What Does Hamartia Mean

What Does Hamartia Mean

Hamartia refers to a flaw or error in the protagonist that leads to a chain of events that culminates in the downfall of the protagonist. The term hamartia is derived from Greek and literally means to err or to miss the mark. The term Hamartia as it pertains to literature was first used by Aristotle in his Poetics. He states that creating a wealthy and powerful hero with a blend of bad and good qualities who falls into misfortune by Hamartia is a powerful plot device.

For example, imagine a person who attempts to achieve a superior position. But he ends up in an even inferior position because of his attempt. Hamartia in a character can be anything from ignorance or fate to excessive anger or arrogance. Errors in judgment, ambition, jealousy, ignorance, fate, miserliness, indecisiveness are some common examples of hamartia found in literature. It is important to note that the hamartia of a character may, at first, seem like the best quality or characteristic of that person. The readers, as well as the characters, may not realize this quality is destructive until the end of the story.

Examples of Hamartia in Literature

The tragic heroes created by Shakespeare can be taken as perfect examples of hamartia.

Macbeth’s blind ambition that leads to his downfall, Othello’s jealousy which prompts him to kill Desdemona, and Hamlet’s indecisiveness and desire to avoid evil can be pointed out as examples of hamartia.

“To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep…

 – Hamlet, ShakespeareWhat Does Hamartia Mean

In Romeo and Juliet, it is not actually an error in the protagonist, but the fate that acts against Romeo and Juliet. Therefore, an act of fate can be considered as the hamartia in this play.

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

In Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, it his James’ miserliness that causes him to hire an incompetent doctor to treat his wife, Mary. This results in Mary’s addiction to morphine which ultimately leads to the downfall of the whole family.

In Sophocles’ famous Greek tragedy Oedipus, the protagonist’s downfall his brought about his own ignorance and hubris (excessive pride and arrogance that functions as a fatal flaw in a character) which makes him defy the prophecy of Gods. But at the end, it is his attempt to defy the prophecy that ironically fulfills the prophesy.

Lost in the night, endless night that nursed you!
You can’t hurt me or anyone else who sees the light—
you can never touch me.
TIRESIAS: True, it it not your fate
to fall at my hands. Apollo is quite enough,
and he will take some pains to work this out.
OEDIPUS: Creon! Is this conspiracy his or yours?
TIRESIAS: Creon is not your downfall, no, you are your own.

Image Courtesy:

About the Author: admin

Related pages

difference between comparative and superlativeeastern and western cultural differencesneutron proton electrondifference between asthma bronchitis and emphysemawhat does cation and anion meanwhat is the difference between revenge and retributiondefine internal and external respirationnucleoplasmhabitat niche definitionwolf coyote differencegerman shepherd and belgian malinoisdefine finite verbhow are unicellular and multicellular organisms differentmandarin cantonese differencealumni vs alumnusdifference between atp and adpdifference between cro and crtalkaline earth metal characteristicscacophony exampleswhat is the difference between rising and falling intonationexample of synesthesiawhat is expressivity in geneticsbronchitis and asthma differencestructural difference between cellulose and starchconflict and climaxpiaget assimilation definitionliteral and figurative meaningsugar deoxyribosealkaline earth metal characteristicsdifference between hair smoothing and straightening treatmentbadger and honeyguide birddifference between polar and nonpolar moleculeprepare bank reconciliation statement examplenpn pnp transistor differencepanther and leopardsatire and ironydifference between wheat and barleystate the law of conservation of linear momentumexamples of a compound complex sentencewhat is the difference between a voltmeter and an ammeterprice difference between economy and premium economyatomic orbital chemistry definitionmalt powder for milkshakesneurotic psychosistips on memorizing a speechguard cells structure and functionpail definewhat does naturalism mean in literaturerelation between coefficient of friction and angle of frictiondifferentiate hazard from riskwhat is the meaning of indirect characterizationthe part of the protoplasm outside the nucleusfacts about bullmastiffsprocess of oogenesis and spermatogenesisfue preteritecomparison between prokaryotes and eukaryotessedentary life definitiondifference between centre of gravity and centre of massgerman shepherd and alsatian differencecaesura in poetrypolysemous definitiondifference between a cult and religionwhat is micronutrients and macronutrientspteroylglutamic acid is known asanalyze poemscompound sentences complex sentenceshexane freezing pointtornado cyclone hurricane differenceolfactory in a sentencexylem vs phloemstoryline of macbethwhat is the difference between consonance and alliterationtypes of micrometerfigurative meaning vs literal meaningwhat is the difference between ribose and deoxyribosewhat is gametophytewhat is the moral of macbethgalvanometer and ammeter