacks typical heroic qualities, or perhaps even a villainous or or semi-villainous person.

Nevertheless, the essence of a tragic hero in modern times maintains two key aspects from Aristotle's day:

  • The tragic hero must have the sympathy of the audience.
  • The tragic hero must, despite their best efforts or intentions, come to ruin because of some tragic flaw in their own character.

Tragic Hero, Antihero, and Byronic Hero

There are two terms that are often confused with tragic hero: antihero and Byronic hero.

  • Antihero : An antihero is a protagonist who lacks many of the conventional qualities associated with heroes, such as courage, honesty, and integrity, but still has the audience's sympathy. An antihero may do the right thing for the wrong reason. Clint Eastwood's character in the western film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly , is fundamentally selfish. He digs up graves to look for gold and kills anyone who gets in his way, so he's definitely a bad guy. But as an antihero, he's not completely rotten: he also shows a little sympathy for dying soldiers in the bloody war going on around him, and at the end of the film he acts mercifully in choosing not to kill a man who previously tried to kill him. He does a few good things, but only as long as it suits him—so he's a classic antihero.
  • Byronic hero : A Byronic hero is a variant of the antihero. Named after the characters in the poetry of Lord Byron, the Byronic hero is usually a man who is an intelligent, emotionally sensitive, introspective, and cynical character. While Byronic heroes tend to be very charismatic, they're deeply flawed individuals, who might do things that are generally thought of as socially unacceptable because they are at odds with mainstream society. A Byronic hero has his own set of beliefs and will not yield for anyone. While it might not be initially apparent, deep down, the Byronic hero is also quite selfish.

According to the modern conception of a tragic hero, both an antihero and a Byronic hero could also be tragic heroes. But in order for a tragic hero to exist, he or she has to be part of a tragedy with a story that ends in death or ruin. Antiheroes and Byronic heroes can exist in all sorts of different genres, however, not just tragedies. An antihero in an action movie—for instance Deadpool, in the first Deadpool movie—is not a tragic hero because his story ends generally happily. But you could argue that Macbeth is a kind of antihero (or at least an initial hero who over time becomes an antihero), and he is very definitely also a tragic hero.

Tragic Hero Examples

Tragic heroes in drama.

The tragic hero originated in ancient Greek theater, and can still be seen in contemporary tragedies. Even though the definition has expanded since Aristotle first defined the archetype, the tragic hero's defining characteristics have remained—for example, eliciting sympathy from the audience, and bringing about their own downfall.

Oedipus as Tragic Hero in Oedipus Rex

The most common tragic flaw (or hamartia ) for a tragic hero to have is hubris , or excessive pride and self-confidence. Sophocles' tragic play Oedipus Rex contains what is perhaps the most well-known example of Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero—and it's also a good example of hubris. The play centers around King Oedipus, who seeks to rid the city he leads of a terrible plague. At the start of the play, Oedipus is told by a prophet that the only way to banish the plague is to punish the man who killed the previous king, Laius. But the same prophet also reports that Oedipus has murdered his own father and married his mother. Oedipus refuses to believe the second half of the prophecy—the part pertaining to him—but nonetheless sets out to find and punish Laius's murderer. Eventually, Oedipus discovers that Laius had been his father, and that he had, in fact, unwittingly killed him years earlier, and that the fateful event had led directly to him marrying his own mother. Consequently, Oedipus learns that he himself is the cause of the plague, and upon realizing all this he gouges his eyes out in misery (his wife/mother also kills herself).

Oedipus has all the important features of a classical tragic hero. Throughout the drama, he tries to do what is right and just, but because of his tragic flaw (hubris) he believes he can avoid the fate given to him by the prophet, and as a result he brings about his own downfall.

Willy Loman as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller wrote his play Death of a Salesman with the intent of creating a tragedy about a man who was not a noble or powerful man, but rather a regular working person, a salesman.

The protagonist of Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, desperately tries to provide for his family and maintain his pride. Willy has high expectations for himself and for his children. He wants the American Dream, which for him means financial prosperity, happiness, and good social standing. Yet as he ages he finds himself having to struggle to hold onto the traveling salesman job at the company to which he has devoted himself for decades. Meanwhile, the prospects for his sons, Biff and Happy, who seemed in high school to have held such promise, have similarly fizzled. Willy cannot let go of his idea of the American Dream nor his connected belief that he must as an American man be a good provider for his family. Ultimately, this leads him to see himself as more valuable dead than alive, and he commits suicide so his family can get the insurance money.

