Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


First Advisor

Patricia Wareh

Second Advisor

Katherine Lynes

Third Advisor

Stacie Raucci




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.