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Aristotle’s definition

Aristotle’s definition for a tragic hero is one who is not in control of his own fate, but instead is ruled by the gods in one fashion or another. The tragic hero for Aristotle is tragic because of their lack of control or will in the face of their predetermined future and downfall. It can be contested that Hamlet was not a true hero as the Elizabethan Era relinquished his control over to his father . Since Hamlet is controlled by fate and not by choice, his heroism is not truly that of a free will. He therefore is not a hero but a pawn for Fate.

His actions are not controlled by his own will but instead are parlayed into the compartments of the hierarchy of gods, of wishes and destiny: A man knows himself through the choice and follow through of his own actions. Hamlet does choose revenge but in this he is guided and pushed by his father’s ghost. As Horatio contends, after Hamlet’s departure to bare witness to his father’s ghosts, “He waxes desperate with imagination” (Act One, Scene Four, line 87). In this simple phrase is found the rudimentary beginnings of Hamlet’s downfall.

In Hamlet’s imagination there is a world of difference between the reality of the play and what the reader is led to believe through Hamlet’s soliloquies. Hamlet, then, is not a true hero. In Oedipus there is another case of fate controlling the destiny of man. Due to fate’s interference in the lives of heroes, it must be pondered whether or not they are heroes because they are devoid of choice and by definition a hero chooses their actions, but with fate, their actions are predestined. For Oedipus, his only link to heroism is that in his redemptive attitude .

His heroic stance in Greek culture is seen as a protagonist who felt guilt for what he had done and this translates to the audience that if a hero can succumb to evil then they themselves, as less than heroic, are more likely to fall in favor, in the eyes of the gods. As a Greek hero, Oedipus is like Hamlet in that they are both coerced by fate but with Oedipus his remittance of gouging his eyes shows that he is a stronger hero than Hamlet because of his debt payment of sight. Hamlet, in the end, relinquishes his identity for his father’s will.

Hamlet did not know himself, and this is proven by his gutless relinquishes of love, and his friendship that failed to save him from a fateful tragedy. In Hamlet’s mind, there was a clear mark of lunacy, but that was due to his dwindling identity being replaced by his father’s will. In Hamlet is found the tragedy of a man who did not fully know himself, and in not knowing himself, his actions, his words, his thoughts were not his own and this is increasingly true through the progression of Shakespeare’s play.

Hamlet is so overwhelmed by the insatiable will of his father that Hamlet forgoes a life less troubled, a life more known. The tragedy of Hamlet is made wretchedly succinct in that he sacrifices so much for approval; he is indeed swallowed by the shadow, the ghost his father left behind. Whether Hamlet truly saw his father or had imagined it, as Horatio said, does not matter in the end of the play, for so convinced is Hamlet of his father’s convictions that he feels a sense of justice in the murder.

This justice however is retracted at the end of the play when all die, when Hamlet realizes that his actions were the performance of a pawn, either to fate, destiny or his father’s own devilish wishes. Hamlet’s tragedy lies within the concept of not knowing thyself, and yet he unwittingly deceives himself into playing out the role of the misfit son gone mad for his father’s sake. Hamlet does not, in the course of the play ever know himself, but does in fact deny himself his own existence through the appeal of his father.

With Oedipus this is the same; his tragic hero status is ensured by his unwillingness to exist as a partial man; without knowing his origins, without knowing his true identity. While Hamlet is realizing that he has no identity he thus becomes a tragic hero, for Oedipus when he discovers his true identity, therein lies his status as a tragic hero. He realizes his ego got in the way of his life. His ego was his ruin. As Victoria Hamilton (1993) states in Narcissism and Oedipus, From within the tragic vision, Oedipus appears a fit candidate for the tragic hero.

The hero’s search for truth leads to greater and greater suffering and finally to a blinding and a castration of his sense faculties. However, the absolute truth which Oedipus pursues is not a transcendental truth, but the precise details of his own origins — a limited knowledge of the facts surrounding his birth. His ruin is brought about by his refusal to rest content with partial truths and with lies (254) In Oedipus’ tenacious nature is found the hamartia that Aristotle speaks to; even in questioning Teiresias Oedipus won’t quit until he gets what he wants.

In this famous scene Sophocles writes, “(Oedipus) Indeed I am so angry I shall not hold back a jot of what I think. For I would have you know I think you were complotter of the deed and doer of the deed save in so far as for the actual killing. Had you had eyes I would have said alone you murdered him” (30). Oedipus hits no breaking point in his inquiry until his entire stygian history is revealed. In comparison with other heroes and the ideas of heroism, from Greek to Elizabethan, and Modern it is more with the modern heroes that a true sense of self arises in the protagonists.

Fate does not define a hero, and that is how Hamlet and Oedipus’s lives and hero status are defined. It is with Roark and Sam that a true sense of what a hero is, and how they act is found; that is, with self-determination and will power, those are the two defining elements that make a hero.

Work Cited

Hamilton, Victoria. Narcissus and Oedipus: The Children of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books, 1993 Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Washington Square Press, New York. 1992. Sophocles. The Oedipus Cycle. Harcourt Inc. Florida. 1977.

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