Oedipus is a tragic hero in every sense of the word. A very important element that designates Oedipus as a tragic hero is his attitude regarding fate. Instead of accepting what fate has decreed for him he goes against it by making personal decisions. The tragic hero usually brings upon himself his own tragedy by a refusal to accept what fate has decreed. The tragic hero is usually a slave of fate and his destiny and no amount of effort on their part can change this destiny (Knox, 133). Oedipus is a hero of the town of Thebes having saved them from disaster several times. He spends most of his time trying to escape his fate by moving around yet the reader knows that what the gods decreed about him killing his father and marrying his mother has already happened. Oedipus fits perfectly Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero in that he possesses a tragic flaw in this instance Oedipus’s refusal and pride in accepting his destiny. The tragic hero is not perfect which leads to his down fall as demonstrated by Oedipus’s fall into begging by refusing to accept his fate. The fatal flaw in the tragic hero is however not wholly blamed on the hero but also on the gods or fate and destiny (Sophocles, 278-97).
Krapp in Krapp’s last tape embodies the definition of an anti hero almost to a fault. Krapp’s den usually refers to his absolute loneliness and spiritual darkness in which he lives. Krapp reviews tapes of his life something which he has been doing for the last thirty years (Fletcher, 138-56). Krapp fulfils the definition of an antihero in that no audience particularly seems to like the man. His indifference to the world around him and his state of being distracted creates an irritation in the audience. It almost seems as if Krapp is determined to avoid a heroic status by his actions. There are lements in the young Krapp’s life of which the audience may like and associate with a hero. A good example is the younger Krapp’s sacrifice of his life in order to become a writer. The unfolding of the tape however reveals a shift in this as the dream is not rtealized leaving us with a shell of a man who is bitter and angry with the world (Beckett, 59-60). The only remnants of the younger Krapp’s traits to be found in the wizened Krapp are negative ones such as addiction to bananas, alcohol and sexual activity.
It can be said of Estragon and Vladimir as being the heroes of Waiting for Godot. However, a more fitting term for these two characters would be anti heroes since they posses little of the hero in what they do. Estragon is portrayed as a coward who experiences nightmares and this is compounded by his great fear of mystical persons who beat him up on a regular basis (Beckett, 345-54). Estragon is in great need of the guardianship and protection of Vladimir which he cannot live without. He even in one instance threw himself into the river only to be rescued by Vladimir. Vladimir portrays better intelligence and better alertness than Estragon since he has a better understanding of the situations facing the two men. Even though he is better than Estragon, Vladimir also comes across as a pitiable character that is helpless and feels that he has to wait for Godot for an indefinite period. Godot is expected by the two characters to change the situation of the two men but whether he will arrive is in doubt. The two characters further enhance their anti hero status by their decision to hang themselves. According to Fletcher (219), Martin Esslin’s comments help us in assessing the heroic status of Vladimir and Estragon by the fact of the two characters embodying a sense of purposelessness which is a key element of absurd theatre. The two characters portray this by their senseless waiting for Godot whose coming is in doubt. They portray the feeling of senselessness which is increasingly a facet of human nature which Beckett is trying to portray.
Just like the tragic hero was given prescribed criteria by Aristotle in the poetics, revenge hero usually fits a given set of criteria in order to be designated as such. A tragic hero must first of all be acting due to circumstances or forces which he has no control over. Secondly a tragic hero must be presented with a situation in which the authorities are unable or unwilling to satisfy the justice which is demanded by the revenge hero which makes the hero to take matter into his own hands in order to fulfill his cause of justice. The last criteria is that the hero has to come up with a scheme which is complicated and shrewd which he pursues in the fulfillment of his just cause (Jarrett, 458-63). In Hamlet, Claudius embodies the outside forces which Hamlet cannot control. Claudius robs Hamlet of his father and his throne. Hamlet establishes this but he lacks the shrewdness or impetus to plan for the act of punishment against Claudius. Hamlet is portrayed as quite the reluctant hero as he takes too long to react. He comes up with a cunning plan against Claudius which fulfills the third criteria.
Hamlet goes ahead to hatch a cunning plan but only under duress and fear of punishment from his father’s spirit. Without the pressure put upon him by his father’s ghost it is unlikely that Hamlet would have been a revenge hero. Hamlet though fulfills Aristotle’s characteristics of a tragic hero in that he has a fatal flaw which leads to his downfall. Hamlet also fulfills the criteria as he is a man of noble standing and virtue who will not let justice to be left unfulfilled (Jarrett, 372) His downfall is due to an error in judgment which is as a result of his flaw which leads to him being poisoned. Hamlet may have been a solar hero had he been decisive enough. As the text portrays him as a reluctant hero Hamlet cannot be considered as a solar hero as what he does though standing out from the rest of the people is done under duress and pressure from his dead father’s spirit. Hamlet however acts as a kind of a savior hero as he is also in his quest to deliver his mother and the people of Denmark from a Claudius, tyrant and murderer of their king (Bloom and Shakespeare, 186-95). Hamlet is also a militant and aggressive character as we see from his killing of Claudius which would make him a good example of a phallic aggressive savior.
In the theater of the future it would still be possible to have a tragic hero though the hero would be of a much diminished status and would not resonate well with audiences. Audiences of today are more attuned to theaters of the absurd and hence anti heroes are more likely to stir up emotions rather than tragic heroes. The hero of the future would thus be the person who embodies the current culture of purposelessness and senselessness of the theatre of the absurd. Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero would thus be modified as to make the fall of the hero to be not of the hero’s making but to be due to the effects of the world around him which leads to act of escapism and senselessness.