Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy from his Poetics

Four Necessary Character Traits of the Tragic Hero

First and foremost, the character must be good.  If the character is not good, then the audience will not sympathize with him or her. 

The second necessary character trait is propriety – not only must he or she be good, but he or she must also possess virtues and qualities that are appropriate for a person in his or her position.  A king must act like a king. 

The character must be realistic.  The audience won’t buy into it if the character is fake

The character must be consistent.  Characters don’t change without reason. 

Necessary Elements of Tragedy

The Tragic Flaw (Hamartia) The main character must commit some mistake, usually through ignorance, a tragic flaw.  The flaw must be something done by the hero, not something imposed on him or her from the outside.  He or she doesn’t commit the error because he or she is evil.  The tragic flaw could be viewed as a strength, either in lesser magnitude or in other circumstances, but here it becomes a flaw. 

Tragic irony (Perepeteia) The error committed leads to the tragic event in an inevitable fashion.  A sense of fate, unstoppable motion, and sad resignation grips the audience. 

Reversal of Fortune (Catastrophe) The main characters must start in a high place in a society, or no fall will be possible.  The fall will be the result of his or her actions. 

Enlightened Resignation (Anagnorisissilent G) The main character reaches a point where he or she accepts what has happened and reaches a peace, although it is usually a painful peace.  The main character also reaches an acceptance that the fall was his or her fault. 

The Audience of a Tragedy

Catharsis The audience should feel both pity and fear.  They pity the main character because they like him or her.  They fear, because if this can happen to the greatest of us, what can happen to those of us who are so much lower?  If an audience member feels emotion that is powerful enough, it blows out the clogs in his or her emotional pipes.  It become a sort of psychological therapy, and the audience leaves the theatre happier and better adjusted than when they came in – drama, then, becomes a sort of therapy. 


Clarkson, S.V.  Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy”.  YouTube:SVClarkson.  (17:55)

See Also:

Cleberg, Steve.  Unit 2; Section 9 Ancient Greek Tragedy”.  YouTube:SCCDVP.  Somerset Community College Digital Video Program.  (6:50)

Aristotle's Poetics Talk”.  YouTube:Jumblemind.  (5:26).

Kemmis, S.  Aristotle’s Poetics Applied”.  YouTube:skemmis.  (1:25).