From LitWiki

The tragic protagonist’s flaw that precipitates his/her fall from a position of good fortune to bad fortune, often associated with his/her overweening hubris, and integral to tragedy. Hamartia is a term taken from archery, meaning “falling short of the mark,” but it also suggests “sin,” “trespass,” “fault,” “mistake,” “error,” etc. The term derives from the word, hamartanein, which is Greek for "fail, failure, guilt or to fail one's purpose." The word is notable to many from Poetics by Aristotle.

Examples of "Hamartia" in Literature

Hamlet’s hamartia may be said, then, to be his uncertainty in the face of action; [Oedipus’] is his arrogance and faith in his reasoning that blinds him to obvious facts; and Medea’s is her pride as a foreign princess vis-a-vis her position as an outcast in Corinth. Therefore, hamartia has much to do with the character’s disposition, or nature, when approaching his/her dilemma — a nature that he/she cannot overcome, and thus leads to the tragic outcome. Oedipus' hastiness in temper and ignorance is considered a [classic example] of hamartia in literature. To some writers, Samson's excessive adoration for his wife and Macbeth's excessive ambition would be considered the 'hamartia' to those characters but Aristotle negates that notion. Aristotle's makes the claim that the term's meaning correlates more with "mistake" rather than "flaw." The mistake made by the protagonist in the story is what leads to the tragedy of the story, not the flaw. Aristotle argues that the faux pas of the protagonist leads to their consequences in the tragedy.

The Term "Tragic Flaw"

The term 'hamartia' correlates more with a protagonist in a story making a 'error' or 'mistake,' which ultimately leads to their downfall. A protagonist's is not labeled as a flawed in their character, but a flawed in their decision making in a particular situation. Their lapse in judgment is the result of usually not being aware of the consequences of their choice. Presenting the "tragic flaw" in the protagonist as part of their identity gives the audience a sense of disrespect towards the hero. The tragic flaw serves as the weakness of the hero because of their identity

History of "Hamartia"

Hamartia does have a direct meaning or interpretation due to the historical uses of the term. In the [New Testament of the Bible], the Greek word, hamartia, is translated as the word [sin].Hamartia is a concept primarily in Shakespearean tragedies. For example, Macbeth's ambitious nature ultimately became his hamartia. In [Hamlet], Hamlet's indecisiveness became his hamartia. Since Hamlet hesitated to kill his uncle, a serious of events in the tragedy lead to his downfall.


Literary Terms