West Chester University
~~ Aristotle's Tragic Hero ~~
Aristotle believed that art should be an "imitation" of life; it should hold a mirror up to life, be "truthful," or "true to life." He went on to say this about tragedy, in the excerpt in the Bedford text (Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature, 6/e, p. 1018).
He makes two points straight away:
If a play is complex rather than simple, it will challenge its viewers in some way. Perhaps Aristotle felt that "simple" plays were a waste of time, or an insult to his intelligence. When he says that tragedy should represent terrible and piteous events, he has something specific in mind, which he explains elsewhere in the Poetics. Why is it not a waste of time to view a play? Because the play, though its arousal of pity and fear, leads its audience to and experience he called "catharsis," a healthy calling forth and then purging of emotion, that "good cry" that makes you stronger somehow.
Aristotle, next, indicates the kind of hero who should serve as the main character, but first, he tells us the kind of hero who does not qualify for service as a "main character," or "tragic hero." He tells us that, for tragedy, we can't have
The appropriate tragic hero, then, is the character who sits between these extremes. He's not "preeminent in virtue and justice," but on the other hand, he isn't guilty of "vice or depravity," just some "mistake." He is a person of some importance, from a "highly renowned and prosperous place," a king, like Oedipus.
The best tragic plot, he concludes, moves the hero from prosperity to misfortune, occasioned not by depravity, but by some great mistake he makes.
In an editorial aside, Aristotle puts in a good word for the poet/dramatist Euripides, who has apparently taken some heat from his critics for writing too many unhappy endings. But Aristotle insists that this is how it should be. He praises Euripides (his most famous play is Medea), calling him the "most tragic of the poets," and insists that tragedy is superior to comedy.
Aristotle spends some time elaborating what he considers the essential qualities of the tragic hero. He explains that "with regard to the characters there are four things to aim at":
Oedipus, as a character, meets Aristotle's requirements very well:
ONE FINAL NOTE
ARISOTLE AND OEDIPUS
What a coincidence
that Oedipus happens to fit each and every description that Aristotle offers.
Is it a coincidence? Not at all. In fact, this play served as Aristotle's model
for what constitutes great tragedy. His theory is retrofitted to incorporate
every aspect of Sophocles' play. The artist went there intuitively; the critic
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