What is a tragic flaw? 

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A tragic flaw is the flaw, or problem, of a tragic hero.  The tragic flaw almost always leads to the hero’s destruction.

In a tragedy, something heart-wrenching happens.  Tragedy causes emotions in us.  It causes us to feel for the characters.

A tragic flaw is a flaw a tragic hero has.  Why does a tragic hero have to have a flaw?  The flaw is what leads to his downfall.  Consider Darth Vader.  Darth Vader began his story as a hero.  However, he was arrogant and ambitious.  Arrogance was his tragic flaw.  It led to his turning to the dark side and becoming the victim of his own tragedy.

Tragic flaws are personality traits that most of us have, but that cause big problems for our heroes.  In Shakespeare, there are many tragic heroes but I will speak of one of the most tragic to me: Macbeth.  Macbeth’s tragic flaw was similar to Vader’s: he was arrogant and too easily influenced by others.  Macbeth started out as a war hero and a good friend, but when he was not chosen as the king’s successor he got greedy.

[Aside.] The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step(55)
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.(60) (enotes etext p. 18)

In this quote, Macbeth is basically declaring his greed.  He wants to be king, and he will do anything.

Some common tragic flaws are greed, ambition, sensitivity, jealousy and human weakness.  In a tragedy, the hero’s tragic flaw will be his downfall, and lead to his death or destruction.  Sometimes, as in the case of Vader and Macbeth, the hero brings his entire kingdom or society down with him.


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rupakc | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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While the traditional popular rendering of hamartia as "tragic flaw" (or "fatal flaw") is broadly imprecise and often misleading, it cannot be ruled out that the term as Aristotle understood it could sometimes at least partially connote a failure of morals or character: Whether Aristotle regards the “flaw” as intellectual or moral has been hotly discussed. It may cover both senses. The hero must not deserve his misfortune, but he must cause it by making a fatal mistake, an error of judgement, which may well involve some imperfection of character but not such as to make us regard him as “morally responsible” for the disasters although they are nevertheless the consequences of the flaw in him, and his wrong decision at a crisis is the inevitable outcome of his character (cf. Aristot.

Aeschylus' The Persians provides a good example of one's character contributing to his hamartia. Xerxes' error would be his decision to invade Greece, as this invasion ends disastrously for him and Persia. Yet this error is inextricably bound up in Xerxes' chief character flaw: his hubris.

A morally tinged understanding of hamartia such as this can and has been applied to the protagonist of virtually every Greek tragedy. For example, Peter Struck comments on Oedipus the King.

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