Do you ever get so connected to a character that it almost physically hurts when the character gets killed off? For me, it happens all the time when I watch Game of Thrones.
You don’t have to watch an HBO series to get this reaction—characters in books can lead to the same feelings. Whether on screen or in text, many of these characters are what’s known as tragic heroes.
Tragic heroes are the types of characters you really bond with and that you see making mistakes that lead to their death, loneliness, despair, or some other kind of undoing.
Don’t worry if it isn’t all completely clear right now … I’ll explain in more detail what makes a character “tragic” and give you some tragic hero examples you can use as inspiration in your own essay.
What Is a Tragic Hero?
Okay, so you might be wondering what a tragic hero is exactly. The name is a pretty good clue—a hero or protagonist that is, in some way, tragic. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
A tragic hero is a character, usually the main character, who makes a mistake in judgment that ultimately leads to his or her undoing.
Aristotle had a lot to say on the subject of tragic heroes, including certain characteristics their stories possess. Some of these characteristics include some scary-looking Greek words (thanks, Aristotle), but here’s a basic breakdown of what they mean.
- Hamartia: The tragic flaw that leads to the hero’s demise or downfall.
- Hubris: When the hero disrespects the natural order because of his or her own pride.
- Peripeteia: When the hero experiences a reversal of fate.
- Anagnorisis: When the hero makes an important discovery.
- Nemesis: An unavoidable situation the hero is in, typically related to hubris.
- Catharsis: The pity, sadness, or fear the audience feels toward the hero after his or her downfall.
The main two qualities about tragic heroes, though, is that they are just like you and me and that they suffer more than they deserve to.
This is critical to the response writers want to evoke from readers. By making tragic heroes generally neutral on the moral scale, it makes them more relatable, which makes readers upset when they finally die or suffer some other tragic fate.
Furthermore, they must suffer more than they should. This really gets the pity party going in the audience.
Lastly, tragic heroes are undone by their own actions or flaws. They understand this by the end of the play or novel. What’s more, they couldn’t have helped what had happened because their flaw—pride, love, etc.—isn’t something they could control.
How to Choose Your Own Tragic Hero Examples
Now that you’re feeling a little more sure about what a tragic hero is, it’s time to start looking for tragic heroes in the literature you’re reading.
Probably the easiest place you’re going to find a tragic hero (but maybe not the easiest to read about) are from William Shakespeare. He’s kind of the king of tragic heroes.
Pretty much any tragedy he wrote has one, and the tragic hero is typically a title character—Romeo, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth … the list goes on. (I’ll give more details about a couple of these later.)
But Shakespeare wasn’t the first, last, or only author to use this type of character in literature. So how do you find tragic hero examples of your own?
First, pick a tragedy. Now, it doesn’t necessarily have to be labeled as a tragedy. You can choose from epic poems, young adult novels, and even children’s books. The point is that something tragic happens to one of the characters. They don’t have to die—they just have to suffer.
Secondly, as you are reading, pay attention to your connection to the character.
- Can you relate to him or her?
- Does he or she have human flaws?
- Do you feel bad about his or her downfall?
Answering yes to all of these questions is a pretty clear sign you have a tragic hero on your hands.
Lastly, think about the reason for the character’s downfall. Even if it’s technically by the hand of someone else, if it can be traced back to the flaw of the hero, it makes the situation tragic.
- Uncle Ben from Spiderman, for example, is not a tragic hero. He died in a random act of violence, not because of any flaw he possessed.
- Cinna from The Hunger Games, on the other hand, was killed by the Capitol, but because of his own pride and rebellious nature. And all the readers felt awful about it. He’s not a main character, but I’d argue that he’s a tragic hero.
6 Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay
Want a little bit of help getting started? Here are a few tragic hero examples I was able to find. First, let’s address two from the king of tragic heroes himself—Mister Bill Shakespeare.
1. Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his indecisiveness and obsession. He’s a smart guy, but he gets stuck in his head a lot. How does his indecisiveness and obsession lead to his downfall?
Well … he has to avenge the death of his father but doesn’t act quickly. Instead, he remains indecisive about whether his uncle, Claudius, was the murderer.
Even after he discovers his uncle killed his father, he can’t decide on how to enact his revenge and obsesses over it. Because he wastes all of his time trying to decide what to do, his uncle is able to poison Hamlet’s drink.
Hamlet’s mother drinks it by mistake and dies, after which Hamlet overcomes his flaw, kills Claudius, and promptly dies.