Willy is a modern tragic hero. He's a good person who means well, but he's also deeply flawed, and his obsession with a certain idea of success, as well as his determination to provide for his family, ultimately lead to his tragic death.

Tragic Heroes in Literature

Tragic heroes appear all over important literary works. With time, Aristotle's strict definition for what makes a tragic hero has changed, but the tragic hero's fundamental ability to elicit sympathy from an audience has remained.

Jay Gatsby as Tragic Hero in The Great Gatsby

The protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby , is Jay Gatsby, a young and mysterious millionaire who longs to reunite with a woman whom he loved when he was a young man before leaving to fight in World War I. This woman, Daisy, is married, however, to a man named Tom Buchanan from a wealthy old money family. Gatsby organizes his entire life around regaining Daisy: he makes himself rich (through dubious means), he rents a house directly across a bay from hers, he throws lavish parties in the hopes that she will come. The two finally meet again and do begin an affair, but the affair ends in disaster—with Gatsby taking responsibility for driving a car that Daisy was in fact driving when she accidentally hit and killed Tom's mistress (named Myrtle), Daisy abandoning Gatsby and returning to Tom, and Gatsby getting killed by Myrtle's husband.

Gatsby's downfall is his unrelenting pursuit of a certain ideal—the American Dream—and a specific woman who he thinks fits within this dream. His blind determination makes him unable to see both that Daisy doesn't fit the ideal and that the ideal itself is unachievable. As a result he endangers himself to protect someone who likely wouldn't do the same in return. Gatsby is not a conventional hero (it's strongly implied that he made his money through gambling and other underworld activities), but for the most part his intentions are noble: he seeks love and self-fulfillment, and he doesn't intend to hurt anyone. So, Gatsby would be a modernized version of Aristotle's tragic hero—he still elicits the audience's sympathy—even if he is a slightly more flawed version of the archetype.

Javert as Tragic Hero in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables

Javert is a police detective, obsessed with law and order, and Les Misérables' primary antagonist. The novel contains various subplots but for the most part follows a character named Jean Valjean, a good and moral person who cannot escape his past as an ex-convict. (He originally goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's seven children.) After Valjean escapes from prison, he changes his name and ends up leading a moral and prosperous life, becoming well-known for the ways in which he helps the poor.

Javert, known for his absolute respect for authority and the law, spends many years trying to find the escaped convict and return him to prison. After Javert's lifelong pursuit leads him to Valjean, though, Valjean ends up saving Javert's life. Javert, in turn, finds himself unable to arrest the man who showed him such mercy, but also cannot give up his devotion to justice and the law. In despair, he commits suicide. In other words: Javert's strength and righteous morality lead him to his destruction.

While Javert fits the model of a tragic hero in many ways, he's an unconventional tragic hero because he's an antagonist rather than the protagonist of the novel (Valjean is the protagonist). One might then argue that Javert is a "tragic figure" or "tragic character" rather than a "tragic hero" because he's not actually the "hero" of the novel at all. He's a useful example, though, because he shows just how flexible the idea of a "tragic hero" can be, and how writers play with those ideas to create new sorts of characters.

