A Review of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes

Essay by jeyy06 January 2008

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In Poetics, Aristotle also defines tragedy as "the imitation of an action that is serious, has magnitude, and is complete in itself" and comprises of six qualities - Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody (20). But for the purpose of this paper, only the characters of Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear and Othello will be examined in greater details.

The term "tragic hero", which has become synonymous with Shakespearean dramas, was developed before Hamlet, Macbeth or any of Shakespeare's well-known plays were written. The literary term was discovered around 330 BC by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Through his theory of catharsis, Aristotle debated that the great plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and other Greek playwrights contained tragic heroes similar to each other, which all portrayed four basic characteristics (Aristotle 21):1.Nobleness (of a noble birth) or wisdom (by virtue of birth).

2. Hamartia (translated as "tragic flaw", somewhat related to hubris, but denoting excess in behavior or mistakes).

3.A reversal of fortune (peripetia) brought about because of the hero's own tragic error.

4.The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about as a result of his own actions (anagnorisis).

It is not until the late 1500s that Shakespeare began to utilize Aristotle's observations in the production of his many tragedies (Bratchell 5). Although it was Aristotle who characterized the tragic hero, it was Shakespeare that made the tragic hero famous. Through his great many tragedies Shakespeare developed each tragic hero beautifully, making sure that each harbored a tragic flaw, were from the nobility, with identifiable human qualities, and faced their down fall with dignity. It is hard to believe such simple characteristics are the backbone for some of the most profound and complicated dramas the world has ever known.

Fundamentally, every tragic play must have...