30th October 2018

Significant Connections

Respond critically to significant connections across texts, supported by evidence.

Through identifying significant connections across four different texts, we are able to see how the genre of tragedy is demonstrated through different perspectives. The four texts I will be analysing are King Lear, a play written by William Shakespeare, Citizen Kane, a film directed by Orson Welles, Gladiator, a film directed by Ridley Scott and The Great Gatsby, a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Aristotle’s characteristic ‘hamartia’ is developed throughout these texts, as all protagonists in each text relate to an Aristotelian tragic hero.

In an Aristotelian tragedy, there are 5 characteristics that Aristotle uses to define a tragic hero. One of those characteristics is ‘hamartia’, meaning flaw or error of judgement. In the play King Lear, written by William Shakespeare, the characteristic hamartia (flaw or error in judgement) is shown through the protagonist, Lear. His hamartia occurs when he banishes Cordelia, as a result of Cordelia refusing to confess her exaggerated love for her father, like her other two sisters did. Lear then divides the kingdom between his two evil daughters, Regan and Goneril. This tragic flaw is what holds Lear back from seeing the truth, because his arrogance overrides his judgement. Lear becomes furious when Kent objects to his decision saying, “Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds reverb no hollowness.” This results in the loss of the two people who are most loyal to him, Kent and Cordelia. The consequences of this error escalate throughout the play, leading to Lear’s tragic downfall. Aristotle’s idea of a tragic hero in King Lear, has helped us develop a better understanding of not just what a tragic hero is, but how a tragic hero is discovered in someone through characteristics they display. Our developed understanding of a tragic hero and Greek tragedy in general, has helped us seek tragic heroes in genres other than tragic literature, such as The Great Gatsby. In The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the protagonist Jay Gatsby, is also seemingly a tragic hero. He illustrates the corruption of ‘The American Dream’ through his error of judgement that unfortunately leads to his own death at the end of the written text. His tragic death portrays the consequences and dangers of focusing one’s life on money, as the soul means to meet one’s heartfelt desire. Gatsby is a tragic hero that can be identified with almost all of Aristotle’s characteristics, but his main is that he is unable to see that the real and the ideal cannot coexist. Gatsby thought that is he pursued ‘The American Dream’, rose to richness and wealth, he would be worthy of the girl of his dreams, Daisy, his ideal. Everything that Gatsby does and every decision he makes is to try and win Daisy over. Gatsby’s error of judgement happens when he makes the decision to drive away after Daisy and himself hit a pedestrian in Gatsby’s car. His decision to drive away was influenced by the fact that Daisy was driving the car and he wanted to protect her. Lear and Gatsby both display the characteristic hamartia; however, they display the characteristic in very different ways from each other. The source of hamartia is at the point between a character and the character’s actions or behaviours. Both protagonist’s behaviours are very different from one another. Lear’s hamartia is influenced by his arrogance, whereas Gatsby’s hamartia is influenced by love.  Although Lear and Gatsby have very different flaws, in two very different situations, they both experience a tragic death, thus resulting in both protagonists, from both texts, to portray an Aristotelian tragic hero.

Although most Americans would say that money brings all good things, some Americans tell a different story. We as people, gamble our money and purchase lottery tickets despite the overwhelming odds against winning. The most influential people to us in this world, are people of great wealth, like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. We want be to be like the young Charles Foster Kane, able to purchase whatever we desire. In the film Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, the protagonist Charles Foster Kane, displays the idea of an Aristotelian tragic hero, through the use of the characteristic hamartia. The disturbing experience from his sudden separation from his parents, causes Kane to evolve into a man in need of constant control over everything and everyone around him. Kane was thrown into great wealth at a very young age and forced into adulthood when he was still a child, which caused him to act immature as an adult. In addition, Kane also grows in pride, the more his fame and fortune increases, leaving him alone in the end. Kane once stated that he, “always gagged on the silver spoon.” Besides being grateful for his richness and wealth, he sometimes wishes that he wasn’t so privileged. This is shown when he says, “You know Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” Wishing he was someone else, but at the same time always in constant need for ‘more’, Kane’s flaw, being ego, causes him to make a poor decision. Kane’s hamartia happens when he gets caught having an affair with a young singer named Susan Alexander, whilst running for Mayor. Kane’s ego causes him to refuse to drop out of the race. The scandal goes public and Kane loses the election. This flaw leads to Kane’s downfall, resulting in his death at the end of the film. Although Kane died of old age, it is considered that he died a tragic death. Charles Foster Kane, as a tragic hero, can relate to Jay Gatsby as a tragic hero. Both Kane and Gatsby focused their lives on money; although they may not have died the same tragic death, it was money that played a large part in each of their downfalls. Both Gatsby and Kane have extreme self-motivation, come very close to the peak of their success and by unfortunate circumstances, followed by an error of judgement, result in a tragic downfall. Although Kane and Gatsby have very different flaws from one another, their flaws are present and are typical of an Aristotelian tragic hero. 

In the film Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott, the protagonist Maximus, displays the idea of an Aristotelian tragic hero, through the use of the characteristic hamartia. Maximus’s hamartia happens in the scene where Maximus denies Commodus his loyalty. This is shown when Commodus says, “Your emperor asks for your loyalty, Maximus. Take my hand.” Refusing to take Commodus’s hand is Maximus’s tragic flaw, as he is unable to see the type of evil Commodus is capable of. Commodus then decides to make a harsh decision and punish Maximus for disrespecting him. This leads to Commodus sentencing Maximus to death, along with his wife and child. Maximus’s hamartia portrays him as a tragic hero. Usually, when hamartia is present in an Aristotelian tragedy, the protagonist is often portrayed as cruel or ‘in the wrong’; however, Maximus is neither of these things. His error of judgement is that he simply underestimates Commodus. Maximus, as a tragic hero, can relate to Charles Foster Kane as a tragic hero. Maximus and Kane both show a great amount of leadership; Maximus being the commander of an army and Kane being a candidate for Mayor. Maximus and Kane both show leadership qualities, however, they are quite different from each other. Maximus is a noble and well respected man, with an error of judgement that is brought upon by his pride and loyalty towards doing the right thing. Maximus’s pride and decency is shown when he says, “What we do in life, that goes for eternity.” Maximus is willing to put himself and his entire family in danger to do what is right. Kane on the other hand, is a sad, rich man, with an error of judgment that is brought upon by his own ego. It is obvious that Maximus and Kane have their differences, however, they both still portray the characteristic hamartia in the way of an Aristotelian tragedy. 

The four texts, King Lear, The Great Gatsby, Citizen Kane and Gladiator, all have significant connections to the idea of an Aristotelian tragic hero. Our knowledge of a tragic hero, is popularly known to be shown in Greek tragedy. However, Through Aristotle’s idea of a tragic hero, we are able to recognise tragic heroes in other genres. Overall, all protagonists across all four texts, portray the characteristic ‘hamartia’. They all display hamartia differently from one another; however, the connection is not that they all share the same flaw, but the fact that their flaws are present and lead to a downfall that is typical of an Aristotelian tragic hero.

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