Stock character

Last updated

A stock character is a stereotypical fictional character in a work of art such as a novel, play, film, or a movie whom audiences recognize from frequent recurrences in a particular literary tradition. Stock characters are archetypal characters distinguished by their flatness. As a result, they tend to be easy targets for parody and to be criticized as clichés. The presence of a particular array of stock characters is a key component of many genres. The point of the stock character is to move the story along by allowing the audience to already understand the character. [1] [2]

A character is a person or other being in a narrative. The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life person, in which case the distinction of a "fictional" versus "real" character may be made. Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person". In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.

Tradition belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes, but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word tradition itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time. Various academic disciplines also use the word in a variety of ways.

Parody imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialise an original work

A parody ; also called a spoof, send-up, take-off, lampoon, play on (something), caricature, or joke is a work created to imitate, make fun of, or comment on an original work—its subject, author, style, or some other target—by means of satiric or ironic imitation. As the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon puts it, "parody ... is imitation, not always at the expense of the parodied text." Another critic, Simon Dentith, defines parody as "any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice." Parody may be found in art or culture, including literature, music, animation, gaming, and film.

Contents

Examples and history

Ancient Greece

The study of the Character, as it is now known, was conceived by Aristotle's student Theophrastus. In The Characters (c. 319 BC), Theophrastus introduced the "character sketch", which became the core of "the Character as a genre". It included 30 character types. Each type is said to be an illustration of an individual who represents a group, characterized by his most prominent trait. The Theophrastan types are as follows:

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, Chalkidiki, Greece. Along with Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". Aristotle provided a complex and harmonious synthesis of the various existing philosophies prior to him, including those of Socrates and Plato, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its fundamental intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be central to the contemporary philosophical discussion.

Theophrastus ancient greek philosopher

Theophrastus, a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death, he attached himself to Aristotle who took to Theophrastus his writings. When Aristotle fled Athens, Theophrastus took over as head of the Lyceum. Theophrastus presided over the Peripatetic school for thirty-six years, during which time the school flourished greatly. He is often considered the father of botany for his works on plants. After his death, the Athenians honoured him with a public funeral. His successor as head of the school was Strato of Lampsacus.

  • The Insincere Man
  • The Flatterer
  • The Garrulous Man
  • The Boor
  • The Complacent Man
  • The Man without Moral Feeling
  • The Talkative Man
  • The Fabricator
  • The Shamelessly Greedy Man
  • The Pennypincher
  • The Offensive Man
  • The Hapless Man
  • The Officious Man
  • The Absent-Minded Man
  • The Unsociable Man
  • The Superstitious Man
  • The Faultfinder
  • The Suspicious Man
  • The Repulsive Man
  • The Unpleasant Man
  • The Man of Petty Ambition
  • The Stingy Man
  • The Show-Off
  • The Arrogant Man
  • The Coward
  • The Oligarchical Man
  • The Late Learner
  • The Slanderer
  • The Lover of Bad Company
  • The Basely Covetous Man

It is unclear from where Theophrastus derived these types, but many strongly resemble those from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Despite the fact that Theophrastus sought to portray character types and not individuals, some of the sketches may have been drawn from observations of actual persons in Athenian public life. Although the preface of the work implies the intention to catalogue "human nature, associate[ed] with all sorts and conditions of men and contrast[ed] in minute detail the good and bad among them", many other possible types are left unrepresented. These omissions are especially noticeable because each of the thirty characters represents a negative trait ("the bad"); some scholars have therefore suspected that another half of the work, covering the positive types ("the good"), once existed.[ citation needed ] This preface, however, is certainly fictitious, i.e. added in later times, and cannot therefore be a source of any allegation.[ citation needed ] Nowadays many scholars also believe that the definitions found in the beginning of each sketch are later additions.[ citation needed ]

New Comedy

New Comedy was the first theatrical form to have access to Theophrastus' Characters. Menander was said to be a student of Theophrastus, and has been remembered for his prototypical cooks, merchants, farmers and slave characters. Although we have few extant works of the New Comedy, the titles of Menander's plays alone have a "Theophrastan ring": The Fisherman, The Farmer, The Superstitious Man, The Peevish Man, The Promiser, The Heiress, The Priestess, The False Accuser, The Misogynist, The Hated Man, The Shipmaster, The Slave, The Concubine, The Soldiers, The Widow, and The Noise-Shy Man.

Menander ancient Athenian comic playwright

Menander was a Greek dramatist and the best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy. He wrote 108 comedies and took the prize at the Lenaia festival eight times. His record at the City Dionysia is unknown but may well have been similarly spectacular.

Mimistry

Another early form that illustrates the beginnings of the Character is the mime. Greco-Roman mimic playlets often told the stock story of the fat, stupid husband who returned home to find his wife in bed with a lover, stock characters in themselves. Although the mimes were not confined to playing stock characters, the mimus calvus was an early reappearing character. Mimus calvus resembled Maccus, the buffoon from the Atellan Farce. The Atellan Farce is highly significant in the study of the Character because it contained the first true stock characters.[ citation needed ] The Atellan Farce employed four fool types. In addition to Maccus, Bucco, the glutton, Pappus, the naïve old man (the fool victim), and Dossennus, the cunning hunchback (the trickster). A fifth type, in the form of the additional character Manducus, the chattering jawed pimp, also may have appeared in the Atellan Farce, possibly out of an adaptation of Dossennus. The Roman mime, as well, was a stock fool, closely related to the Atellan fools.

