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Tragic hero definition | Changes from Aristotle’s time to modern times


Hello to all my readers who are my supporter from a long time. Today you will learn about the tragic hero definition and changes from Aristotle’s time to modern times. I know all those who are in the literature course will find this blog an informative one. I have discussed every important point related to the tragic hero in detail. Many literature students ask for assignment help from various websites because they have a lack of information. But today you will find enormous information in this blog regarding the topic. So let’s began with the blog.

Oh! Wait, before we move on to blog first see what points you are going to read today

  • Tragic hero definition
  • Additional key details that suit the tragic hero definition
  • The Modern Tragic Hero definition and features
  • Tragic Hero, Antihero, and Byronic Hero
  • Tragic Hero Examples from the literature of all time
  • What’s the Function of a Tragic Hero in Literature?

Looking for a tragic hero definition? Here is a simple definition I brought for you

A tragic hero is a protagonist in a tragedy. You will always find a tragic hero character in a tragic situation. Almost all the tragic heroes consist of heroic traits. But they also consist of flaws, or they commit mistakes which lead to their downfall or tragic ending. When we talk about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s character comes under the tragic hero definition. His passion for love make him a compelling character, but this also leads him to his tragic death.

Additional key details that suit the tragic hero definition

Aristotle was the first Greek philosopher who gave the tragic hero definition. His definition was based on the study of Greek drama. The idea of the tragic hero was initially defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle based on his study of Greek drama.

Despite the term “tragic hero,” it’s sometimes the case that tragic heroes are not really heroes at all in the typical sense—and in a few cases, antagonists may even be described as tragic heroes.

Tragic Hero Pronunciation

Here’s how you should pronounce a tragic hero: tra-jikhee-roh.

Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that makes tragedies, well, tragic. That said, the idea of the characteristics that make a tragic hero has changed over time.

Aristotle and the Tragic Hero

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, was the first who gave the tragic hero definition. According to Aristotle, a tragedy is good only when it evokes feelings like pity and fear in the audience. He saw these two emotions as fundamental to the experience of catharsis. Aristotle once said that when the tragic hero meets his death or demise, “pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.”

Aristotle defined the features of a tragic hero. These features are a must have things in a tragic hero to evoke above-mentioned feelings in the audience. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero should have:

Be virtuous

The meaning of virtuous in Aristotle’s time is to be a noble character. Along with noble he should also be capable and powerful and have heroic characteristics. He should take the responsibility of honor and morality which were guided by Greek culture. These traits help the hero by making him attractive and compelling, also brings sympathy from audience’s side.

Be flawed: In Aristotle’s words, Hero must have a tragic flaw, also known as hamartia. Tragic Flaw in a hero is like a human error, and the error will lead to the downfall of the character. Tragic flaw plays an important role in tragic hero definition. These flaws help in making the character relatable to the audience. The audience can identify themselves with the character and feel for him/her. The tragic flaw makes the tragedy more powerful because a source of tragedy is internal to the character. No outside force is responsible for shaping the tragedy. It’s the loopholes or heroic deeds of the character that results in a tragedy. For instance, a righteous quest for seeking truth or justice leads to a tragic end or hubris. In such cases, it is like a character is destined to his/her destruction by his or her own nature.

Suffer a reversal of fortune

Another characteristic of a tragedy that suits the tragic hero definition is the reversal of fortune. In this what happens is that a character often a hero suffers a reversal of fortune. He turns bad from good or gets to the lowest position from a higher stature. Reversal does not only mean the loss of money or status. It also means that at the end character is dead or immense suffering. This suffering is more than what he/she deserves.

To make it short: Aristotle’s tragic hero definition suits the description where a man of noble birth and heroic qualities turn into the opposite. Change of fortune into bad is what defines tragic hero well.

The Modern Tragic Hero definition and features

Over time, the tragic hero definition has relaxed a lot. Now more features are in it now:

Characters of all genders and class backgrounds.

