Superheroes 9/12 – Is Beowulf a tragedy?

Today we finished reading Beowulf and in groups looked for specific lines that would reveal whether or not we can accurately call this story a tragedy.

Make sure you’re writing down the line numbers – you’ll be writing about this in the near future.


With your group finish reading Beowulf. Today we’re going to discuss whether or not our hero is a tragic hero.

As you review the weekend’s reading and your reading for today in class, keep track of passages that might reveal whether or not Beowulf is a tragic figure, or just a superhero who has reached the end of his journey. We’ll discuss at the end of class. Be prepared to back up your arguments.

Everyone should have significant line numbers written down in their notebooks after today’s class, as I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this idea later on. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.


Here’s a handy list of characteristics of a tragic hero from Pepperdine University:

Noble Stature: since tragedy involves the “fall” of a tragic hero, one theory is that one must have a lofty position to fall from. Another explanation of this characteristic is that tragedies involving people of stature affect the lives of others. In the case of a king, the tragedy would not only involve the individual and his family, it would also involve the whole society.

Tragic Flaw (Hamartia): the tragic hero must “fall” due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride). One who tries to attain too much possesses hubris.

Free Choice: while there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.

The Punishment Exceeds the Crime: the audience must not be left feeling that the tragic hero got what he deserved. Part of what makes the action “tragic” is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.

Hero has Increased Awareness: it is crucial that the tragic hero come to some sort of an understanding of what went wrong or of what was really going on before he comes to his end.

Produces Catharsis in Audience: catharsis is a feeling of “emotional purgation” that an audience feels after witnessing the plight of a tragic hero: we feel emotionally drained, but exultant.


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