Discovering the Tragic Hero

Aristotle outlines three requisite character traits that the tragic hero should possess, he qualifies the definition of the tragic hero with a set of events that must also take place before the hero can be considered truly tragic. Once this process is understood, it is easy to see how the sudden downfall of a mighty man, such as Oedipus the King from the play by Sophocles for example, would be dramatic and shocking to a public dominated by strict social classes. The same events occurring to a common citizen, such as an ancient Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s play, would simply be expected and thus would be no more shocking or impacting than fruit going bad. However, more modern audiences accustomed to greater equality in social structure tend to identify more closely with the ‘low man’ who is more like them and have come to expect spectacular downfalls of their social leaders. Thus, a shift occurred in the definition of the tragic hero from the ancient world to the present which can be discovered through a comparison of the title character in Oedipus the King by Sophocles and the character of Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman that serves to retain the effects of the tragic.The tragic hero had been present in a number of plays and dramas of the ancient Greeks before Aristotle, but Aristotle codified, so to speak, the requirements for a character to be considered a tragic hero. This idea was generally applied to characters with potential for tremendous greatness, such as kings and princes or those who had some sort of noble claim. However, each of these characters is considered destined to fail as a result of some tragic flaw inherent in their nature, often associated in some way with their greatest strength and therefore an aspect of their character that the individual is inordinately proud to exercise (Aristotle, 1998).