Aristotle’s Concept of Tragic Hero in Poetics

Idealized Imitation of Objects in Tragedy: Poetry is one form of imitation. The objects of poetic imitation may be either better than actual life, of inferior quality to real life, or similar to what they are in real life. Aristotle differentiates between comedy and tragedy. He says that tragedy contains the imitation of men as superior as they are in real life. Aristotle’s Concept of a Tragic Hero states that tragedy introduces a character in a flawless form.

The tragic poet characterizes life as it might be, not as it essentially is. The characters are superior to what we are. It is imperative to comprehend that idealization does not mean that the characters are good in a firm moral sense. It simply means that the characters live a more comprehensive and penetrating life than the real men and women dare to in the real world.

This is what makes the characters in a tragedy amazing, as they are in a higher place than usual men and women. In Poetics Aristotle puts forward a number of characteristics of the ideal tragic hero. But the concept has proved to be pretty debatable. Different critics have inferred them in a different manners.

Main Features of the Tragic Hero || Characteristics of a Tragic Hero

Aristotle declares about dramatic characters and the four points to treat these characters.  The four points are:

  • The characters must be good
  • The characters should be appropriate
  • The characters should be true to life (close to reality)
  • The characters should be consistent

Goodness: Aristotle’s Concept of Tragic Hero

The first characteristic claimed by Aristotle has collided with many critics as somewhat strange and astonishing. But it is necessary to Aristotle’s theory because it is the basis for the basic pity in the reader or audience, without which tragic emotions cannot be aroused, or the tragic pleasure carried. A character is supposed to be ‘good’ if his words and actions expose a good purpose behind them. This is regardless of the class to which he belongs.

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Aristotle believed women to be substandard (and classified them with slaves), but even women, if introduced in tragedy, should be shown to have some good in them. Aristotle centered his statements on a supposition that his audiences have a ‘normally balanced moral attitude. Sympathy is compulsory as it is the very basis of the whole tragic pleasure. The bad man does arouse pity in us if he falls from gladness to wretchedness.

According to Aristotle, completely wicked characters have no place in tragedy. But we must think of that, we can see that Aristotle tolerates the “bad” or wicked man in a tragedy if he is essential to the plot. He speaks that he would not permit “depravity of character” when it is not essential and no use is made of it.

Aristotle apprehends that ‘bad’ characters may be essential in some tragedies. But this evilness may happen merely in so far as the main action requires it. The characters introducing the main actors are good. However, bad characters may arise in the process of recognizing this action.

Aristotle’s good man is good in so far as he needs definite, positive good ends, and works towards accomplishing those ends.  ‘Good’ as a term used by Aristotle indicates something necessarily different from what we mean by it today.

Appropriateness: Aristotle’s Concept of Tragic Hero

“Appropriateness” is the next vital quality of a character. The term “Appropriateness” has also been interpreted differently according to different people. Yet this does not mean that Aristotle meant characters to be ordinary types and not individuals. By this Aristotle meant that the characters should be appropriate to their particular age, profession, class, sex, or status. But they are individuals at the same time, for they are ‘men in action’ as represented in tragedy.

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The actions of people of the same type can, and do differ: in this their individuality. The choice made by them in the crucial situation indicates their particular individuality.

Another aspect of appropriateness has been pointed out b is to be appropriate. It has been remarked that Aristotle could have or traditional portrait of himself. For instance, Ulysses must be characterized as he has been historically presented. Any character taken from a myth or traditional story must be true to what he has been presented as in that myth or story.

Apparently, if Aristotle meant this, he had the practice of the Greek dramatists in mind who took their characters from traditional sources like myth and history. It is thus that Clytemnestra cannot be represented as gentle or Ulysses as foolish.

Likeness: Aristotle’s Concept of Tragic Hero

The third essential is that of likeness. Aristotle gives no example to illustrate his meaning in this context. Thus it is slightly difficult to assess what exactly he means by the term. If one interprets the term as likeness to the ‘original’ in the sense of how the painter is true to the original, it would mean being true to the personage in history, or legend. This would reduce the freedom of the creative artist. It would be more acceptable to interpret the term as “true to life”-that the character must be true to life.

The likeness to life as we know of it is necessary, for it is only then that we can identify ourselves with the characters. If we do not see the character as we see ourselves, the tragic emotions of pity and fear become irrelevant. We see that this likeness to life precludes the characters from being either too good or utterly depraved. The tragic character has thus to be a normal person, or “of an intermediate sort”. Only then he will be convincing.

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One might argue here that Aristotle is contradicting himself, for he also says that tragedy represents characters better than our selves. But this is not necessarily a contradiction. The action of tragedy, we patterned unity-and thus, has a more clearly defined end than a must also be modified from the commonplace norm of real life.

Consistency: Aristotle’s Concept of Tragic Hero

The fourth essential with regard to character is Aristotle’s concept of the effect of tragedy is that it must be consistent. This is a valid point that cannot be disputed. The character must be seen as a whole, and consistent with what he is presented as from beginning to end. There is to be uniformity in behavior unless there is a proper motivation for any deviation. Any development in character has to take place according to intelligible principles, i.e., logically.

There has to be probability or necessity in the character’s actions and words. Aristotle allows for waywardness by saying that if the character is to be shown as being an inconsistent one, he should be consistently inconsistent. The character, in other words, should act and seem to think in a manner that we can logically expect from that particular individual.

This is similar to Aristotle’s contention of the plot being a causally related whole. The character’s actions and words should be appropriate to what he is represented to be, as well as to the situation in which he is placed.

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