The UVic Writer's Guide

Hamartia ("Error" or "Flaw")

According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must fall through his or her own error, or hamartia. This term is also interpreted as "tragic flaw" and usually applied to overweening pride, or hubris, which causes fatal error.

The classic example of Aristotelian principles is Sophocles' Oedipus the King (ca. 428 B.C.); Shakespeare's Othello (1603-04) follows a similar pattern of pride, error, and self-destruction (though Oedipus merely mutilates himself on discovering his crimes, whereas Othello commits suicide). (See catharsis for more details.)

Recent scholarship has suggested that the interpretation of hamartia as a fatal flaw is itself flawed, and that the word more properly means any disproportion in the character's makeup that leads to downfall; thus an excess of a valuable or virtuous quality can in some circumstances be seen as hamartia.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995