What is a tragic flaw? The conception of TRAGIC FLAW
What is a tragic flaw?
The Greek term HAMARTIA, Or Tragic Flaw stands for a defect in the character of the protagonist that causes his eventual ruin. During the period when TRAGEDY Was synonymous with RITUALS, the audience demanded/needed no separate apprehension of the Fall of the Protagonist. The cause behind this is very simple- The ceremony demanded his fall. The growth of the idea, that Fate or Destiny plays the pivotal role in Man's sufferings, reflects the phase of transitions that ultimately evolved into the PROBLEM PLAY from the earliest RITUAL. We all know that Aristotle took for his ideals the tragedies of /Eschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. But, we find Aristotle to deviate from his sources and to uphold original point of view regarding the construction of tragedy. To illustrate this point, we can mention of Eschylus' Prometheus Bound where Destiny is identified with the will of God. In this play, gods cause the sufferings of the hero and feel pleasure due to his wretchedness. Aristotle expounds the first conception of tragic flaw in his Poetics. But critics never hold with the definition of Hamartia as well as many other commentaries of Aristotle.
In his version, a tragic hero must be a man better than average a noble man, but. possessing a defect also. A tragic hero is the intermediate kind of personage, who cannot keep himself right and virtuous ever. And his misfortune is thrust upon him by himself; but he must be found to commit no vice or immoral activity. His ruin will be caused due to some erroneous judgement taken by him. At the same time he would be no depraved person. To apprehend the Aristotelian explanation of TRAGIC HERO, one should be keenly attentive. Aristotle is no believer in Tragedy of Fate; still, he does not claim that one protagonist suffers as a sequel to some criminal act committed by him. His theory is constituted of-
Two discordant elements Nobility and an inborn trend towards committing error. So, an element of paradox must be felt in great tragic characters.
In brief, it can be said that in Aristotle's version, the tragic flaw works as a vice. And the ultimate fall of the protagonist due to his inborn pride (or, HAMARTIA) insinuates at the folly of adopting the path of vice. This is the view of the later critics who discard the idea of paradox, and shatter the “Aristotelian Balance.”
The Gradual Changes in the Idea of Tragic Flaw
Sir Philip Sidney opines that a tragedy teaches kings not to become tyrannical as well as suggests the tyrannic monarchs to restrain themselves. In the classical period Euripides is found to believe in this idea. In the Roman period Seneca the Younger was a firm believer of this idea. There is no denying the fact that such type of concept regarding tragedy has become denigrating to tragedy itself during the Hellenistic and late Roman period. In Seneca's view, the fall of the hero is too well-deserving and inevitable; so no trace of pity and fear is aroused among his audience.
In the Middle Ages, tragedy turns to be a dead form of art.
The resurrection of tragedy happens in England with the Mediaeval Religious Dramas. These are also ritualistic as the Greek dramas had been. Boccaccio, Chaucer and Lydgate express the view, that Destiny plays the lead role in a man's Fall.
Christianity and Humanism play the main role in moulding the Sixteenth Century theory of literature. The moral purpose of literature and the didactic theory of tragedy are found to persist during this period. This trend is found to sustain until the late Eighteenth Century. Neo-Classic drama is precisely didactic. In this context, it will be worthwhile to mention that according to some critics the Aristotelian theory of drama is not applicable to Shakespearean tragedies.
The Romantics shunned the Neo-Classic spirit and their dramas show the overtones of myths. Goethe's Dr. Faustus is an authentic example of a balanced presentation of nobility and error; and on the other hand of myth and morality. The simple, moral explanation of the tragic flaw has been discarded by the Modern dramatists. Secondly, the mythic conception of tragic- root has been employed by Synge and Yeats. Thus, both the groups of Modern Tragedy writers attempt to solve the paradox.
According to their version, TRAGIC FLAW is an essential factor for a good tragedy that should be used cautiously to have the tragic pleasure unimpaired. So, Aristotle's concept of Tragic Hero possessing Tragic Flaw has changed considerably in modern times. In the Social Tragedies of modern age the tragic flaw resides actually in the milieu or in the Society as a whole, than in the hero; and the hero is liable to be victim of external circumstances. Common man is now treated to be the protagonist of Tragedy with the rise of Democracy. The dramas of John Galsworthy can vouch for this claim.