Shakespearean Concept of Tragic Hero

Also Read

      Turning to Shakespeare, as A. C. Bradley views, Shakespearean tragedy is story of exceptional calamity leading to death of a man in high estate:

“As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods
They kill us for their sports.” (King Lear)

      The hero is exceptional because, the texture of his mind is extraordinarily delicate, making him more sensitive to what is lumpish, crude and it is this that makes him suffer cruelly. Shakespeare’s hero struggles against circumstances which are partly his own creations and partly the workings of an external uncontrollable power, called fate or destiny and by which he shows his greatness of spirit. His heroes Macbeth and Richard III are wicked and morally weak men whose misfortune has a tragic appeal for us. Brutus, Othello and Hamlet are virtuous and just men and tragedy is caused by their nobility, not by hamartia. As a matter of fact, Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are placed in a situation in which their very virtue becomes their enemies and brings about their tragic fall.

      Macbeth is ambitious; Othello is jealous; Hamlet is given to reflection. They become tragic because of the circumstances which these heroes confront. Fate operates in their lives in the form of chances and co-incidences. Macbeth meets the witches at a psychological moment, and again, Duncan visits the castle at a fatal hour. The dropping of handkerchief by Desdemona has an important role to play in the rousing of frenzied jealousy in Othello which accounts for his tragedy. Othello suffers intense anguish of soul before and after the murder of Desdemona. Hamlet’s idealism becomes fatal in the circumstances which he has to face; Hamlet’s spiritual agony expresses itself through vacillation and procrastination. King Lear’s egotism cannot lead to his tragedy; he is led to a fatal action in a fit of frenzy. He makes the fatal dread division of his kingdom between his two ungrateful daughters.

      Moreover, Shaw’s Joan is a combative saint swift in action. The tragedy of Joan depends on others who did not recognize the reality in her nature, in her struggle and in her voices. Joan’s tragedy is Christ’s tragedy - “must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination”. So, there is a tragic sense in the sufferings and tortures of Becket and Saint Joan both of whom are tragic heroes. On the other hand, in Marlowe’s Edward - II, the king does not reach to this heroic height. He is not a tragic hero, because the misfortune that ultimately overtakes the hero is undeserved. There character is destiny. He is incompetent and irresponsible son and his downfall is natural and justified.

      Thus, in representing the failure of man, Shakespeare makes us vividly conscious of his glory. He shows his innate grandeur of spirit. In the conflict with necessity or circumstances, he is defeated ultimately but he embeds triumph art in the spiritual plan. We have to feel that their life is grand and noble, though their end is sad and painful. Otherwise, Aristotle’s assertion that a positively bad man cannot be the tragic hero is generally accepted. For instance, Iago cannot be the tragic hero but Macbeth can. Iago does not arouse pity and fear, Macbeth does. Shaw’s Saint Joan is tragic Heroine as are Robert and Anthony in Galsworthy’s Strife. However, the concept of tragic hero of the modern times maintains some of the basic ideas of Aristotle while adapting itself with changing times and locale.

Previous Post Next Post