2. Romeo from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Romeo is undone by his heads-over-heels, hyper-emotional love for Juliet. While love itself is not a tragic flaw, a love so fast and heavy is.
Romeo’s obsessive love is what causes him to kill himself at the thought of Juliet being dead (if he had held out another hour or two, he would’ve been fine). And inadvertently, it’s Romeo’s suicide that causes Juliet’s death.
I could write a whole post about Shakespearean tragic heroes, but how about tragic hero examples from some different authors?
3. Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero because he dies chasing an ideal that will never come true.
Unlike Romeo, Gatsby is completely idealistic in his love for Daisy—he’ll do anything for her, but she wouldn’t do the same for him. It’s not her fault, though. Gatsby is so busy reaching for an ideal that he’s never satisfied.
He surrounds himself with money and parties even though he doesn’t take any real pleasure from them. In fact, he says it’s all for Daisy.
When he finally gets the girl, he still isn’t satisfied. But he takes the blame for Daisy hitting Myrtle with a car and gets shot because of it.
4. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Severus Snape, I have to admit, is a tragic hero according to many readers, but others might not think so. That’s the point of your essay though, right? To prove a character is a tragic hero.
So it doesn’t matter if some people say Snape isn’t, as long as you can back your writing up with evidence that he is.
Spoiler alert: If you aren’t up to speed on this series, you might want to skip the next paragraph.
Snape’s flaw is his undying love for Lily—even after she’s long gone. He watches after Harry even though he really doesn’t like him and serves as a double agent for Dumbledore against Voldemort (who killed Lily).
It’s this last relationship that is his undoing. He dies trying to protect Lily’s only son while working against her murderer.
5. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Peter Pan as a Disney character is a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. But literarily speaking, he’s a tragic hero. His flaw is his fear of growing up or getting old.
It’s because of this flaw that he ends up alone—everyone grew up and moved on except for him. He forgets everything within a very short time, which, honestly, makes the whole story even sadder.
6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree is maybe the first tragic hero example many of us ever read. The Tree’s flaw is that it loves the boy more than itself. It gives and gives and gives different parts of itself over the years until there’s nothing left but a stump in the ground.
The Tree’s love and giving nature literally whittles it down to almost nothing.
Need some more inspiration, check out these tragic hero essay examples:
Different Approaches You Can Take With Your Essay
There are lots of ways you can approach your essay, but before you get too creative, check out the assignment instructions first. If your instructor wants you to write a five-paragraph essay, that’s what you need to do.
However, if you have more creative leeway, try thinking outside the box a little bit. You could write an alternate history. Think and write about what would have happened if the character had overcome a tragic flaw sooner.
Another option is writing your essay like a mock interview with the character explaining his or her actions, the reason for taking those actions, whether he or she would’ve done anything differently.
There are a number of different angles you could take with your essay, so use your imagination. If you’re having second thoughts about your approach, you can have the Kibin editors look it over. They’ll make sure your essay doesn’t end up as a tragedy.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Essay/Term paper: King lear: lear the tragic hero
Essay, term paper, research paper: King Lear
See all college papers and term papers on King Lear
Need a different (custom) essay on King Lear? Buy a custom essay on King Lear
Need a custom research paper on King Lear? Click here to buy a custom term paper.
King Lear: Lear The Tragic Hero
The definition of tragedy in the Oxford dictionary is, "drama of
elevated theme and diction and with unhappy ending; sad event, serious accident,
calamity." However, the application of this terminology in Shakespearean
Tragedy is more expressive. Tragedy does not only mean death or calamity, but
in fact, it refers to a series of steps which leads to the downfall of the
tragic hero and eventually to his tragic death. Lear, the main character in
King Lear was affirmed as the tragic hero because the play meets all the
requirements of a tragedy. In order for a character to be qualified as a tragic
hero, he must be in a high status on the social chain and the hero also
possesses a tragic flaw which initiates the tragedy. The fall of the hero is
not felt by him alone but creates a chain reaction which affects everyone
around him. Besides, the hero must experience suffering and calamity slowly
which would contrast his happier times. The suffering and calamity
instantaneously caused chaos in his life and eventually leads to his death.
Finally, the sense of fear and pity to the tragic hero must appear in the play
as well. This makes men scared of blindness to truths which prevents them from
knowing when fortune or something else would happen on them.
