TRAGEDY AND THE TRAGIC HERO. ARISTOTLE Aristotle – 4 th century BCE philosopher and theorist -Most famous student of Plato -Tutor to Alexander the Great

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Tragedy and the Tragic hero

Tragedy and the Tragic heroAristotleAristotle 4th century BCE philosopher and theoristMost famous student of PlatoTutor to Alexander the GreatHis theories heavily influenced all sorts of thoughts in many subject areas: physical sciences, politics, education, logic, and literature. His book Poetics is where we take this lecture from

Greek TheatreAncient Greek Theatre centre was Athens theatre was a profound part of a festival called Dionysia after the god Dionysus (the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre, and religious ecstasy).- It wasnt voluntary like now going to the theater was a form of prayer morality/social norms reaffirmed - Ancient Greek theatre wasnt really considered entertainment, in the sense that we think of theatre today. Plays were part of religious events; they served a communal function in that they contributed to the good health of the community by purging individuals of harmful emotions and feelings.

Greek tragedyIn Aristotles Poetics, he says a great deal about structure, purpose, and the intended effect of tragedy. Here is a basic definition of tragedy:A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow in consequence of his/her tragic flaw, or moral weakness they come to learn the error of their ways too late.Tragedy is a representation of action that is worthy of serious attention, complete in itself and of some magnitude bringing about by means of pity and fear, the purging of such emotions - AristotlePoetics a man cannot be a hero until he has seen the root of his own downfallHistory only tells what HAS happened, tragedy is superior because it shows what MAY happen, and that is infinitely more interesting. It dwells in reasonable possibilities. Tragedy, however, is rooted in the fundamental order of the universe; it creates a cause-and-effect chain that clearly reveals what may happen at any time or place because that is the way the world operates. Tragedy therefore arouses not only pity but also fear, because the audience can envision themselves within this cause-and-effect chain.

Definition of tragedy: A story that evokes the agony of life

A tragedy must have a tragic hero the audience must identify with him/her their circumstances must induce pity, not outrage.

The following qualifications must be in place for a character to be considered tragic:

1. Nobility the tragic hero is a character of noble stature with a measure of greatness. While the nobility can be technical (a title or position like king, general, president, etc.) it can also be nobility of character in the more modern incarnations. They have to inhabit a high position of status as well virtue.

2. Relatability while the hero must be great, they are not perfect. We, the rest of the flawed humans, must be able to relate to them. They are not a superhuman, but a person, like us, who has risen to power/influence.

3. Hamartia- the hero must have a tragic flaw one that leads to his/her downfall. Their fall, then, must be the result of a choice of personal failingnot an accident or act of villainy. Typically, its the result of an error of judgment based on a character flaw. One of the more common hamartias is called hubris, which is a sort of arrogant pride.

4 Reversal of Fortune the hero falls. They basically lose all of that nobility that they started with. But, the misfortune must not be wholly deserved in the case of the tragic hero, the punishment must exceed the crime.

5. Realization- the fall cannot be pure loss. The character cannot simply be hit by a car, killed, and thats that. He or she must experience some sort of awareness, some gain of self-knowledge, or some sort of discovery in the process of the fall. Basically, they understand what they have done to cause the reversal of fortune.

6. Catharsis though the heros story will arouse solemn emotions, a tragedy does not leave an audience in a state of depression. Aristotle argued that the function of tragedies was to purge unhealthy emotions such as pity and fear through a catharsis, which essentially cleanses us of this emotional baggage. We leave feeling like the world has returned to normal that justice is served that all things happened as they were supposed to.

Other features:The hero often has a showdown with a counterpart/villain The hero must discover their own fate/wrongs on their ownThe hero should be physically and spiritually woundedThe hero must be intelligent enough to understand his flawThere can be supernatural elements, but they are not necessaryThe suffering of the hero must have meaningShakespeareShakespeare wrote his plays two thousand years after the height of Ancient Greek they still qualify as tragedies?Its up to you to decide. Here is an additional detail:Shakespearean Tragic Heroes must die by the storys end. They must be doomed from the start, and understand and accept their fate just before their death.

The heroes of classic and Elizabethan tragedies are almost universally male though argument can be made in favour of Lady Macbeth, though she misses the awareness mark a bit on account of her madness. The 19th century novels have more of them, like Tess from Tess of the DUrbervilles or Catherine from Wuthering Heights.

Can you think of any other tragic heroes?

i.e. Snape, Darth Vader, Michael Corleone, etc.


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