Hamartia

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This article is about classical Greek term. For medical term, see Hamartia (medical term).
Aristotle poetics
6 Parts of Aristotle's Greek Tragedy
Aristotle's Tragic Plot Structure

The term hamartia derives from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means “to miss the mark” or “to err”.[1][2] It is most often associated with Greek tragedy, although it is also used in Christian theology.[3] Hamartia as it pertains to dramatic literature was first used by Aristotle in his Poetics. In tragedy, hamartia is the protagonist’s error or flaw that leads to a chain of plot actions culminating in a reversal from their good fortune to bad. What qualifies as the error or flaw can include an error resulting from ignorance, an error of judgement, a flaw in character, or sin. The spectrum of meanings has invited debate among critics and scholars, and different interpretations among dramatists.

Hamartia in Aristotle’s Poetics[edit]

Hamartia is first described in the subject of literary criticism by Aristotle in his Poetics. The source of hamartia is at the juncture between Character and the character's actions or behaviors as outlined by Aristotle.

"Character in a play is that which reveals the moral purpose of the agents, i.e. the sort of thing they seek or avoid."[4]

In his introduction to the S. H. Butcher translation of ″Poetics″, Francis Fergusson describes hamartia as the inner quality that initiates, in Dante's words, a ″movement of spirit″ within the protagonist to commit actions which drive the plot towards its tragic end, inspiring in the audience a build of pity and fear that leads to a purgation of those emotions, or Catharsis.[5][6]

In Greek Tragedy, for a story to be ″of adequate magnitude″ it involves characters of high rank, prestige, or good fortune. If the protagonist is too worthy of esteem, or too wicked, his/her change of fortune will not evoke the ideal proportion of pity and fear necessary for catharsis. Here Aristotle describes hamartia as the quality of a tragic hero that generates that optimal balance.

"...the character between these two extremes - that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty." [7]

Hamartia in Christian theology[edit]

Hamartia is also used in Christian Theology. The literal Greek meaning "to miss the mark" is applied as a Fall from the Godly, or sin.[8] In his writings, Paul the Apostle describes three usages for the term ″hamartia″. The term is employed in one sense to mean acts of sin themselves. It is also used in reference to man's sinful condition, or original sin. The third application concerns the weakness of the flesh, and the free will to either resist or commit sinful acts.[9]

Tragic flaw, tragic error, and divine intervention[edit]

Aristotle mentions hamartia in Poetics. He argues that is a powerful device to have a story begin with a rich and powerful hero, neither exceptionally virtuous nor villainous, who then falls into misfortune by a mistake or error (harmartia). Discussion among scholars centers mainly on the degree to which hamartia is defined as tragic flaw or tragic error.

Argument for flaw[edit]

Poetic justice describes the obligation of the dramatic poet, along with philosophers and priests, to see that their work promotes moral behavior.[10] 18th century French dramatic style honored that obligation with the use of hamartia as a vice to be punished[11][12] Phèdre, Racine's adaptation of Euripides' Hippolytus, is an example of French Neoclassical use of hamartia as a means of punishing vice.[13][14]Jean Racine says in his Preface to Phèdre, as translated by R.C. Knight:

″The failings of love are treated as real failings. The passions are offered to view only to show all the ravage they create. And vice is everywhere painted in such hues, that its hideous face may be recognized and loathed.″ [15]

The play is a tragic story about a royal family. The main characters respectives vices; rage, lust and envy lead them to their tragic downfall.[16]

Argument for error[edit]

In her 1963 Modern Language Review article, The Tragic Flaw: Is it a Tragic Error?, Isabel Hyde describes hamartia as both error and ″defect in character.″ As an example she mentions Hamlets hesitation and failure to act in a crucial scene. By letting the moment slip by, he failed to murder his uncle and thereby secure the throne and avenge his father.