Additional Examples of Tragic Heroes

  • Macbeth: In Shakespeare's Macbeth , the main character Macbeth allows his (and his wife's) ambition to push him to murder his king in order to fulfill a prophecy and become king himself. Macbeth commits his murder early in the play, and from then on his actions become bloodier and bloodier, and he becomes more a villain than a hero. Nonetheless, he ends in death, with his wife also dead, and fully realizing the emptiness of his life. Macbeth is a tragic hero, but the play is interesting in that his fatal flaw or mistake occurs relatively early in the play, and the rest of the play shows his decline into tragedy even as he initially seems to get what he seeks (the throne).
  • Michael Corleone: The main character of the Godfather films, Michael Corleone can be said to experience a tragic arc over the course of the three Godfather movies. Ambition and family loyalty push him to take over his mafia family when he had originally been molded by his father to instead "go clean." Michael's devotion to his family then leads him to murder his enemies, kills his betraying brother, and indirectly leads to the deaths of essentially all of his loved ones. He dies, alone, thinking of his lost loves , a tragic antihero.
  • Okonkwo: In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart , Okonkwo is a man of great strength and will, and these heroic traits make him powerful and wealthy in his tribe. But his devotion to always appearing strong and powerful also lead him to alienate his son, break tribal tradition in a way that leads to his exile from the tribe, and to directly confront white missionaries in a way that ultimately leads him to commit suicide. Okonkwo's devotion to strength and power leads to his own destruction.
  • Anakin Skywalker: The three prequel Star Wars movies (episodes I, II, and III) can be seen as an attempt to frame Anakin Skywalker into a tragic hero. Anakin is both powerful in the force and a prophesied "chosen one," but his ambition and desire for order and control lead him to abandon and kill fellow Jedi, inadvertently kill his own wife, and to join the dark side of the force and become a kind of enforcer for the Emperor. Anakin, as Darth Vader, is alone and full of such shame and self-hatred that he can see no other option but to continue on his path of evil. This makes him a tragic hero. Having said all that, some would argue that the first three Star Wars movies aren't well written or well acted enough to truly make Anakin a tragic hero (does Anakin really ever have the audience's sympathy given his bratty whininess?), but it's clear that he was meant to be a tragic hero.

What's the Function of a Tragic Hero in Literature?

Above all, tragic heroes put the tragedy in tragedies—it is the tragic hero's downfall that emotionally engages the audience or reader and invokes their pity and fear. Writers therefore use tragic heroes for many of the same reasons they write tragedies—to illustrate a moral conundrum with depth, emotion, and complexity.

Besides this, tragic heroes serve many functions in the stories in which they appear. Their tragic flaws make them more relatable to an audience, especially as compared to a more conventional hero, who might appear too perfect to actually resemble real people or draw an emotional response from the audience. Aristotle believed that by watching a tragic hero's downfall, an audience would become wiser when making choices in their own lives. Furthermore, tragic heroes can illustrate moral ambiguity, since a seemingly desirable trait (such as innocence or ambition) can suddenly become a character's greatest weakness, bringing about grave misfortune or even death.

Other Helpful Tragic Hero Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page for Tragic Hero : A helpful overview that mostly focuses on the history of term.
  • The Dictionary Definition of Tragic Hero : A brief and basic definition.
  • A one-minute, animated explanation of the tragic hero.
  • Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero? This video explains what a tragic hero is, using Macbeth as an example .

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Oedipus as a Perfect Tragic Hero


Aristotle made a considerable contribution when he conceptualized the notion of a tragic hero. According to the ancient thinker, a tragic hero should possess five major qualities. The Ancient Greek philosopher used Oedipus as a prototype for his tragic hero. Based on the major concepts of Aristotle, Oedipus can be seen as a perfect tragic hero who is characterized by all five features of such a hero.

First, Oedipus is a decent person, which cannot be questioned due to his will to find the truth and live a righteous life. Being a king, he is polite and wise when addressing his people using such words as “My poor children” (Sophocles 2). He expresses empathy and tells about his attempts to solve the issues that his country has to face (Sophocles 3). He has a wife and children and treats everyone well. Even when he is angry and may want to commit unjust deeds (such as kill a messenger who has brought bad news), he regains control over himself and does the right things.

His quick temper is his hamartia , making him a human and a perfect tragic hero. Oedipus loses his temper on the road and kills the people who offend him. He could have been more patient and reasonable and could have tried to teach the offenders another lesson. Oedipus hit the man in the carriage that attacked him, but he could have stopped at that point. Instead, he “killed them all” (Sophocles 21). The tragic hero committed a crime that led to a series of other crimes and, eventually, sorrows for the citizens of his home city.

