What are the basic elements of characterization in tragedy? Elaborate with reference to Aristotle's Poetics.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The concept of hamartia is a major point in Aristotle's view of tragedy . Hamartia is a character's fatal flaw, the element of their personality which brings about their downfall by the end of the play. A character might be a noble or otherwise good person, but this fatal...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The concept of hamartia is a major point in Aristotle's view of tragedy. Hamartia is a character's fatal flaw, the element of their personality which brings about their downfall by the end of the play. A character might be a noble or otherwise good person, but this fatal flaw takes them down. Think Oedipus's "blindness" in Oedipus Rex or Hamlet's indecision in Hamlet.

Aristotle believed the tragic poet or dramatist should above all seek to evoke pity and terror. Pity, because we feel sorry for these characters, and terror, because we, just as flawed, could meet the same end should we not be careful. Characters therefore must be in their own way noble and sympathetic. Would we feel as badly for Oedipus were he a jerk, and not a caring husband and father and a good king? That he is a basically good, noble man makes his end all the more tragic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to produce pity and fear in the audience. Pity that a person so great could fall so far, and fear that we could meet the same end if we are not careful. In order to tragedy to have this effect, a certain type of character is needed.

For Aristotle, a tragic hero (the protagonist of a tragedy) needs to be an understandable, realistic character. Aristotle felt that drama should be an imitation of reality, and therefore the characters needed to be types that could exist in our world. The tragic hero was typical noble and upright, behaving appropriately for his/her situation and overall well-liked. However, the hero had a major character flaw (hamartia) which brings about his/her tragic end (typically death, especially in Shakespearean tragedy). If the character wasn't believable, the catharsis of the tragedy would not be achieved. According to Poetics, these character traits should be revealed through indirect characterization -- through the actions of the protagonist and his/her interactions with others. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team