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ARISTOTLES TRAGIC HERO

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Tragedies are meant to evoke the emotions of pity and fear in the audience
Catharsis: the purging or cleansing of the emotions of pity and fear
Catharsis is that feeling of relief you feel after watching a tragedy
A tragedy has a Tragic Hero who is neither completely good nor completely
evil
A tragic hero has the potential for greatness, but is destined to fail
A tragic hero makes an error in judgement called Hamartia
A tragic hero has a tragic flaw; which is usually hubris
Hubris is overwhelming pride or self-confidence
This leads to a protagonist to disregard a divine warning or violate an
important law
Tragic heroes are responsible for their own fate
They fall from great heights and realise they have made an irreversible
mistake
They sometimes meet a tragic death and face it with honour

ARISTOTLES THEORY OF TRAGEDY (FROM POETICS)

Aristotle stipulates that the tragic hero must have four very distinct qualities
or characteristics

FOUR necessary answers to the question Who is the Tragic Hero?


First, and most important, it must be good the character must elicit
sympathy from the audience

ONE
In order for a tragedy to work, the audience must feel something for the
characters involved in it, and that can only happen if the character, under
the spotlight, is in some way good.
If the tragic hero demonstrates some character qualities that we consider to
be good, then that tragic hero can elicit that sympathy from the audience.
TWO
The second thing to aim at is propriety the character must possess
virtues that are appropriate. The virtues that that character presents must
somehow in accord with their type and position.
He might be talking about how a woman should possess virtues of nurturing
and care, where as a man might present virtues of valour and courage.

THREE
Thirdly, character must be true to life the character must be realistic.
The audience must be able to see that the character has relevance to their
real life
There must be a way in which the audience finds themselves seeing a
representation of the true world.

Aristotle continually talks about how tragedies should be representations of


true actions
FOUR
The fourth point is consistency the character must act according to a
consistent psychology. Aristotle is making a point about good writing
The audience must always realise that a tragedy is the sort of commerce
between the audience and the tragedy that unfolds on the stage.
Aristotle was concerned, not just about text, but he was concerned about the
relationship between the audience and whatever is happening on the stage.
He realised that theyd be in the same room together, that there would be
physical proximity.

ON STAGE
The tragic hero, for one reason or another specific to the tragedy itself,
commits a mistake. He commits that mistake usually because of some sort of
ignorance not necessarily because hes a bad person but because he did
not understand something Aristotles Hamartia -tragic flaw. This is the
blight on the heros character that causes the downfall.
Hamartia -tragic flaw
Aristotle emphasises very importantly, that the heros downfall must be
caused by the hero, him or herself. It cannot be caused from outside they
must have made a decision, often in ignorance, that lead to that downfall.
Perepeteia tragic irony
Tragic irony of the heros story is that he brings these problems upon himself.
Once this is in play, Aristotle identifies that the hamartia/mistake has
occurred early on in the story, perhaps before the events of the play even
open.
That mistake is made and throws into a series of events that are inevitable.
Once that mistake is made it leads to another event, another event, and
another event that cannot be stopped/avoid the disaster that is to occur.
When youre thinking about a tragedy you should think about a quality of
watching this plot that bears on inevitability.
One of the qualities of tragedy that works on the audience is the idea that
this is unstoppable, that the disaster toward which this tragic hero is aiming
cannot be stopped you know it from the beginning of the play.
TRAGIC FLAW TRAGIC IRONY + INEVITABLE SERIES OF EVENTS =
CATASTROPHE
Catastrophe a reversal of fortune (going from a high status to a low
status)
Aristotle and others have said that the hero works best when he is somehow
honoured or powerful Antigone is a princess people of high status
Reversal of fortune means that the powerful and enviable become the
powerless and pitiable. Aristotle refers to that as the catastrophe
Anagnorisis (after the catastrophe occurs)
Anagnorisis involves the tragic hero understanding what has happened
Creon understands the mistake was his and that there was nothing he could

do to solve this inevitable chain of events, and basically he is resigned to his


fate, almost an acceptance, a peace at this point, even though the peace is
extraordinarily painful and tragic.
At this point in the play, everything has ended. Everyone understands what
has been happening throughout the entire play there is a recognition and
understanding of it theres almost illumination

AUDIENCE

According to Aristotle, everything unfolding on the stage should have a


specific psychological effect on the audience. Aristotle is being an amateur
psychologist in about 400BCE and talking about a psychological reaction that
psychologists today accept as granted and sometimes use in their own
therapy
If the play has happened as it should (a tragic hero has inevitably brought
about his own destruction and has fallen from a great height), then the
audience should experience the twin emotions of pity and fear
They should pity the tragic hero (as they must like the tragic hero first
character quality = sympathy) and they are afraid because they fear that if
this can happen to the greatest of us, then what hope do we, the lowest in
the audience, have?
They experience this to such an extent that a certain psychological reaction
happens that Aristotle called catharsis.
Catharsis if you experience emotion to a certain extent sometimes youre
overwhelmed with it and it blows out your ability to feel that emotion so if
you want to purge yourself of negative emotion then sometimes feeling that
negative emotion to such an extent, will work
The audience should experience pity and fear to such an extent that they will
be so emotionally moved that they will feel better about themselves. Its
almost as if going into the theatre is psychological therapy - theyre able to
exercise and purge their negative emotion in this fictional environment and
then go back into their lives feeling better about themselves because they
have undergone some sort of therapy within the theatre = happy audience