De-gendering the Tragic Hero(ine): An Exploration of Female Protagonists in Tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare
Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
hero, victim, protagonist, literature, characters
This thesis explores the scholarly interpretation of the terms tragic hero and tragic victim as influenced by gender biases in Sophocles’ Antigone and Electra, and William Shakespeare’s Othello and Hamlet. Aristotle’s Poetics defines the tragic hero as a distinctly masculine role, characterized by upstanding action and morality. While Aristotle excludes female characters from filling the role of tragic hero, contemporary scholars have progressively dismissed this gendered definition and declared certain female characters as Aristotelian tragic heroes based on their plot contributions. This “progressive” dismissal of Aristotle’s gender-based definition, however, fails to completely de-gender the terms. A closer examination of these four tragedies reveals that the respective female protagonists each exist in the same liminal space between tragic hero and tragic victim, characterized by their feminine passivity as well as their active contribution to the plot. The critical interpretation of these characters as tragic heroes or tragic victims, however, differs based on their submission to cultural customs, specifically in regards to marriage as a “cure” for femininity according to standards of Ancient Athenian and Early Modern England. Recognizing this still-persistent gender bias will allow future scholarship further progress in de-gendering the interpretation of tragic hero and tragic victim.
Clark-Keane, Ceillie, "De-gendering the Tragic Hero(ine): An Exploration of Female Protagonists in Tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare" (2013). Honors Theses. 647.