Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: the Exploration of a Tragic Hero Essays

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: the Exploration of a Tragic Hero Essays

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Tragic and hero may not be words that easily reveal a relationship, but throughout literature the two have been linked to create an enthralling read. The emergence of the tragic hero seemed to take shape in ancient Greece where such works as Oedipus and Antigone were popular among all classes of people. Aristotle defined a tragedy as "the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself. It incorporates incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions." Though Greece may be credited with the creation of tragic heroes, the theme is seen in literary works across many different cultures, including England. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one such English work where the development of the main character, Gawain, follows the pattern of the classical tragic hero. In this paper, we will explore the characteristics of the tragic hero and show how these traits are demonstrated in Gawain.

The definition of the tragic hero is a protagonist who is otherwise perfect except for a tragic flaw, also known as a fatal flaw, which eventually leads to his demise. One may ask, why have a tragic hero? The reason to have a tragic hero is to give a story purpose. A tragedy by nature isn't an uplifting story, but the introduction of a tragic hero presents an opportunity to learn from the tragedy. In other words, tragic heroes make tragedies worth reading. Let's first define the characteristics that are common to most tragic heroes and focus on those that are demonstrated by Gawain. Tragic heroes are born into nobility, responsible for their own fate, endowed with a tragic flaw, and are doomed to make a serious error in judgment. Eventually, the tragic hero will fall fr...


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...tragic hero, the feeling that the audience takes away with them. Does the story of Gawain invoke thoughts of pity or fear? Gawain is easily a sympathetic character. After all, he was the lone individual who stepped up to defend the honor of Camelot. He conquered many trials and tribulations along his quest. And his plight is easily relatable, as fear of death and the unknown is all too human. It's easy to feel pity for Gawain when he is apparently so distraught after he learns why he was struck by the Green Knight. Who among us hasn't made a mistake which in hindsight seems so trivial yet the effect is everlasting? It's blatantly human to be enraptured by the faults, misdeeds, and mistakes of others. Tragic heroes seem to offer us a look into our very own psyche and for this reason; stories such as Gawain and the Green Knight will remain popular for ages to come.

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