Mime artist someone who uses mime as a theatrical medium or performance art

A mime or mime artist is a person who uses mime as a theatrical medium or as a performance art. Miming involves acting out a story through body motions, without the use of speech. In earlier times, in English, such a performer would typically be referred to as a mummer. Miming is distinguished from silent comedy, in which the artist is a character in a film or sketch without sound.

Atellan Farce

The Atellan Farce, also known as the Oscan Games, were masked improvised farces. The games were very popular in Ancient Rome, and usually put on after longer pantomime plays. The origin of the Atellan Farce is uncertain but the farces are similar to other forms of ancient theatre, such as the South Italian Phlyakes, the plays of Plautus and Terrence, and Roman mime. Most historians believe the name is derived from Atella, an Oscan town in Campania. The farces were written in Oscan and imported to Rome in 391 BC. In later Roman versions, only the tridiculous characters read their lines in Oscan, while the others read in Latin.

Roman input

Plautus

The Roman playwright Plautus drew from Atellan Farce as well as the Greek Old and New Comedy. He expanded the four types of Atellan Farce to eight (not quite as distinct as the farcical types):

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Plautus Roman comic playwright of the Old Latin period

Titus Maccius Plautus, commonly known as Plautus, was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest Latin literary works to have survived in their entirety. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus. The word Plautine refers to both Plautus's own works and works similar to or influenced by his.

Plautus's fool was either the slave or the parasite.

Laertius

In revision of Theophrastus, Diogenes Laertius published Ethical Characters (Circa 230 BC), sparking interest in two lines of study.

The first is that of the character book. Imitators of Theophrastus including Satyrus Atheneus, Heracleides Ponticus, Lycon, and Rutilius Lupus wrote their own character sketches. Circa 212 BC, Ariston's discourse on morality included several proud Character types and mimicked the Theophrastan style. Following Philodemus of Gadara's work on "Self seeking Affability" and Ariston's characters, evidence of acquaintance with the genre is present, however popularity of the portrait over the generalized stock figures in increasing. This may explain the gap of time from the beginning of the Common Era to the 16th century marked by an absence of character sketching.

The second field is the study of nomenclature. As the Character rose as a literary genre, many terms were coined in attempt to place labels on the new subject. The translation Theophrastus' title is based on the terms charassein and Charakter, associated with the stamping of an impression. Rhetorica ad Herennium (c. 20 BC), attributed to Cicero, split the character up into two qualities: effictio, the description of physical appearance, and notation, the nature of man. Later in his De Inventione, Cicero divided the character, or conformation as he called it, into eleven points: name, nature (natura), way of life (victus), fortune (fortuna), physical appearance (habitus), passions (affectio), interests (studium), reasons for doing things (consilium), one's deeds (factum), what happens to one (casus), one's discourses (orationes). Seneca, too, played a part in providing labels for the new genre in his Epistulae Morale, using the terms ethologia and characterismos for characteristic conduct of moral types. Circa 93 AD, Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria discussed the effect of personality on rhetoric and in so doing, coined the terms ethopoeia, an orator's imitation of another person's character or habits, and prosopopoeia, the same thing, but with a dramatization of the person as well as the giving of his words. Other terms conceived in the period include figurae sententiarum and descriptio personae. Decorum, the rhetorical principle that an individual's words and subject matter are appropriately matched, also became a relevant term, and would remain significant into the Renaissance.

Supersession by philosophy

The Romans' "perverse admiration for decorum"[ This quote needs a citation ] is in part responsible for the deterioration and the resulting blackout period of the Character genre. During this blackout, the Character smoldered under the philosophies of such men as Horace. In the Ars Poetica (c. 18 BC), Horace drew pictures of typical men at various ages, from childhood to old age. Horace's belief that "what is typical of a class should be observable in the individual" was illustrated in his epistles classifying Achilles as a man of rage and love, Paris an impractical lover, and Ulysses the model of virtue and wisdom. Others, such as Hermogenes, Aphthonius, and Priscian, shared this belief and sought to explore the workings of human nature.

Other countries

Stock characters also feature heavily in the comic traditions of Kyōgen in Japan and Commedia dell'arte in Italy; in the latter they are known as tipi fissi (fixed [human] types).