The punishment the king has to endure also shows that he is a tragic hero. Oedipus killed several men who started a fight, so, in a sense, it was self-defense as he was trying to protect his life. He married his own mother, but he did not know that the woman he loved was his mother. The punishment was excessively severe, as instead of several people, it involved thousands of people suffered because of the plague. Oedipus personal punishment was also unfairly harsh. He acknowledged that he committed horrible crimes, which was hard for such a decent person with high moral standards. He imposes punishment onto himself as well and admits, “But the hand / which stabbed out my eyes was mine alone” (Sophocles 35). Hence, the punishment imposed by others and by himself is truly excessive, making Oedipus a tragic hero.

The high position of the protagonist of the famous play is undoubtful, which is another feature of a tragic hero. Oedipus becomes a king who has been loved and respected by his people who have seen him as “the first of men” (Sophocles 2). Any position can hardly be higher than Oedipus’s status and his glory. When the truth is revealed and the punishment is imposed, Oedipus is a blind wretched recluse living far from his people. So, the change in his status also makes him a perfect tragic hero.

Finally, just like the perfect tragic hero, Oedipus acknowledges the highest truth and admits that he was blind for his whole life as he was unaware of his sins. He also understands that his quick temper and arrogance in some cases made him blind. He has to pay a high price for his enlightenment, but he finally sees clearly what is right and what is wrong.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that Oedipus is a perfect tragic hero as he is characterized by all the five major features of a tragic hero mentioned by Aristotle. Oedipus is decent but quick-tempered, and he has a high position that he loses. He also suffers an excessive punishment and, eventually comes to the point of recognition. Oedipus is an illustration of a highly moral wise person who has to go through a long way to his wisdom.

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.”  

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Oedipus as a Tragic Hero Research Paper

Introduction, works cited, further study: faq.

Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the definition of a tragic hero as established by Aristotle in the Poetics. In a classic tragedy, we see a noble and a heroic protagonist whose destruction is caused by a flaw in his character. This flaw can cause him to get involved in circumstances, which overpower him or make him unable to deal with a destructive situation caused by another character or by circumstances.

Although the play ends with the tragic hero’s death, he does experience an insight or awareness, which makes him and the audience more perceptive and aware. This research paper seeks to explain how Sophocles’ Oedipus exemplifies Aristotle’s description of a tragic hero. The paper incorporates research mainly from primary and secondary scholarly sources. By the end of the paper, the reader should be able to identify a strong correlation between Oedipus and the tragic hero outlined by Aristotle in the Poetics.

Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the definition of a tragic hero as established by Aristotle in the Poetics. In a classic tragedy, we see a noble and a heroic protagonist whose destruction is caused by a flaw in his character.

This flaw can cause him to get involved in circumstances, which overpower him or make him unable to deal with a destructive situation caused by another character or by circumstances. Although the play ends with the tragic hero’s death, he does experience an insight or awareness, which makes him and the audience more perceptive and aware.

This research paper seeks to explain how Sophocles’ Oedipus exemplifies Aristotle’s description of a tragic hero. The paper incorporates research mainly from primary and secondary scholarly sources. By the end of the paper, the reader should be able to identify a strong correlation between Oedipus and the tragic hero outlined by Aristotle in the Poetics. (Else 17)

By following the theory outlined by Aristotle on the theory and definition of a tragic hero, it is evident that Oedipus the hero of Sophocles fits this description. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must have the ability to provoke the spectator’s pity and trepidation and to make them more perceptive. In the play, Oedipus has nearly all the characters of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle.

Ideally, the perception of tragic hero is essential in the creation of tragedy since it should be the central cause of sympathy and awe. Usually, the tragic character as outlined by Aristotle evolves between two limits. According to the description, the character should border between being virtuous and evil. Additionally, this character is superior to the ordinary men and he has excellent traits. As a tragic hero, the character moves from bliss to despair and hence his downfall.

Usually, a flaw in character causes the downfall of the tragic hero and not through the chords of evil or corruption. Additionally, the tragic hero is usually prosperous and has high social standing. By reading the story, one is able to realize that all these characteristics befit Oedipus and one is therefore right in claiming that he is a tragic hero. (Golden 35)

Actually, every aspect in the description of a tragic hero seems to fit Oedipus character. To begin with, Oedipus is naturally a noble man. By his virtue, he helps the people of Thebes to solve the riddle of Sphinx something that saves their city. After solving this riddle, Oedipus is made the Theban king and this is where we find another good nature to his character.

