According to Aristotle, there are four essential qualities that a tragic hero possesses. A tragic hero must first of all be good, expressing through speech or in action strong moral caliber. He must also be appropriate, such that a man is manly or formidable. Third, he must be lifelike, showing human qualities so as to make a strong sympathetic connection with the audience. Fourth, a tragic hero must be consistent, keeping an established characteristic unchanged. A character that possesses all four of these fundamental traits, therefore, gives the hero's downfall greater meaning and a greater tragic effect. Playwrights Sophocles and Henrik Ibsen are two of the greatest portrayers of the tragic hero's downfall, and their works serve as vessels in carrying them to the audience.
In Sophocles" Oedipus the King, the tragic hero is most certainly Oedipus. Oedipus, first of all, is a good man. When he declares, "My spirit grieves for the city" (l 75-76), he expresses a deep compassion that can only be associated with the epitome of goodness. His sympathy for his people and his desire to be their savior suggests Oedipus is a noble man, and with this nobility, he earns the respect and love of the audience. The respect of the audience is crucial in generating the tragic effect that comes with a tragic hero's downfall, and Sophocles utilizes this by means of giving Oedipus human qualities and a tragic flaw. Compassionate, yet stubborn, he is certainly not superhuman, showing consistent strengths and weaknesses; for this, the audience has no reason to feel isolated from his situation. In the case of his tragic flaw, his lack of knowledge of his true identity is coupled with the audience's preconceived awareness of his fate. Thus, when Oedipus finds himself in the dilemma after confronting Tiresias, the audience feels his pain and is afraid for his life, knowing that nothing he does can prevent the tragedy from occurring.