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Hamartia – definition, meaning and examples

Hamartia

Hamartia is also knows as tragic flaw. This word comes from the Greek word hamartanein which means “to err”. The hero of the drama is superior in all respects except in one fatal defect in character. That shortcoming in the hero causes his downfall, or his tragedy. Aristotle talks about Hamartia in his work Poetics. Aristotle holds the hero from a noble family with a mature demeanor whose downfall is brought about by some ‘error of judgment’. This error or flaw of judgment is called as hamartia. In a play this comes into effect when the tragic hero tries to accomplish something but ends up doing exactly the opposite thing because of the error of judgment.

Aristotle

Examples of Hamartia

Oedipus

The tragic flaw or hamartia of Oedipus is the knowledge of his own birth and the information about his parents. Or, simply put, knowing his own origins. Oedipus’s parents thought that they can escape form the prophecy of the gods. The prophesy predicted that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Unknowingly, Oedipus ended up killing his father and marrying his mother. Again, this means that Oedipus did not know or tried to know about himself. When he became the king more people began to believe that Oedipus is guilty but Oedipus himself did not know it. This lack of self-awareness is the tragic flaw of Oedipus.

Achilles

The legendary warrior from Greek mythology, Achilles is another example of hamartia. When Achilles was little his mother took him to river Styx and dipped him in this water by holding him in ankle. All his body became strong and invincible except the ankle as it that part of the body was covered by the hands of his mother. This ankle became the cause of his death. The ankle is thus known as the hamartia or the ‘tragic flaw’ of Achilles.

Macbeth of William Shakespeare

Ambition is ‘tragic flaw’ or hamartiain the character of Macbeth. Macbeth takes ambition as something virtuous and consequently he suffers from it. In the play, he gets ambitious by the words of the witches who predict that he will become the King of Scotland. He becomes the King. His ambition further leads him to kill innocent people and consequently he also get killed by Mac Duff.

Othello of William Shakespeare

Jealousy is the hamartia or fatal ‘tragic flaw’ in the character of Othello by Shakespeare. Iago constantly venomous words into the ears of Othello. Othello gets jealousy towards his beautiful wife Desdemona and his jealousy he kills her. When Othello realizes the innocence of Desdemona, and the depth of his crime, he commits suicide.

Hamlet of William Shakespeare

Procrastination is the hamartia or the tragic flaw of Hamlet. He is unable to act on impulse or take a sudden decision. He always postpones his revenge. On the contrary, he quickly makes decisions that require a lot of contemplation. His lack of impulsiveness or delay in action is his tragic flaw.

King Lear of William Shakespeare

The tragic flaw or hamartia of King Lear is ‘pride’ or ‘egotism’. He is not able to properly evaluate the love of his daughters. Further he let himself blinded by the sycophancy of his daughters.

Doctor Faustus of Christopher Marlow

The ambitious nature of Doctor Faustus is the hmartia or the tragic flaw of him. Faustus wishes to possess ultimate power and worldly pleasures. For that he sells his soul to Lucifer through a contract. When the earthly life of Doctor Faustus comes ticks to completion, he realizes his fatal mistake. The devil comes and take his to Hell. The fall of Doctor Faustus happen because of his over-ambitious nature.

Useful links on hamartia and Aristotle

Wikipedia

Ohio University

Hamartia in Hamlet

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