What are characteristics of a tragic hero?

Expert Answers
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is best to go back to Aristotle, as a scholar who knew the ancients well and defined tragedy. Aristotle says:

"a [tragic hero is one ] who is neither a paragon of virtue and justice nor undergoes the change to misfortune through any real badness or wickedness but because of some mistake."

He also says:

"a [tragic hero is] one of those who stand in great repute and prosperity, like Oedipus and Thyestes: conspicuous men from families of that kind."

Based on these two quotes, we can make the following conclusions:

  • First, a tragic hero is usually of noble birth and is esteemed greatly in society. Of course, he or she is not perfect, but a cut or two above the rest.
  • Second, this figure has a tragic flaw that eventually leads to his or her downfall (harmatia).
  • Third, in the course of the tragedy, there is a sudden change (peripeteia) due the tragic flaw.
  • The audience must feel pity and fear for this character and also at times feel a catharsis at the end of the play in the resolution.

To make these points concrete, all you need to do is think of the characteristic and life of Oedipus and Antigone.


senioreeto | Student

The characteristics of a tragic hero include the following:
1.born into some form of nobility or wisdom (remember that in ancient times, nobility was the royal family; modernly, nobility could be social.)
2.has a personality trait that leads to his/her downfall 
3.should be neither good nor bad, but the audience should be able to identify with the character.
4.responsible for his/her own fate.
5.will fall from great heights or esteem when s/he realizes s/he has made an irreversible mistake.
6.will face a tragic death with honor.

Remember that a tragic hero doesn't have to meet ALL of these characteristics, but should meet most of them.