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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

Last revision date: January 4, 2008


Character in the Play


Objectives for this lesson:

Students will examine:

elements of character and characterization



Aristotle's Six Parts of a Tragedy (click here for a slide presentation about the six parts of a play -- with sound -- requires a relatively fast connection and an internet sound plug-in installed)

1. Plot
2. Character
3. Thought (theme, idea)
4. Diction (Language)
5. Music (sound)
6. Spectacle

2. CHARACTER: the essences of human behavior.

  • Representative or quintessential characters -- embodiment of of the characteristics of an entire group.
  • Only human as much as the playwright and production have made them distinguishable from other characters, physically, socially, psychologically, morally.
  • The concept of "decorum" was important in the Neoclassical period--characters should behave according to their class /circumstances (Example: The Cid)
    Revealed ONLY by what characters says, does, what others say about him, react to him (stage directions, etc.).
  • Can also be revealed through how the character functions in the play -- what functions to they fulfill in the play ?

The following terms help describe characters according to their function in the play :

Protagonist   -- "agon" = struggle; the pro side of the struggle -- often used to refer to the lead character in a tragedy.

Antagonist   -- the anti side of the struggle -- often the bad guy, but could be anyone / thing that struggles against the protagonist.

Foil / Counterpart: -- reveals some aspects of the main characters by having similar or different circumstances or by behaving similarly or differently

Stock characters -- exemplify one particular characteristic, as in commedia dell' arte --

Type -- a character who is larger than life who has a "dominant trait" -- as opposed to a "real" or life-like individual [Sporre, 95]. -- similar to "stock" characters -- for example: the "villain," the "good cop gone bad," the "precocious child," etc.

Narrators / Chorus and Non-Human characters

[Confidante -- a character whom the protagonist or other important character confides in...

Raisonneur / author's character -- speaks for the author, giving the author's morals or philosophy -- usually not the protagonist

(these last two are from Cameron and Gillespie, The Enjoyment of Theatre,  5 th edition, [Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000], p. 49.) ]


{Top of Page}

Some questions to ask about characters in a play...

Are characters "major" or "minor?"
Shallow or well-drawn?
Extraordinary or ordinary?
Representative or particularized?

Important terms:





stock characters


Click here for a short study quiz on this lesson...

The last Four Parts of a Play


This page and all linked pages in this directory are copyrighted © Eric W. Trumbull, 1998-2008

Last revision date: January 4, 2008