Once he is in the throne, the king shows a deep concern for the suffering of Thebans owing to the plague. He actually tells the Thebans that his suffering is greater than their own. Since his aptitude and wit had saved Thebans before, all the people are now looking up to him for their salvation from the ravaging plague. In fact, the people compare his intelligence to that of God.

Even before the people begin complaining, Oedipus has already sent Creon to consult the oracle of Apollo. This shows that he is a great man and as a king, he knows the right thing to do for his people. Another virtuous quality in Oedipus is demonstrated when he decides to inflict himself with blindness just to fulfill the punishment that he had sworn would be given to the king’s killer.

Had he been a weak character, Oedipus would have chosen to commit suicide alongside his mother Jocasta. Instead, Oedipus chooses the option of confessing his hideous mistake to the Thebans. This account is proof enough that Oedipus has a good character and this makes him fit the role of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle. (Steiner 107)

On top of being a noble person, Oedipus has royal blood since he later emerges to be the son of King Laius. Even before the people know that he is King Laius son, Oedipus tells Jocasta that he is indeed the son of Polybus who is the Corinth king. Indeed, Oedipus left Corinth once he received prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.

Afraid of this prophecy, Oedipus flees from Corinth to Thebes where he marries Jocasta. In the course of events, Jocasta tells Oedipus of a prophecy that had been given to the late king that he would give birth to a son who would cause his death and marry his own mother.

Jocasta then tells Oedipus that he should disregard this prophecy since no man has the ability to see in to the future. In fact, things get more complicated for him once he learns from Jocasta that they killed their own son to escape this prophecy. As the events unfold, it is proved that Oedipus in indeed the son of King Laius and Jocasta something that confirms his royalty. Despite the fact that Oedipus is of royal blood, he has a flawed character that makes him a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle. (Kaufmann 120)

There is no doubt that Oedipus is a virtuous, courageous, and smart king. Despite his admirable personality, he also has some flaws in his character that seem to be inborn. As a tragic hero, these errors finally cause his eventual downfall from glory. By clearly analyzing the whole text, one quickly learns that Oedipus is stubborn in character. In fact, all the ills that he suffers are caused by this stubbornness since he does whatever he thinks is right despite the consequences.

At first, Tressias declines to divulge the truth about the death of King Laius but Oedipus pressures him to disclose the truth so he can save Thebes. Upon being pushed to the limit, Tressias reluctantly tells him that he was indeed the killer of the king. When his wife Jocasta tells him to stop inquiring of the matter, Oedipus dismisses her and instead continues to question the shepherd.

Despite the warnings, his stubbornness makes him want to know the bitter truth from the shepherd. Indeed, this stubbornness becomes the source of agony once he realizes the identity of his parents. Apart from his stubbornness, Oedipus is also presented as a moody person and can do anything when he is in a bad mood. This is demonstrated when he kills King Laius on his way to Thebes.

It is clear that Oedipus was in a bad temper when he committed this act owing to the prophecy that had been given to him. On top of this, he is a quick character who speaks without stopping to think. This is demonstrated when he accuses Creon of plotting with Tressias to deny him the right to the throne.

This can definitely be attributed to bad temper owing to what Tressias had told him. Just before this confrontation with Creon, Oedipus is seen mocking and insulting the blind prophet Tressias. Tressias tells him that both of them are alike since he is unable to see the sinful union that he has with his mother. Indeed, this stubbornness and quick speech leads to his downfall. (Hyde 322)

By closely analyzing the situation, one easily finds the link between Oedipus downfall and his stubbornness. This therefore leads to the conclusion that his downfall did not come from malice or depravity but it is rather caused by natural flaws in his personality. In fact, the tragic end of this hero occurs once the audience learns that he is indeed the real son of Laius and Jocasta.

This not only brings to fulfillment the prophecy given at Delphi but it also brings to pass the words of Tressias that no man would know greater suffering than Oedipus. This happens when he gets to a point where is unable to know if he is the father of his daughters or their brother.