Now tragic heroes don’t need to be from a noble family. A low born or a female can also be considered as a tragic hero.

Characters who don’t fit the conventional definition of a hero.

By this, I mean that a tragic hero could be a person like you and me without typical heroic qualities.

The tragic hero must gain the sympathy from the audience

The ruin of a tragic hero is imperative. A tragic hero should come to ruin due to some of the tragic flaw in their own character. Despite his best efforts, he should face the fall.

Antihero and Byronic Hero difference

Antihero and Byronic hero are the two terms that are often confused with the tragic hero


An antihero is a protagonist who lacks many of the traditional qualities associated with heroes. These qualities are honesty, courage, and integrity, but still has the audience’s sympathy. An antihero may do the right thing for the wrong reason. Clint Eastwood’s character in the western film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is fundamentally selfish. He digs up graves to look for gold and kills anyone who gets in his way, so he’s definitely a bad guy. But as an antihero, Clint Eastwood is not completely rotten, he shows a little sympathy for dead soldiers in the war going on around him, and at the end of the film, he acts mercifully in choosing not to kill a man who previously tried to kill him. He does a few good things, but only as long as it suits him, so he’s a classic antihero.

Byronic hero

We can say that a Byronic hero is a variant of the antihero. It was named after the characters in the poems of Lord Byron. A Byronic hero is usually a man with an intelligent, emotionally sensitive, introspective, and cynical character. While Byronic heroes are charismatic, they’re deeply flawed individuals. They might do things that are thought of as socially unacceptable because they are at odds with mainstream society. A Byronic hero consists of his own set of beliefs and will not yield for anyone. While it might not be initially apparent, deep down, the Byronic hero is also quite selfish.

According to the modern conception of a tragic hero, both an antihero and a Byronic hero could also be tragic heroes. But in order for a tragic hero to exist, he or she has to be part of a tragedy with a story that ends in death or ruin. Antiheroes and Byronic heroes can exist in all sorts of different genres, however, not just tragedies.

Tragic Hero Examples from the literature of all time

Tragic heroes appear in all literary works. With time, Aristotle’s strict definition of tragic hero has evolved, but the tragic hero’s fundamental ability to elicit sympathy from an audience has endured. Origin of the tragic hero is from ancient Greek theatre. We can still see the tragic hero in contemporary tragedies. Even though the tragic hero definition has been evolved through ages, but basic characteristics defined by Aristotle have remained same. For example, sympathy from the audience, and bringing about their own downfall.

Oedipus as Tragic Hero in Oedipus Rex

According to the classical definition of a tragic hero, it must be someone of high stature (Oedipus is of royal birth and is a king) who brings about his/her own downfall. Oedipus does so by, albeit unknowingly, killing his father and marrying his mother. There must also be a lesson in the tragedy, often a warning against hubris (excessive pride), which is Oedipus’s tragic flaw. There’s also a warning that a mortal cannot avoid the fate that’s been ordained by the gods.

In many ways, though, Oedipus seems more to be the innocent victim while his parents are the tragic heroes. His parents are king and queen, and they try to thwart fate by having their innocent baby killed. Of course, that doesn’t work out as planned, and Oedipus grows up, not knowing his royal parentage, and comes back to rescue the city from the Sphinx. In the process of doing so, he kills his father and marries and has four children with his mother. Jocasta is so horrified to learn what she’s done that she commits suicide.

Oedipus has all the vital elements of a classical tragic hero. In the whole play, Oedipus tries to do what is right and just, but because of his tragic flaw (hubris), he thought that he can avoid the fate given to him by the prophet, and as a result, he brings about his own downfall. In this way, he has fulfilled the requirements that suit the tragic hero definition.

