Humanity is inhumane. As a race we view ourselves as the rulers of a kingdom that we have created, abiding to the rules we have created, living the way of life we have created. The first world is blind, ignoring and pitying those below them and living a way of life that numbs human emotion, living a life devoid of anything that challenges our reaction to pain. Tragedy evokes that pain, stories of loss and a journey from a place of security and respect to the pits of our imaginations where only the worst scenarios are kept are another thing we have created. In order to bear the numb, nothingness of daily life squishing emotions into our stomachs the action of experiencing someone else pain and emotion can be a trigger. Greek poet and philosopher Aristotle identified this for us, the character of the tragic hero is one we watch in plays, movies, read in books is one whose journey is emotionally charged with that of humanity. We experience these stories in texts like Baz Luhrmann’s film interpretation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘King Lear’ by Shakespeare, ‘Gladiator’ directed by Ridley Scott and ‘Antigone’ by Sophocles, all telling a tale of a tragic hero brought to their end because of their pure humanity. These texts evoke a catharsis within the viewer by giving a story of a character who falls from grace, and ultimately faces an end that is greater than deserved, this is the ‘tragic hero’. Throughout all four texts this tragic hero goes on a journey of justice, for love, for hate, for god, for the people. Exploration of the mind and the humanity that we all possess, a hamartia so great that all the money in the world couldn’t help.
Justice within the governmental system has long been corrupt, as seen in Sophocles’s ‘Antigone’ as Creon, a king by circumstance battles with his pride in conjunction with the state senate and his power as king. The relationship between Creon and his Niece Antigone is one changed by Creon’s inability to see past his pride, his hamartia as described by Aristotle. Hamartia: “A fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine” often seen as excessive pride, specifically seen in Antigone as his pride of upholding the law in a vicious and biding way. Pride is a thing that we have all dented now and then, a part of the brain that holds the way we view how others see us, the consciousness of one’s dignity. The way that Creon’s Pride has such a firm grip upon his ability to change his mind when challenged to expand his firm grip upon the law and circumstance surrounding it, and see others views upon a matter, is how this hamartia leads him to his downfall. A king by Default, his excessive pride takes away his ability to be rational and work with his senate or anyone around him to deal with his problems with Antigone, without rationality we see him make decisions that are inhumane and beastly. But because of this pride that Creon harbours within himself, the idea that even though his place in the chain of being is at the very top of mortals, he still views himself as greater than Gods. The stubborn and malicious way that Creon acts out the law in order to show the city of Thebes that even though he is a new king, the law shall not be compromised in any circumstance. Because of Antigone’s own stubborn yet passionate stance on whatever Creon decides to do to her, his anger in action only reiterates the viewers opinion of his tyranny. A tragic heroes humanity is the reason we create and watch these characters, their humanity stems from the undeniable humanity of their writers and the demand in texts that are truthful. Tiresome of fairytales and happy endings these texts serve as I.V drips of catharsis to the viewer, Creon’s humanity lies within his pride, his inability to let go of how he wants the world to view him as he views himself: always right.
Shakespeare’s creation of King Lear and his journey of falling from grace is a journey well known. The tragic hero’s fate is one and the same in nearly all tragedies, the similarities between King Lear and King Creon in Antigone are apparent. Excessive pride rules both of their lives, brings both of them to their fate, both Kings with a penchant for being right. Lear’s life is a continuum of falsehood, two ‘loving’ daughters with knives driven deep into his back with no knowledge of the lies, one daughter with a love too pure to elaborate upon for her monetary gain. A story of lies and mistrust, King Lear is an ultimate execution of a man’s demise due to his upbringing and all that it brought upon him, the false knowledge of being entitled to everything and anything, pride that comes with privilege is his demise. The world of Lear is one where what he says, goes, a dictatorship of a kingdom. Life as King comes with the burden of being King, the care and charge of all that reside and rely upon the kingship and Kingdom but it is apparent that Lear has no interest in the politics of being such a leader. Lear’s interest in his role as King only runs deep enough to touch the superficial, no interest in the responsibility. When two Kings of such similarity like Creon and Lear are placed side by side we see how a tragic hero’s hamartia has such impact upon the viewer. The life of a King full of privilege and wealth is struck down by no other reason but humanity, a flaw tied up umong vines of perfected storylines and characters. The Kings have nobody to blame but themselves, their own humanity and mistreatment of the people around them. Lear’s journey ends with a stormy death alongside his beloved daughter and Creon’s ends with life without both his son and wife who took their own lives for fear of heartbreak being too much to bear. Sanity is in question when observing Lear’s deterioration of mind, body and soul, he descends into insanity, manic madness, waking up to the perils of his people and the truth of his kingdom. The truth that nobodies life is like his, that his people are hurting and hungry “who is it that can tell me who I am” he mutters away to those around him questioning his meaning, questioning those around him and also himself. Creon’s battle with his senate and state mirrors Lear’s complete dismissal of his senate, his closest advisor Kent, their pride completely overhauling the law and all the comes with it.