After his identity is revealed, Oedipus leaves Thebes to free the city of the plague and gorges out his eyes to fulfill the punishment he had promised the killer of King Laius would get. In fact, neither the prophet nor the shepherd is willing to make the truth known to him but his own stubbornness becomes his downfall. This clearly fits Aristotle’s’ description of a tragic hero when he claims that his downfall is caused by a flaw in his character. (Miller 2)

By the time the curtains fall, it is clear that that the audience is in a state of purgation. Throughout the play, Oedipus attains the sympathy and fear of the spectators. Nearly everyone fears the real identity of the hero and they keep on hoping that he does not discover it. Once the truth is out in the open, the audience is moved to pity by what happens to Oedipus.

By arousing both pity and fear from the audience, it becomes clear that Oedipus has the traits of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in the poetics. Indeed, there is a clear pointer to the wheels of fate in his life since everything prophesied about him happens. Whatever happens to him is a clear indication that it is preordained fate and nothing he does can prevent it from happening. (Else 22)

Oedipus is a tragedy because it fits the description of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle in the poetics. In fact, this play by Sophocles is termed as the best piece of literature that fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero.

By analyzing the character of Oedipus, one is able to realize that no forces of evil cause the downfall of this hero but rather his stubbornness and bad temper, which are obvious character flaws in his nature. Throughout the play, the audience is spellbound by the acts of this hero but at the end, everyone is moved to pity by what has happened to him. This also clearly fits the description of a tragic hero as outlined by Aristotle.

Else, Gerald. Aristotle’s Poetics: The Argument . Harvard University Press, 1963. 16-22. Print.

Golden, Leon, trans. Aristotle’s Poetics . With Commentary by O. B. Hardison, Jr. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967. 32-41. Print.

Hyde, Isabel. The Tragic Flaw: Is It a Tragic Error?” The Modern Language Review . St. Louis University Library, 2008. 321-325. Print.

Kaufmann, Walter. Tragedy and Philosophy . Princeton University Press, 1992. 120-122. Print.

Miller, Arthur. Tragedy and the Common Man . University of California, 1949. 1-2. Print.

Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy . Yale University Press, 1996. 105-111. Print .

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How is Oedipus a Tragic Hero

In the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Oedipus is a classic tragic hero. According to Aristotle’s definition, Oedipus is a tragic hero because he is a king whose life falls apart when he finds out his life story. There are a number of characteristics described by Aristotle that identify a tragic hero. For example, a tragic hero must cause his own downfall; his fate is not deserved, and his punishment exceeds the crime; he also must be of noble stature and have greatness. Oedipus is in love with his idealized self, but neither the grandiose nor the depressive Narcissus can really love himself (Miller 67).

All of the above characteristics make Oedipus a tragic hero according to Aristotle’s ideas about tragedy, and a narcissist. Using Oedipus as an ideal model, Aristotle says that a tragic hero must be an important or influential man who makes an error in judgment, and who must then suffer the consequences of his actions. Those actions are seen when Oedipus forces Teiresias to reveal his destiny and his father’s name. When Teiresias tries to warn him by saying I say that you and your most dearly loved are wrapped together in a hideous sin, blind to the horror of it (Sophocles 428).

Oedipus still does not care and proceeds with his questioning as if he did not understand what Teiresias was talking about. The tragic hero must learn a lesson from his errors in judgment and become an example to the audience of what happens when great men fall from their lofty social or political positions. According to Miller, a person who is great, who is admired everywhere, and needs this admiration to survive, has one of the extreme forms of narcissism, which is grandiosity. Grandiosity can be seen when a person admires himself, his qualities, such as beauty, cleverness, and talents, and his success and achievements greatly.

If one of these happens to fail, then the catastrophe of a severe depression is near (Miller 34). Those actions happen when the Herdsman tells Oedipus who his mother is, and Oedipus replies Oh, oh, then everything has come out true. Light, I shall not look on you Again. I have been born where I should not be born, I have been married where I should not marry, I have killed whom I should not kill; now all is clear (Sophocles 1144). Oedipus’s decision to pursue his questioning is wrong; his grandiosity blinded him and, therefore, his fate is not deserved, but it is far beyond his control.

