I’ve recently found the definition of harmartia to be more along the lines of “fatal flaw.” That’s not how I was taught it….more like this: “Recent scholarship has suggested that the interpretation of hamartia as a fatal flaw is itself flawed, and that the word more properly means any disproportion in the character’s makeup that leads to downfall; thus an excess of a valuable or virtuous quality can in some circumstances be seen as hamartia.”

I.e., that which makes you strong can make you weak. It’s a concept I’ve been fascinated with ever since I heard the word in an English class while discussing Othello. (Pride got the big O where he was, pride was his downfall) Anyway, old boyfriends would shudder and look at their watches when, after a few glasses of wine, I’d start yammering about hamartia again.

My mother is an example of hamartia: you don’t get to be 94 by not having your own mind about things. But she’s got too much of her own mind: if she decides the sky is red, it’s red. (“why can’t you be more like that nice Cindy R,” I’d get in high school. Cindy R is late to home room every day because she’s blowing weed every morning? The answer was never heard. A few weeks later, I’d get “why can you be more like that nice Cindy R….she comes from such a nice family.”)

It amazes me how many times I’ve seen hamartia raise its predictable head in business. With, mostly, entrepreneur, gung-ho types. What drives them to be entrepreneurial and have ideas that other people want to follow is their incredible drive. Unfortunately, they don’t know when to slip into neutral. Recipe for disaster. Every time.

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One Comment on “Hamartia”

  1. judah Says:

    hola janice,

    another fantastic example of “hamartia” in Shakespeare may be found in the character of Coriolanus in the play of the same name. As a twentysomething, goateed English major I always carried that play around (and a copy of The Dream Songs by John Berryman — who was quite a “unique visitor” to this planet… though his “time spent on site” was way too short).

    have a good one!

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