Hedda Gabler - a Tragic Hero?

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What makes a play a tragedy? Generally defined, a Greek tragedy is “a drama of a serious and dignified character that typically describes the development of a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (such as destiny, circumstance or society) and reaches a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion” (Merriam). The themes of the literary piece revolve around the main character and their actions, reactions, emotions and sufferings. This main figure is the tragic hero, who also acts as the play’s protagonist. Prompted by will and or ignorance, the tragic hero is confronted at the end of the play with an undeniable fate that results in a sorrowful ending. Although the tragic hero may display characteristics such as integrity, superiority, and a host of other noble qualities, this character seems destined for failure due to a mistake or error known as hamartia (Merriam). In Henrick Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabler, the main character Hedda exemplifies the characteristics needed to be considered a tragic hero.
In order to gain a better and more detailed understand of the qualities required for a tragic work, we should look to the discussion of tragedy found in Aristotle’s Poetics. He defines tragedy as “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and possessing magnitude; and effecting through pity and fear the catharsis of such emotions” (Aristotle). Aristotle goes on to describe the tragic hero as a character that has the ability to induce our sympathy and terror, especially since he or she is not necessarily good or evil, but instead, the character is a mixture of both qualities. Through the course of the play, the tragic hero will experience suffering through a change in happiness to despair because of an error or mistaken act. The error itself is led by the hero’s hamartia and regarded by some scholars as his or her tragic flaw. The hamartia eventually causes a recognition known as anagnorisis and a reversal in action known as peripeteia.



Cited: Aristotle. “Poetics.” The Norton Anthology of World masterpieces, 6th ed. Vol. 1: 831-835. Ibsen, Henrik. “Hedda Gabler.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Eighth Edition, Vo. 2, 2006. “Tragedy.” Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. 1995 ed.

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