A prophecy is foretold to Laius, the father of Oedipus, that the destiny of Oedipus is a terrible one beyond his control. But when it is prophesized to Oedipus, he sets forth from the city of his foster parents in order to prevent this terrible fate from occurring. Oedipus’s destiny is not deserved because he is being punished for his parent’s actions. His birth parents seek the advice of the Delphi Oracle, who recommends that they should not have any children. When the boy is born, Laius is overcome with terror when he remembers the oracle.

Oedipus is abandoned by his birth parents and is denied their love, which is what results in what Miller calls Depression as Denial of the Self. Depression results from a denial of one’s own emotional reactions, and we cannot really love if we deny our truth, the truth about our parents and caregivers as, well as about ourselves (Miller 43). The birth of Oedipus presets his destiny to result in tragedy even though he is of noble birth. In tragedies, protagonists are usually of the nobility that makes their falls seem greater.

Oedipus just happens to be born a prince, and he has saved a kingdom that is rightfully his from the Sphinx. His destiny is to be of noble stature from birth, which is denied to him by his parents, but given back by the Sphinx. His nobility deceived him as well as his reflection, since it shows only his perfect, wonderful face and not his inner world , his pain, his history (Miller 66). When he relies on his status, he is blind, not physically, but emotionally. He is blind in his actions; therefore he does not see that the questioning would bring him only misery.

Later, after his self- inflicted blinding, Oedipus sees his actions as wrongdoing when he says What use are my eyes to me, who could never – See anything pleasant again? (Sophocles 1293) and that blindness does not necessarily have to be physical as we can se when he says, If I had sight, I know not with what eyes I would have looked (Sophocles 1325). In the play Oedipus Rex , Sophocles portrays the main character, Oedipus, as a good- natured person who has bad judgment and is frail. Oedipus makes a few fatal decisions and is condemned to profound suffering because of them.

Agreeing with Aristotle that Oedipus’ misfortune happens because of his tragic flaw . If he hadn’t been so judgmental or narcissistic, as Miller would characterize a personality like Oedipus, he would never have killed King Laius and called Teiresias a liar. In the beginning, Teiresias is simply trying to ease him slowly into the truth; but Oedipus is too proud to see any truths, and he refuses to believe that he could have been responsible for such a horrible crime. He learns a lesson about life and how there is more to it than just one person’s fate.

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The Hero’s Journey in Modern Film

This essay about the hero’s narrative structure in modern film explores how this timeless framework, known as the monomyth, remains a fundamental storytelling tool in cinema. It describes how characters like Tony Stark from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and T’Challa from “Black Panther” use this structure to undergo personal growth and tackle broader societal issues. The essay also highlights the adaptation of the hero’s narrative to include female protagonists in films such as “Wonder Woman” and “Moana,” reflecting contemporary themes of inclusivity and empowerment. Through various examples, it illustrates the hero’s narrative’s adaptability across genres, reinforcing its role in enhancing film storytelling and connecting with audiences on both a personal and a universal level.

How it works

In William Shakespeare’s political drama “Julius Caesar,” Brutus is often heralded as the quintessential tragic hero, overshadowed by his inner conflicts and moral dilemmas. However, a closer examination of the play reveals that Cassius, the mastermind behind the conspiracy against Caesar, exhibits many characteristics that are quintessentially tragic in their own right. This perspective allows us to explore the depths of Cassius’s motivations, his pivotal role in the narrative, and the elements that align him with the classical definition of a tragic hero.

Cassius is not the typical tragic hero cloaked in nobility and flawed by a singular, catastrophic hubris. Instead, his complexity is woven through his jealousy, strategic manipulation, and deep-seated resentment towards Caesar. From the onset, it is Cassius’s persuasive rhetoric that ignites the conspiracy, demonstrating his influence and leadership. His eloquence and deep understanding of human psychology enable him to convince Brutus to join the plot, appealing to Brutus’s sense of honor and the welfare of Rome. Cassius says, “Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” This line not only underscores his manipulation skills but also his profound awareness of personal agency and ambition.

Furthermore, Cassius’s tragic flaw—his envy of Caesar—drives the plot forward. He confesses to Brutus how he saved Caesar from drowning and how Caesar has become a godlike figure, while he remains a mere mortal. Cassius’s internal conflict between his recognition of Caesar’s weaknesses and the public’s deification of Caesar lays the groundwork for his tragic downfall. His actions stem from a personal vendetta as much as from political motives, blending the personal with the political, a hallmark of many tragedies.

