Hubris (hybris): Greek for “insolence,” excessive pride that brings about the protagonist’s downfall. Disastrous consequences result when hubris, perhaps the quintessential tragic flaw, causes the protagonist to ignore a warning from a god or other important figure, to violate a moral rule, or to try to transcend ordinary limits.
EXAMPLES: In William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth (1606), the protagonist Macbeth, spurred by proud ambition, murders King Duncan in order to ascend to the throne, an act in flagrant violation of divine and moral rules that ultimately results in Macbeth’s own death. Other protagonists taken down by hubris include the title character in Werner Herzog’s movie Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972) and the idealist father in Paul Theroux’s novel The Mosquito Coast (1982; adapted to film 1986). The sinking of the Titanic — a ship billed as “unsinkable,” with lifeboat capacity for only half of its passengers — epitomizes the dangers of hubris, as do the collapse of the Enron Corporation, chronicled in Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2003; adapted to film 2005), and the reckless financial practices and overweening confidence in the housing market that led to the 2008 financial crisis, as depicted in works such as Charles Ferguson’s documentary Inside Job (2010), Michael Lewis’s The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010; adapted to film 2015), and Meghnad Desai’s Hubris: Why Economists Failed to Predict the Crisis and How to Avoid the Next One (2015).