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THE TRAGIC HERO AND CHAPMAN)S BUSSY D,AMBOJS WILLIAM G. McCOLLOM JN seeking to describe and delimit the nature of the tragic hero, Aristotle made an admirable beginning. The hero, he said, mu_ st be neither so bad that we accept his fall w_ith indifference nor so good that we recoil from his fate with a sense of gross injustice. The hero was to be not only eminent socially but in general a superior person; for Aristotle held that tragedy pictures men as better than in actual life. Although we no longer think social distinction necessary to the tragic hero, we have to recognize that he should be, in a wide ethical sense, considerably above average. If the twentieth century is the century of the common man, it .is not the tragic century, unless the commonness of this man be taken to mean· his broad and deep humanity, his essential equality with uncommon men. We could wish that a good deal more of Aristotle's thinking on this. subject had been preserved; for the summary given us in the Poetics does not take us very far. The tragic dramatist does not solve his problem merely by maldng his hero a man somewhat above average; nor is it sufficient that the hero fall through "some error or frailty." To arouse extreme emotion, he must be one whose temperament drives hiin to extremes of thought, feeling, and action. But these extremes may make him too "good)) or too "bad" unless they are balanced by opposing qualities. These qualities, whether flaws or not, are in each case determined by the qualities that, aesthetically speaking, necessitate them. There will thus be a tension between the good and the evil traits in the hero, but the selection of these traits cannot be fortuitous. We retain our sympathy for Macbeth not because, alongside his fault of ambition, he has the virtue of marital fidelity or even good soldiership but because the evil in his nature actually stimulates: the development of his sensitiveness and reflectiveness-in short, his humanity . It is not merely that he feels remorse for his sin but that, because of his. particular temperam~nt, his wrongdoing becomes for him an exploration of an area of ethical reality-an exploration from which he will return with new and terrible knowledge. We are saying, then, that the evil qualities in the hero should stimulate the 'emergence of the good~ We do not say that the evil, looked at from the tragic point of view, is the good or that the evil is merely an aspect of the good. Moral relativism has yet to produee a great tragedy. But although. the tragic ·dramatist cannot be said to sympathize with evil, he may seek. to arouse pity and fear at the hero's wasteful "expense of spirit,, to borrow a phrase from a Shakespearean sonnet which expresses very well the tragicattitude . If the dramatist's purpose is primarily aesthetic, his choice of ethical' qualities for the hero will be governed by their influence on the tragic effect 227 228 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of the play. The tragic strategy may- demand that the hero be given charac~ _ teristics that would destroy our sympathy for a living man. To this extent, but to this extent only, the writer is justified in adapting to his aesthetic purpose the moral order recognized by his audience. After giving his hero these traits, he is forced to make a compensatory adaptation which will reestablish the moral substance within the aesthetic form. Several kinds of adaptation may be noted here. The writer of homiletic tragedy, for example, will make the morally acceptable but aesthetically dubious decision to subject his hero to the punishment of society. This solution usually fails because of our sense that the interposition of society is irrelevant to the tragic depiction of man in relation to the moral order of the world. The great tragic writer may adopt a somewhat different solution: he may have the hero punish himself, as Othello does, or at least reach a recognition of the nature of his error. By a yet different adjustment the writer may suggest that in departing from...


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