Examples of hamartia in literature[edit]

Play Author Character Flaw Error Tragic Result Misc.
Antigone[17] Sophocles Antigone excessive loyalty/stubbornness defies Creon to bury her brother her execution
Doctor Faustus[18] Christopher Marlowe Doctor Faustus hubris makes a deal with the devil eternity in hell
Hamlet[19] William Shakespeare Hamlet indecisiveness; desire to avoid evil delays justice many deaths and madness
Long Day's Journey Into Night[20] Eugene O'Neill James Tyrone fiscal stinginess hires incompetent doctor Mary's addiction to morphine
Macbeth[21] William Shakespeare Macbeth excessive ambition murders King Duncan dishonor and death
Oedipus the King[22] Sophocles Oedipus hubris kills his father, marries his mother parricide, incest, blindness, dishonor mistake made in ignorance of essential information
Phèdre[23] Jean Racine Phèdre passionate love reveals secret to nurse dishonor and suicides divine intervention

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Hamartia". Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 September 2014.
  2. ^ Hamartia: (Ancient Greek: ἁμαρτία) Error of Judgement or Tragic Flaw. ″Hamartia″. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 September 2014.
  3. ^ Cooper, Eugene J. ″Sarx and Sin in Pauline Theology″ Laval théologique et philosophique. 29.3 (1973) 243–255. Web. Érudit. 1 Nov 2014.
  4. ^ Aristotle. "Poetics". Trans. Ingram Bywater. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Oxford: Clarendon P, 2 May 2009. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
  5. ^ Fergusson 8
  6. ^ The Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson, Web Atomics. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html
  7. ^ Aristotle. "Poetics". Trans. Ingram Bywater. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Oxford: Clarendon P, 2 May 2009. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
  8. ^ Cooper, Eugene ″Sarx and Sin in Pauline Theology″ Laval théologique et philosophique. 29.3 (1973) 243-255. Web. Érudit. 1 Nov 2014.
  9. ^ Cooper, Eugene ″Sarx and Sin in Pauline Theology″ Laval théologique et philosophique. 29.3 (1973) 243-255. Web. Érudit. 1 Nov 2014.
  10. ^ Burnley Jones and Nicol, 125
  11. ^ Burnley Jones and Nicol,12,125
  12. ^ Thomas Rymer. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/514581/Thomas-Rymer
  13. ^ Worthen, B. The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama 5th ed. 444-463. Boston: Thomspon Wadsworth. 2007. Print.
  14. ^ Racine, Jean. Phédre, Harvard Classics, Vol. 26, Part 3. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://www.bartleby.com/26/3/
  15. ^ Worthen,446
  16. ^ Euripedes. Hippolytus, Harvard Classics, 8.7. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. http://www.bartleby.com/8/7/
  17. ^ Sophocles. ″Antigone″ The Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson, Web Atomics. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/antigone.html
  18. ^ Worthen 255
  19. ^ Worthen 282
  20. ^ O'Neill, Eugene. ″Long Day's Journey Into Night,″ New Haven: Yale UP. 2002. Web 13 Dec. 2014. http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/oneill_journey.pdf
  21. ^ Shakespeare. ″Macbeth.″ The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Boston: MIT online database. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html
  22. ^ Worthen 69
  23. ^ Racine, Jean. ″Phédre,″ Harvard Classics, Vol. 26, Part 3. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://www.bartleby.com/26/3/

References[edit]

  • Bremer, J.M. "Hamartia." Tragic Error in the Poetics of Aristotle and in Greek Tragedy. Amsterdam, Adolf M. Hakkert, 1969.
  • Dawe, R D. "Some Reflections on Ate and Hamartia." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 72 (1968): 89-123. JSTOR. St. Louis University Library, St. Louis. 29 Apr. 2008.
  • Hyde, Isabel. "The Tragic Flaw: is It a Tragic Error?" The Modern Language Review 58.3 (1963): 321-325. JSTOR. St. Louis University Library, St. Louis. 29 Apr. 2008.
  • Moles, J L. "Aristotle and Dido's 'Hamartia'" Greece & Rome, Second Series 31.1 (1984): 48-54. JSTOR. St. Louis University Library, St. Louis. 29 Apr. 2008.
  • Stinton, T. C. W. "Hamartia in Aristotle and Greek Tragedy" The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Dec., 1975): 221 - 254. JSTOR. St. Louis University, St. Louis. 29 Apr. 2008.
  • Golden, Leon, "Hamartia, Ate, and Oedipus", Classical World, Vol. 72, No. 1 (Sep., 1978), pp. 3–12.
  • Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, University of California Press, 1971, p. 212.