The tragic hero remains a staple of drama, though the specific nature of the tragic hero has changed since its inception in antiquity. An examination of three tragedies--one from antiquity, one from Shakespeare, and one from the modern era--will show how they have commonalities while at the same time exhibiting shifts in the nature of the tragic hero because of changes in society and in our view of the place of the human being in the world.
Raymond Williams indicates that there is something definite that can be considered tragic, differentiating it from other experiences: "Certain events and responses are tragic, and others are not" (Williams 14). The tragic hero of antiquity derived from the Greek drama, as elucidated by the criticism of Aristotle in particular. Tragedy is struggling against something over which we really have no control, and the tragedy develops from a recognition of the futility of the struggle, leading to the resignation of the tragic hero to his or her fate and indeed even to their embracing that fate. Underlying the actions of the tragic hero is a fatal flaw in his character, and it is because of this flaw that he is not able to escape his fate. The flaw is usually a form of pride, but it need not be that particular characteristics.
The tragedy of antiquity was revived in the Renaissance. The Western world had been in a long period known as the Dark Ages, a world that no longer believed in tragedy, precisely because of a different worldview:
Classical concerns about personal fate and individual destiny were no longer of any moment--all that mattered in the Middle Ages was one's ultimate salvation and one's relation to the priestly hierarchy of the Catholic Church (Packard xiv).
The Renaissance was a revival of concern for the individual, and this same concern clearly infuses the modern age. This concern for the fate of the individual is what links the tragedy of the modern era with that...