Lear, the king of England would be the tragic hero because he held the
highest position in the social chain at the very beginning of the play. His
social position gave him pride as he remarked himself as "Jupiter" and "Apollo".
Lear out of pride and anger has banished Cordelia and Kent and divided his
Kingdom in halves to Goneril and Regan. Lear's hamartia which is his
obstinate pride and anger overrides his judgment, thus, prevents him to see the
true faces of people. As in Act One, although Cordelia said "nothing", she
really means everything she loves to his father. However, Lear only believed
in the beautiful words said by Regan and Goneril. Although Kent, his loyal
advisor begged Lear to see closer to the true faces of his daughters, he ignored
him and became even more angry because Kent hurt Lear's pride by disobeying his
order to stay out of his and Cordelia's way Lear had already warned him, "The
bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft." ( I, I, 145). Kent still
disobeys Lear and hurts his pride further as he said, "Now by Apollo, King,
thos swearest thy gods in vain.". Finally, Kent is banished. Because of the
flaw of pride, Lear has initiated the tragedy by perturbing the order in the
chain of being as he gives up his thrown, divides the kingdom and banishes his
loyalist servant and loveliest daughter.
The downfall of Lear is not just the suffering of him alone but the
suffering of everyone down the chain of being. For instance, Lear's pride and
anger caused Cordelia and Kent to be banished, and Gloucester loses his
position and eyes. Everything that happened to these characters are in a chain
of reaction and affected by Lear's tragic flaw. If Lear did not lack of
personal insight and if he did not have such an obstinate pride, he would not
have banished Cordelia and Kent, then Goneril and Regan would not be able to
conspire against Lear. Without the plot of Goneril and Regan, Gloucester would
not have been betrayed by Edmund and lose his eyes and status due to the charge
of treason. Moreover, the chain of reaction was continuous until the lowest
person in the society is affected; the fool, which is the entertainer, was
kicked out into the storm with Lear by Goneril because he was smart enough to
tell the truth of Lear's blindness.
" Why, after I have cut the egg I' the middle and eat
up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou
clovest thy crown I' the middle and gavest away both parts,
thou borest thine ass on thy back o'er the dirt. Thou hadst
little wit in thy bals crown when thou gavest thy golden one
away." ( Fool, I, iv, 155-160)
Because Goneril realized the wit of the fool who could see through the nature
clearly, she kicked him out together with Lear. " You sir, more knave than
fool, after your master!" ( I, iv, 312)
Lear's exceptional suffering and calamity after his realization of his
true character shows the quality of a tragic hero. Due to his flaw, he gave
the two daughters a chance to conspire against him and he was finally thrown
out of his daughters home and left with a fool, a servant and a beggar. When
Lear was left alone in the storm, he started to lose his sanity and realize his
fault to banish Cordelia and Kent. Before the thrown out of Regan's home,
Lear suffered for shelter food and clothes as he said, "On my knees I beg that
you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food." (II, iv, 155) In the storm, he
suffered from his growing madness because he could not bear the treatment of
his two daughters. He began to realize the true faces of his daughters and did
not want to see them again, as he said,
"I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad.
I will not trouble thee, my child; farewell.
Well no more meet, no more see one another.."
( II, iv, 218-220)
Further more, as Lear moved all over the place to Dover, he suffered from rest
as Kent and Gloucester said,
"Now, good my lord, lie here and rest awhile."
( Kent, III, vi, 81)
Trouble him not, his wits are gone."
( Kent, III, vi, 86)
"Good Friend. I prithee take him in thy arms
I have o'er heard a plot of death upon him, There
is a little ready; lay him in it and drive
toward Dover, friend, where thou shalt med
both welcome and protection. "
( Gloucester, III, vi, 87-91)
The madness in Lear's mind grew more serious in his restless journey.
Unfortunately, the calamity continued instantaneously. He then suffered from
the death of his youngest daughter Cordelia which broke his heart into pieces,
"I might have saved her, now she's gone forever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little Ha! What is't
thou sayest? Her voice was ever soft, gentle,
and low an excellent thing in woman."
( Lear, V, iii, 270-273)
These sufferings contrast the happier times at the beginning of the play when
Lear was still the King of England. For instance, his being welcomed and
praised by Goneril and Regan which contrasted to his being thrown out of their
homes. Also, Lear's pride as a "Jupiter" contrasted an "old man" begging for
shelter, food and clothes. In addition, the love from Cordelia when she was
alive contrasted the death of Cordelia who could love Lear no longer.
As the play moved on, the pain and suffering accumulated in Lear's heart
eventually tore down his strength and pride. Lear was no longer a strong,
haughty, and prideful king as he was in the beginning of the play. Instead, he
became a weak, modest, and confused old man. As we can see at the beginning,
he expressed himself as the "Jupiter" and "Apollo". However, at the end of
the play, he expressed himself as "a very foolish fond old man." (4.7 L60) The
realization of Lear's true quality of being foolish and hubris with a lack of
personal insight, in addition to the death of Cordelia which broke his heart,
made him lose his sanity completely and eventually lead to his death. Just
before he dies as a man in pain, he said,
"And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou it come
no more, never, never, never, never!" ( V, iii, 305-308)
The death of Lear is most apparent to Shakespearean Tragedy and further
reinforces his quality of a tragic hero.
In order to certify a play as a tragedy, the feeling of fear and pity to
the hero must appear in the play. The feeling of pity to Lear was apparent
when he was in the storm raging against the gods. He was betrayed and thrown
out by the daughters and which he thought he did not deserve this cruel
treatment. As seen in the quote,
"I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you Kingdom, called you children
you owe me no subscription. Then let fall
your horrible please..." ( Lear, III, ii, 15-20)
Here, the feeling of fear appears as
well because in a short period of time, Lear fell from the position of King to
a normal peasant. His weak, unconfident and mad mind overrules his strong,
prideful and sane character. However, in looking deep down, the real fear
implied here is, no matter how great things appear now; men do not hold them
long and you can sink to the very bottom just as fast as Lear fell from the top
of the chain to the lowest.
In Shakespeare's tragic play King Lear, Lear the main character
demonstrated all the necessary requirements of being a tragic hero. His high
social status nourishes his hamartia which is hubris, and the tragedy is
initiated by the banishment of Kent and Cordelia. Lear's pride not only
altered his live alone, instead, it affected everyone around him down to the
bottom of the social chain. Moreover, the realization of his true quality,
pains and sufferings eventually leads to his tragic death which the most obvious
element in a tragedy. Because Lear fulfills the "formula" of Shakespearean
Tragedy, he could be firmly proven as tragic hero in the play.
Other sample model essays:
King Lear / King Lear: Consequences Of One Man's Decisions
King Lear: Consequences of One Man's Decisions Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear is a detailed description of the consequences of one man's decisions. This fictitious man is Lear, King of...
King Lear / King Lear: Rejection
King Lear: Rejection An important idea present in William Shakespeare's " King Lear " is rejection and the role this rejection plays in the experiences of the involved characters. Th...
King Lear / King Lear: Sense Of Renewal
King Lear: Sense of Renewal Throughout Shakespeare's King Lear, there is a sense of renewal, or as L.C. Knights puts it, "affirmation in spite of everything," in the play. These af...
King Lear / King Lear: Suffering
King Lear: Suffering Suffering takes on many appearances, depending on how it is received. In King Lear, suffering was very painful to two people, and the giver wasn't necessarily an enemy...
King Lear / King Lear: Searching For Vision
King Lear: Searching for Vision Through the course of the play, King Lear goes through a process of attaining self-knowledge, or true vision of one's self and the world. With this k...
Macbeth / Macbeth: Lady Macbeth And Evil
Macbeth: Lady Macbeth and Evil In a play that is abundant in evil occurrences, Lady Macbeth is the overriding source of evil in the first act. Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill Dunc...
Macbeth / Macbeth: Letter From Lady Macbeth To Macbeth
Macbeth: Letter From Lady Macbeth To Macbeth Matthew Casperon Dearest husband, These last few months have been sorry ones. The actions you and I have undertaken have played on my consc...
Macbeth / Macbeth: Lady MacBeth
Macbeth: Lady MacBeth Lady MacBeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest and most intriguing female characters. She is evil, seductive, and witch-like all at the same time. However, during the...
Hamlet / Hamlet: Laertes An Important Character In Play
Hamlet: Laertes An Important Character In Play Though seeming to simply be a minor character, Laertes is of great importance in the play, Hamlet, and much more than one would initially beli...
King Lear / King Lear: The Use Of Letters
King Lear: The Use of Letters William Shakespeare used letters as a dramatic device to reveal the characters' loyalty and betrayal in his play King Lear. The purpose of the letter ...