The Role of Character Flaws in Shakespeare's Plays


1. The Definition of Character Flaws

Character flaws are inherent imperfections or weaknesses that hinder a character's ability to make sound judgments or lead to their downfall. These flaws can be moral, intellectual, or emotional in nature. In Shakespeare's plays, characters with flaws often face internal conflicts and external obstacles that challenge them throughout the story.

Example: Macbeth's Ambition

In Macbeth, the eponymous character's tragic flaw is his unchecked ambition. Initially, Macbeth is a noble and courageous warrior, but his desire for power and the prophesies of the witches lead him down a path of treachery and murder. His ambition blinds him to the consequences of his actions and ultimately leads to his downfall.

2. The Function of Character Flaws

Character flaws serve multiple purposes in Shakespeare's plays. They create tension and conflict within the story, driving the plot forward. They also provide opportunities for character development and exploration of universal human traits.

Example: Hamlet's Procrastination

In Hamlet, the titular character's fatal flaw is his indecisiveness and constant contemplation. His inability to take swift action and seek revenge for his father's murder leads to tragic consequences. This flaw is relatable to the audience as it reflects the human struggle with decision-making and the consequences of inaction.

3. Impact on the Narrative

Character flaws greatly influence the trajectory of the narrative in Shakespeare's plays. They shape the choices characters make, leading to conflicts and pivotal moments. The flaws serve as catalysts for the events that unfold, driving the story towards its climax and resolution.

Example: Othello's Jealousy

In Othello, the tragic flaw of the protagonist is his jealousy. Iago manipulates Othello's insecurity and fuels his suspicions, causing him to doubt his wife's faithfulness. This flaw drives Othello to commit heinous acts and ultimately leads to the tragic ending of the play.


Character flaws play a crucial role in Shakespeare's plays, adding depth and complexity to the characters and driving the narrative. These flaws create tension, explore universal human traits, and shape the choices characters make. By understanding the significance of character flaws, we gain insight into Shakespeare's exploration of human nature and the complexities of the human condition.


1. Are character flaws essential in Shakespeare's plays?

Yes, character flaws are significant in Shakespeare's plays as they contribute to the development of the plot and explore human nature.

2. How do character flaws affect the audience's perception of the characters?

Character flaws humanize the characters and make them relatable to the audience. They evoke empathy, curiosity, and a deeper understanding of the complexities of the human condition.

3. Can character flaws be positive traits?

Character flaws are typically negative traits, but Shakespeare also portrays flawed characters with qualities that are admired, providing a nuanced portrayal of human imperfections.