Othello’s Tragic Flaw and Hamartia (Error in Judgment)

Difference Between Tragic Flaw and Hamartia

In the context of literary analysis, the terms “tragic flaw” and “hamartia” are closely related, but not entirely synonymous. They both refer to elements that contribute to a tragic hero’s downfall, but they carry slightly different connotations. Let’s clarify these concepts in relation to Othello:

Tragic Flaw

A tragic flaw refers to a character trait that leads to the hero’s downfall. This flaw is typically inherent in the character and can be a positive attribute taken to an extreme or a negative trait. In Othello’s case, his tragic flaw is his excessive jealousy and his deep-seated insecurities about his race and social standing. These flaws are intrinsic to his character and make him susceptible to Iago’s manipulations.


Hamartia, a term originating from Aristotle’s “Poetics,” is often translated as a “tragic flaw,” but it more accurately means an error in judgment or a mistake. This error can stem from a character flaw, but it emphasizes the action or decision that leads to the hero’s downfall. In Othello, hamartia can be seen in his decision to trust Iago over Desdemona, leading him to believe in her infidelity without seeking proof, and ultimately deciding to kill her based on these unfounded suspicions.


Othello’s Tragic Flaw and Hamartia

  • Othello’s Tragic Flaw (Character Trait):

Jealousy: Othello’s overwhelming jealousy is a primary trait that defines his tragic flaw. This jealousy is rooted in his insecurities and makes him vulnerable to Iago’s insinuations about Desdemona’s fidelity.

Insecurities: His feelings of being an outsider due to his race and his uncertainty about being worthy of Desdemona’s love also contribute to his tragic flaw.

  • Othello’s Hamartia (Error in Judgment):

Misplaced Trust: Othello’s critical mistake is placing his trust in Iago, who he believes to be honest and loyal, rather than in Desdemona.

Decision to Kill Desdemona: His ultimate decision to murder Desdemona based on Iago’s lies is the fatal error in judgment that seals his tragic fate.


While Othello’s tragic flaw and hamartia are interconnected, they are not identical. His tragic flaw refers to the inherent traits of jealousy and insecurity that predispose him to making poor judgments. Hamartia, on the other hand, refers to the specific errors in judgment and actions that Othello takes as a result of these flaws, such as trusting Iago over Desdemona and deciding to kill her. Both elements work together to bring about Othello’s downfall, illustrating the complexity and depth of Shakespeare’s tragic hero.