Shakespearean Tragic Heroes

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The name “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 actually discovered around 330 BC by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Through his theory of catharsis, Aristotle debated that the great plays of Sophicles, Euripides, and other Greek playwrights contained tragic heroes similar to each other, which all portrayed four basic characteristics (“English Lit.”). These qualities were a tragic flaw, or harmartia, they all were from a noble class, with very human personalities, and they all face their tragedy with dignity. It is not until the late 1500s that Shakespeare began to utilize Aristotle’s observations in the production of his many tragedies (Desjardens). Probably the most important characteristic of a Shakespearean tragic hero is that one must posses a tragic flaw, because without the flaw, there would never be a downfall. The ultimate flaw varies from one play to another, King Lear’s flaw is that of arrogance while Macbeth’s it one of ambition. Some characters may be guilty of harboring many flaws, like Othello. Among Othello’s wrongs are gullibility and stupidity. In either case, the character never realizes ones flaws until act five, however, by that time it is too late (Desjardens). While the tragic flaw is the key element in a tragedy, the tragic hero’s social status is also of high importance. All tragic heroes are from a very noble class. Whether the heroes are Thanes or Generals in the army, like Macbeth, Othello, and Antony, or from royalty, like King Lear, Hamlet, or Cleopatra, each eventually fall from grace. This characteristic was used mostly to help the common people identify with the wealthier upper class. If the ruling class, which was generally looked upon with favor and prestige, could sin much like the commoners did, then no one group...
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