What is Tragic Flaw?

A character's trait in a tragic hero or heroine that brings about his or her downfall in a drama or play is known to be tragic flaw.

Traits like arrogance or hubris (excessive pride) are common tragic flaws, but a protagonist’s tragic flaw is not, by definition, a “bad” character trait; rather, it is simply the characteristic from which the reversal of the tragic hero’s fortune ensues. Courage or jealousy may equally be the trait whose expression leads to the destructive consequences.

The term tragic flaw is often used as a synonym for hamartia, but this usage is not strictly correct. Hamartia is the more general of the two terms, applicable to any error in judgment that brings about the protagonist’s downfall; tragic flaw refers specifically to an inherent character trait. Hamartia may result from a character’s tragic flaw, but is not, technically speaking, the flaw itself. Rather, hamartia is the mistake that engenders the protagonist’s downfall and may thus include errors in judgment based on incomplete information regarding a situation as well as those based on character traits such as anxiety or envy.

Published on 22 Sept. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma