Back To CourseCollege English Literature: Help and Review
12 chapters | 283 lessons
As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.Try it risk-free
The archetype, or character type, of the Byronic hero was first developed by the famous 19th-century English Romantic poet Lord Byron. Most literary scholars and historians consider the first literary Byronic hero to be Byron's Childe Harold, the protagonist of Byron's epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. However, many literary scholars and historians also point to Lord Byron himself as the first truly Byronic hero, for he exemplified throughout his life the characteristics of the sort of literary hero he would make famous in his writing.
A Byronic hero can be conceptualized as an extreme variation of the Romantic hero archetype. Traditional Romantic heroes tend to be defined by their rejection or questioning of standard social conventions and norms of behavior, their alienation from larger society, their focus on the self as the center of existence, and their ability to inspire others to commit acts of good and kindness. Romantic heroes are not idealized heroes, but imperfect and often flawed individuals who, despite their sometimes less than savory personalities, often behave in a heroic manner.
According to many literary critics and biographers, Lord Byron developed the archetype of the Byronic hero in response to his boredom with traditional and Romantic heroic literary characters. Byron, according to critics and biographers, wanted to introduce a heroic archetype that would be not only more appealing to readers but also more psychologically realistic.
The archetype of the Byronic hero is similar in many respects to the figure of the traditional Romantic hero. Both Romantic and Byronic heroes tend to rebel against conventional modes of behavior and thought and possess personalities that are not traditionally heroic. However, Byronic heroes usually have a greater degree of psychological and emotional complexity than traditional Romantic heroes.
Byronic heroes are marked not only by their outright rejection of traditional heroic virtues and values but also their remarkable intelligence and cunning, strong feelings of affection and hatred, impulsiveness, strong sensual desires, moodiness, cynicism, dark humor, and morbid sensibilities.
Byronic heroes also tend to appear larger than life and dress and style themselves in elaborate costumes for the purpose of making themselves as different from others as possible.
Byronic heroes tend to be characterized as being:
Byronic heroes also tend to only seem loyal to themselves and their core beliefs and values. While they often act on behalf of greater goods, they will rarely acknowledge doing so.
The archetype of the Byronic hero has remained popular and relevant throughout Western literature and entertainment since the early 19th century.
In 19th-century Western literature, there are countless examples of Byronic heroes, including the protagonists of nearly all of Byron's epic poems, particularly Manfred, Don Juan, and The Corsair. Other examples of Byronic Heroes from 19th-century Western literature include Heathcliff from Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights, Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Captain Ahab from Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
There are also countless examples of Byronic heroes in 20th-century Western literature, including the Phantom from Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera, Jake Barnes from Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises, Ian Fleming's James Bond character, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby from his novel The Great Gatsby. All of these Byronic heroes are marked by a dark sensibility, cynicism, arrogance, high intelligence, and a refusal to outright obey authority.
We can even find countless examples of Byronic heroes in contemporary popular culture, including Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House, Han Solo from the Star Wars movies, Sherlock Holmes (as depicted in various films and television shows), and many other television, film, and comic book heroes. These sorts of heroes tend not to embody typical heroic traits and attitudes but actually subvert them. Contemporary Byronic heroes are often larger-than-life figures who accomplish seemingly impossible actions but remain grounded in self-doubt and self-awareness. Byronic heroes tend to be vulnerable, imperfect heroes who we, as readers and viewers, can more easily identify with than traditional, epic heroes who might seem unrealistic and dull.
Think about some of the most popular and interesting characters in not just literature but also film and television. Do you ever notice how often we find ourselves interested in and intrigued by heroes who are imperfect, tortured, and arrogant, sometimes more so than heroes who are presented as being perfect and idealized?
A perfect example are the film, television and comic book heroes Superman and Batman. Superman is often depicted as being a perfect hero. He is, both physically and emotionally, essentially indestructible and incorruptible. He almost always does the right thing without any consideration for his own well-being. Batman, who can be understood as a Byronic hero, is quite different. Batman is highly intelligent, cynical, self-destructive, haunted, traumatized, and tends to rebel against authority. Batman, then, can be understood as a perfect example of a modern day Byronic hero.
A number of 20th-century rock and roll musicians have also embraced the ideas and styles of Byronic heroism, both in terms of their rebellious, sexually-charged, self-destructive personalities, and their general physical appearances. Examples include Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Sting, and David Bowie, all of whom consciously adopted their attitudes, styles, and ideas from the archetype of the Byronic hero.
The Byronic hero character type was first developed by the famous 19th-century English Romantic poet Lord Byron. Byronic heroes can be understood as extreme variations on the Romantic hero, who are typically defined by their rejection or questioning of standard social conventions and norms of behavior, their alienation from larger society, their focus on the self as the center of existence, and their ability to inspire others to commit acts of good and kindness. However, Byronic heroes usually have a greater degree of psychological and emotional complexity than traditional Romantic heroes. Byronic heroes are marked not only by their outright rejection of traditional heroic virtues and values but also their remarkable intelligence and cunning, strong feelings of affection and hatred, impulsiveness, strong sensual desires, moodiness, cynicism, dark humor, and morbid sensibilities.
Byronic heroes have remained popular in Western literature and culture since the 19th century. Early examples include not only most of Lord Byron's protagonists but also such well-known figures as Captain Ahab from Herman Melville's Moby Dick. There are also many Byronic heroes in 20th-century literature, ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby from his novel The Great Gatsby to the Phantom in Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. Finally, we still see many Byronic heroes in contemporary pop culture, including Han Solo from the Star Wars movies and Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House.
After you have finished with this lesson, you'll be able to:
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseCollege English Literature: Help and Review
12 chapters | 283 lessons