Cassius’s role in “Julius Caesar” also aligns with Aristotle’s concept of hamartia, or tragic flaw. His astuteness and manipulative nature, while initially serving him well, ultimately lead to his undoing. The turning point comes with his decision to allow Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral, a strategic error advised against by Brutus. Antony’s speech, which cleverly sways public opinion against the conspirators, marks the beginning of Cassius’s downfall. It is a poignant irony that Cassius, a character so skilled in manipulation, fails to foresee the consequences of Antony’s oratory. This miscalculation is compounded by further strategic errors, culminating in his premature suicide at the Battle of Philippi, based on the mistaken belief that Brutus’s forces have been defeated.

The culmination of Cassius’s tragic arc is steeped in irony and misfortune—key ingredients of a tragic narrative. His death is marked by a tragic recognition of misinterpretation and defeat, reflective of his earlier inability to accurately read the political landscape post-Caesar’s assassination. Cassius dies believing he has lost everything, a poignant end for a character whose initial motives were driven by a desire to restore the Republic and free it from what he perceived as a tyrannical rule.

Cassius’s journey in “Julius Caesar” is a compelling argument for his place as a tragic hero. His profound influence on the play’s events, combined with his personal flaws and ultimate demise, encapsulate the essence of tragedy. He is a hero not because he is faultless, but because he is fundamentally human—driven by complex, often contradictory impulses that lead to his downfall. His story serves as a powerful reminder of the dangers of unchecked ambition and the complexities of human motivation in the face of political turmoil.

By reassessing Cassius from the perspective of a tragic hero, Shakespeare’s rich character development and his understanding of human nature become even more evident. This viewpoint enhances our comprehension of “Julius Caesar” not only as a historical drama but also as a timeless investigation of the political and psychological conflicts that push people to take extreme, frequently disastrous actions. Even with all of his imperfections and zeal, Cassius stands out as a symbol of the catastrophic potential that each of us possesses.


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    The birth of Oedipus presets his destiny to result in tragedy even though he is of noble birth. In tragedies, protagonists are usually of the nobility that makes their falls seem greater. Oedipus just happens to be born a prince, and he has saved a kingdom that is rightfully his from the Sphinx. His destiny is to be of noble stature from birth ...

  20. Cassius as Tragic Hero in Julius Caesar

    The essay highlights how Cassius's tragic flaws, particularly his envy and strategic miscalculations, lead to his downfall. It explores how these elements align with the classical attributes of a tragic hero, focusing on Cassius's internal conflicts and the consequences of his actions, which culminate in his demise at the Battle of Philippi.

  21. Macbeth Tragic Hero Essay

    Macbeth Tragic Hero Essay; Macbeth Tragic Hero Essay. 559 Words 3 Pages. One of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, "Macbeth" is a tragedy of a man who simply wanted power. The main character, Macbeth, is often considered a tragic hero. However, due to Aristotle's definition of what a tragic hero truly is, Macbeth does not fit the ...

  22. What is a good thesis statement for an essay about the tragedy Oedipus

    You may want to start with his definition of what makes a tragic hero. See eNotes Ad-Free Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 ...

  23. Kurt Cobain Tragic Hero

    The essay argues that Cobain's story is a modern manifestation of the tragic hero, whose personal vulnerabilities and environmental challenges resonate with classical tales of heroism and tragedy. Cobain's legacy continues to impact and inspire, highlighting his complex relationship with fame and his enduring influence in music and culture.

  24. Matt Lauer : the Characteristics of a Modern Day Tragic Hero

    This essay about Matt Lauer as a modern-day tragic hero explores the timeless literary concept of the tragic hero and applies it to the life and career of the former "Today" show co-host. It highlights how Lauer's public persona of trust and charisma hid a fatal flaw, leading to a dramatic fall from grace amidst allegations of misconduct.

  25. The Hero's Journey in Modern Film

    Essay Example: In William Shakespeare's political drama "Julius Caesar," Brutus is often heralded as the quintessential tragic hero, overshadowed by his inner conflicts and moral dilemmas. However, a closer examination of the play reveals that Cassius, the mastermind behind the conspiracy against