A hamartia is put in plain sight for a reason, to give the viewer of tragedy a reason to connect back to their humanity, their emotions. ‘Gladiator’ directed by Ridley Scott explores the impact of pride upon mortals just as King Lear did. Maximus, a general of the Caesars army and most well respected and looked up to man in Rome, closer to the Caesar than even his own son, faces his downfall due to his pride, his idea of what is right. The pride held within Maximus is one not many see, seeing the death of his family, the death of justice in rome as he is cast down to the pits of society. Just as Lear experiences as he is cast out by his family and falls one step closer to the pits of the slums, Maximus spends his journey going with the flow, carrying out his life as though the God’s would have wanted him to give up his will because of struggle. Maximus’s cowardice and ability to stand by as Commodus, the Caesars son, corrupt and destroy the city of Rome that his father so deeply trusted with Maximus. Lear and Maximus are alike in a way that they do not test the waters, struggle with the boundaries of authority and rebellion. They both allow their fates to happen, neither makes a move to change their own lives, rather waiting for someone else to do it for them. “Brothers, what we do in life echoes through eternity” the words of Maximus as he leads thousands of men to their deaths, to their victory, his advice to others is the same to himself, even if he only finds the way to do it when it is too late. The element of timing is apparent with both characters, Lear finding his words and his knowledge of the world when he has fallen from grace, fallen from the heights of society and into the depths of poverty and lack of privilege, and Maximus in his last fight as a gladiator, where he gives the city of Rome a future. Human reactions to the heartbreak that both characters feel, losing children, losing love you thought was there but was completely absent, their roles as the tragic hero is to create catharsis within the viewer, to trigger the part of the human emotion that we suppress. Maximus’s story is one that we see as completely tragic, as he lets himself down, his Hamartia dragging him through hell and back.
Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets, Love and War, Life and Death. What comes from a story of young love and heartbreak but the cause? Young Romeo a lost prince in his mother’s eyes, depicted by Baz Luhrmann as a handsome young boy, lost in his world of impulsive love mourning the affections of Rosaline. Impulse brings him to Juliet, leads him head on into the lions den of a tragedy. Romeo as a tragic hero holds so much of his hamartia within him, around him. His love for Juliet, fierce protector of his friends, dismissive of his family. His profound emotionalism is only a part of his hamartia, but how he is connected to Maximus. His ability put Juliet, his love, before his family, family name and his friends is parallel to Maximus, who places his job and his city above his family in small ways, like not demanding to see them, to spend time with them. Romeo’s profound emotions and emotional way of reacting to his life and situations he finds himself in is flawed, his impulse of following his heart is what ultimately gets him killed. He has no concept of life after the moment, for the moment is all that he lives in, no consciousness of how his actions affect those around him. Idealism of life and all that it holds drags the two character together, Maximus and his inability to stand up and make apparent change, and Romeo with his lovesick eyes throwing himself into love like it’s a swimming pool. The two illustrate the purpose of a hamartia perfectly, without Romeo’s impulse he would not have found nor loved Juliet, therefore giving no reason for the pain and heartbreak of their end. The catharsis that comes with experiencing second hand heartbreak is precisely why we watch movies like Romeo and Juliet, Gladiator, their journeys are full with love and hatred and wrong and right, the triggering of human reaction to justice is precisely catharsis, giving humanity back to the humans.
The tragic hero is a character we need in the world of storytelling, for some time now stories have been mistaken for fairytales, something that ends with happiness and goodness. These stories are not truthful nor realistic, for some the world is a happy place where we all get what we want and deserve, but for some, like King Creon, King Lear, Romeo and Maximus, the world is not beautiful. Our Hamartias are what make us human, are what make us connected to one another, each of these texts illustrates why we need the tragic hero in our lives, to trigger the catharsis and to return out humanity to us.