Jay Gatsby

Jay Gatsby is the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  He is a young and mysterious millionaire. Gatsby longs to reunite with a woman he loved. He parted with her before leaving to fight in World War I. This woman name is Daisy, who now has now married to Tom Buchanan. Buchanan is from a wealthy family. Gatsby tries his entire life to get back to Daisy. He makes himself rich through doubtful means. Gatsby rents a house directly across a bay from hers. He organizes lavish parties in a hope to attract her once again. They finally meet again, but their affair ends up in a disaster. Gatsby accidentally kills Tom’s mistress, and her husband kills Gatsby.

Gatsby tries to live a life of an American dream, that is the reason for his downfall. His blind determination made him blind. He was not able to see that Daisy doesn’t fit in his dream and secondly, the ideal life is unachievable. He put himself in danger to protect a woman who likely would not do the same for him. Gatsby is a non-conventional type hero, and his intentions were noble. He fits in the tragic hero definition. All his life he seeks love and self-fulfillment without any intention of hurting others. So we can say that Gatsby is the modernized form of Aristotle’s tragic hero. He gained the audience sympathy and met the tragic end.


In the play Macbeth by Shakespeare, the central character Macbeth allows his ambition to commit the crime of the king’s murder. He does that in order to complete the prophecy and to get on the throne. When you read the play, you will find that the murder is done initially and later Macbeth only becomes bloodier. He becomes a villain than a hero. In the end, Macbeth dies along with his wife. Macbeth is a tragic hero portrayed by Shakespeare. His fatal flaw occurs in the early stage of the play. Rest of the play only portrays his decline from good to bad.


Okonkwo is a protagonist in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. He is a man of great strength and willpower. His strength and will make him the hero in his tribe. But this is also the thing which leads to his downfall. He alienates his son, breaks a tradition and ends up in exile from the tribe. He directly confronted the white missionaries, and this leads to his tragic end where a strong man commits suicide. Okonkwo’s power and strength is the only cause of his own destruction.


Hamlet is a tragic hero because he’s torn between avenging his father, and the laws that state that killing a king is a grievous sin, regardless of his very legitimate grievance against his uncle. Moreover, he ends up destroying everyone he cares for (Ophelia, his mother, his friend Horatio) in his quest for revenge. Ophelia either falls to her death or commits suicide, and his mother ends up accidentally drinking a poison-laced drink intended for Hamlet. Even Horatio ends up with survivor’s guilt as a result of the play’s events.

What’s the Function of a Tragic Hero in Literature?

This is the question that most of the students come across while writing on the topic of a tragic hero. So in simple language, a tragic hero is the one who puts the tragedy in the story. His emotional downfall mesmerizes the audience and invokes the sense of pity and fear. Writers, therefore, use tragic heroes for the reason to make an impact on the audience.

There are many functions of tragic heroes in the stories, but it is the tragic flaws which makes them more relatable to readers. Conventional heroes never make a deep impact on the audience if we compare them to tragic heroes. Tragic heroes are not like typical heroes with cent percent perfection, and they have flaws. They look like commoners and able to gather the emotional response from the readers. Aristotle believed that [people could learn from the tragic ending of the tragic heroes.

So that is why a tragic hero is of utmost importance in making any tragedy a great one. Being a literature student you must be aware of these functions of a tragic hero.


So you can see in the above blog what exactly a tragic hero is. Let’s have a recall of the points we have discussed. So we have started with a simple, tragic hero definition. After that, I have explained you the key details of a tragic hero. Here I have started with Aristotle’s Tragic hero definition and then moved to the characteristics of a tragic hero. I have discussed the two main characteristics, one is virtuous, and another one is suffering a reversal of fortune. The third thing which I discussed in this blog is Modern tragic hero definition and features. After that, you can see the difference between Antihero and Byronic hero. Then I have moved on to examples of tragic heroes from the literature of all time. And I ended this blog with the functions of a tragic hero in Literature.

I hope you have liked my blog and the information that I have provided to you. If you find it good and helping one, then please provide your feedback and if you feel any rectification then also write on the comment section. The purpose is simply to help students and those who look out for online assignment help for writing the assignment. Thank you for reading.

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