What is Hamartia? Definition & Examples From Literature & Film


Definition: Hamartia is a Greek term used in tragedy to describe a character flaw or error in judgment that leads to the downfall of a protagonist. It is often a tragic flaw that causes the character’s downfall and serves as a central element in the plot of a tragedy.

In movies, the concept of ‘hamartia’ is often portrayed through the main characters’ tragic flaws or fatal mistakes.

These flaws lead to their downfall or tragic fate, highlighting the inherent human imperfections that can have profound consequences.

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Examples from Literature and Movies

Macbeth hamartia example
Macbeth is a great example from classical literature that has later been adapted into a film showcasing Hamartia.

Now, let’s explore three examples of hamartia from classical literature adaptations and films:

Macbeth (Shakespeare):

  • Hamartia: Macbeth’s ambition and desire for power.
  • Consequences: His unquenchable thirst for authority drives him to commit regicide and engage in a reign of tyranny, resulting in his downfall and eventual death.

The Great Gatsby (2013):

  • Hamartia: Jay Gatsby’s obsession with the past and idealized love.
  • Consequences: Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of Daisy and his refusal to accept the reality of their relationship leads to his downfall and eventual death.

Black Swan (2010):

  • Hamartia: Nina’s perfectionism and obsession with achieving artistic excellence.
  • Consequences: Her unrelenting pursuit of perfection and her descent into madness result in the destruction of her mental and physical well-being.

Are you familiar with Campbell’s monomyth?


Hamartia is a powerful storytelling element often employed in film to depict the tragic flaws of a character that lead to their downfall.

It adds depth and complexity to the narrative, allowing audiences to connect with the flawed protagonist on a deeper level.

Up Next: What is Cartharsis in film?


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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