March 4, 2024

The Tragic Hero

5 min read
The Tragic Hero

A tragic hero can come in many forms. Whether it be a young female from an ancient Greek play, or an old wise man from modern views, a tragic hero fits many molds of characters. But on the contrary a character can fit many molds of a tragic hero and not fully achieve such a level. Taking a look at two characters, in this example Othello from Shakespeare’s Othello and Doctor Stockmann from Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, one can see how the different combinations of traits, beliefs and actions lead to a character fulfilling the requirements to be a tragic hero or falling short of such a goal.

What exactly is the tragic hero? For this paper the definition given by the ancient philosopher Aristotle will be used to analyze the two characters mentioned earlier. The definition is not truly simple, for the nature of the tragic hero is a complex being filled with confusion and variety of traits. There seems to be three key aspects to look for in a tragic hero as Aristotle would explain. These four things are goodness, appropriateness, true to life, and consistency. It is clear what is needed for goodness. The character must have a moral stand in life to show he is worthy of being a hero. For appropriateness and true to life, though, there is a vague definition that one can assume means that the character must be based an acceptable and logical form of man and woman. This would be so to help bring the play and character better to life. For the final, consistency, it is again clear that the character must follow in a steady path that is built by his/her traits and beliefs. Above all, the tragic hero must too provoke great empathy and sympathy from the viewer and give a sense of loss and gain in self-worth, analysis and being.

First there is Othello from William Shakespeare’s Othello. He is a unique character in Shakespeare’s plays in that he does not seem to fully take charge of the main role. While it is clear that his life and being is the key aspect of the play, the character itself is almost distant as if he too is viewing what is happening to him instead of telling the audience. This is one mark against him for being a tragic hero for he does not take charge and really display himself to the audience and world. A tragic hero must have a higher sense of worth, or hubris, and more determination. There isn’t a clear feeling of this from Othello.

Othello also does not emphasis the important key traits that a tragic hero should. While Othello is apparently by nature a good character of moral standings, he does not truly express his moral opinion or righteous life to others. He appears more passive, a mere army man following orders and doing things for an unknown cause. He takes no firm action in his deeds and appears to be a puppet for manipulators, such as Iago, to take hold of. Though he does stand firm in defense of his love for Desdemonia, this is not an act of moral good but rather an act of love and loyalty.

His third major downfall or proof of not being a tragic king is his inconsistency. Throughout the play he is shown as a man of undecided thought, one who does not know fully where he stands in society and life nor does he dare make an attempt to find a place. He does not try to pull himself above what he is in an attempt to make himself what he could be. Instead he more or less wallows in his own confusion and pain of seeming as an outsider. Though this does spark pity, empathy and sympathy, from the audience, which is key to a tragic hero, on the contrary it shows that he is a man who has no true “territory” or “ground” to uphold and defend. Therefore, Othello can not lift himself to the status of tragic hero, and with a combination of all his other lacking traits can not clearly be called a tragic hero.

Second, there is Dr. Stockmann from Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. He too is a unique character, in ways like and not like Othello. Clearest aspect of the doctor’s character that could give proof of him being a tragic hero would probably be his goodness. He has a very clear and definite moral standing in the play. His goals of proving his findings on the bathhouses stay firm and true to his character. Even when offered a plan to gain money from this ordeal he does not falter and keeps firm with his moral standings. He displays both the tragic hero qualities of being moral and good, and being consistent with his actions and beliefs.

But on the contrary, his strong goodness and stance on morals and justice doesn’t fit fully into the tragic hero role. While some, or a good amount, is necessary, too much defeats the true goal of the character striving to be something worth pitying or cheering for. Without fault or indecision in his character, the doctor can not truly grow through the play, and though keeps a consistency, he lacks a develop to fully realize his cause and effect on those that surround him. It is because of this, similar to Othello, that the doctor is somewhat withdrawn from the world and therefore doesn’t truly tell his story from the viewpoint of a tragic hero.

The character also brings out pity from the audience reading and viewing the play. This is very evident in the ostracism that the town pretty much does to him for not agreeing with the politics and other leadership choices of the town. Through the play audience of the town rejecting him, the real audience is able to accept him comfortably as a true and genuine person. In this he provokes sympathy and empathy in many forms, and creates a status of being a tragic hero.

Though there is cases for both side, that Othello and Dr. Stockmann are both tragic heroes and yet not, there is clear wavering to a more determined path. For all that he possesses and lacks, Othello doesn’t quite reach that of tragic hero, though he is a tragic character indeed. On the other hand, while Dr. Stockmann has his own requirements both satisfied and dissatisfied, he does achieve a well enough version of character that he can be perceived as a tragic hero. All in all, both are tragic and heroes in their own right, whether Aristotle would define them as so or not.