Academic analysis

According to Dwight V. Swain, a creative writing professor and prolific fiction author, all characters begin as stock characters and are fleshed out only as far as needed to advance the plot. [3]

According to E. Graham McKinley, "there is general agreement on the importance to drama of 'stock' characters. This notion has been considerably explored in film theory, where feminists have argued, female stock characters are only stereotypes (child/woman, whore, bitch, wife, mother, secretary or girl Friday, career women, vamp, etc.)." [4] Thus, the subject of female stock characters has attracted scholarly attention as seen in the work of Ulrike Roesler and Jayandra Soni whose work deals "not only with female stock characters in the sense of typical roles in the dramas, but also with other female persons in the area of the theatrical stage..." [5]

Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich, and Holger Schott Syme explain further that "Female stock characters also permit a close level of audience identification; this is true most of all in The Troublesome Raign , where the 'weeping woman' type is used to dramatic advantage. This stock character provides pathos as yet another counterpoint to the plays' comic business and royal pomp." [6]

Tara Brabazon discusses how the "school ma'am on the colonial frontier has been a stock character of literature and film in Australia and the United States. She is an ideal foil for the ill mannered, uncivilised hero. In American literature and film, the spinster from East – generally Boston – has some stock attributes. Polly Welts Kaufman shows that 'her genteel poverty, unbending morality, education, and independent ways make her character a useful foil for the two other female stock characters in Western literature: the prostitute with the heart of gold and the long-suffering farmer's wife.'" [7]

In the United States, courts have determined that copyright protection cannot be extended to the characteristics of stock characters in a story, whether it be a book, play, or film. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Comedy is a genre of film in which the main emphasis is on humour. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement and most often work by exaggerating characteristics for humorous effect. Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending. One of the oldest genres in film, some of the very first silent movies were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films took another swing, as laughter could result from burlesque situations but also dialogue.

Horace Roman lyric poet

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. The rhetorician Quintilian regarded his Odes as just about the only Latin lyrics worth reading: "He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words."

Uncle Tom fictional character

Uncle Tom is the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The term "Uncle Tom" is also used as a derogatory epithet for an exceedingly subservient person, particularly when that person is aware of their own lower-class status based on race. The use of the epithet is the result of later works derived from the original novel.

Herodas Ancient Greek writer

Herodas, or Herondas, was a Greek poet and the author of short humorous dramatic scenes in verse, probably written in Alexandria during the 3rd century BC.

Decimus Laberius was a Roman eques and writer of mimes (farces).

Tricky slave

The tricky slave is a stock character. He is a clever, lower-class person who brings about the happy ending of a comedy for the lovers. He is more clever than the upper-class people about him, both the lovers and the characters who block their love, and typically also looking out for his own interests; in the New Comedy, the tricky slave or dolosus servus aimed to get his freedom by assisting his young master in love.

Slavery in ancient Rome

Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labour, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Accountants and physicians were often slaves. Slaves of Greek origin in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal and their lives short.

Theatre of ancient Rome theatrical genre

Theatre of ancient Rome refers to the time period of theatrical practice and performance in Rome beginning in the 4th century B.C., following the state’s transition from Monarchy to Republic. Theatre of the era is generally separated into the genres of tragedy and comedy. Some works by Plautus, Terence, and Seneca the Younger survive to this day. Eventually, theatre would represent an important aspect of Roman society because it would come to function as the primary means through which the Roman people could express their political emotions during the republican and imperial periods of Rome.

Phlyax play

A Phlyax play, also known as a hilarotragedy, was a burlesque dramatic form that developed in the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia in the 4th century BCE. Its name derives from the Phlyakes or “Gossip Players” in Doric Greek. From the surviving titles of the plays they appear to have been a form of mythological burlesque, which mixed figures from the Greek pantheon with the stock characters and situations of Attic New Comedy.

Elegiac comedy was a genre of medieval Latin literature—or drama—which survives as a collection of about twenty texts written in the 12th and 13th centuries in the liberal arts schools of west central France. Though commonly identified in manuscripts as comoedia, modern scholars often reject their status as comedy. Unlike Classical comedy, they were written in elegiac couplets. Denying their true comedic nature, Edmond Faral called them Latin fabliaux, after the later Old French fabliaux, and Ian Thomson labelled them Latin comic tales. Other scholars have invented terms like verse tales, rhymed monologues, epic comedies, and Horatian comedies to describe them. The Latin "comedies", the dramatic nature of which varies greatly, may have been the direct ancestors of the fabliaux but more likely merely share similarities. Other interpretations have concluded that they are primitive romances, student juvenilia, didactic poems, or merely collections of elegies on related themes.

Miles Gloriosus is a comedic play written by Titus Maccius Plautus. The title can be translated as "The Swaggering Soldier" or "Vainglorious Soldier". His source for Miles Gloriosus was a Greek play, now lost, called Alazon or The Braggart. Although the characters in Miles Gloriosus speak Latin, they are Greeks and largely have Greek names, clothing, and customs. The action takes place in Ephesus, a Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor, famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Drama artwork intended for performance, formal type of literature

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc, performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.

<i>Commedia dellarte</i> theatre characterized by masked “types”

Commedia dell'arte was an early form of professional theatre, originating from Italy, that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Commedia dell'arte is also known as commedia alla maschera, commedia improvviso, and commedia dell'arte all'improvviso. Commedia is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of actresses and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. A commedia, such as The Tooth Puller, is both scripted and improvised. Characters' entrances and exits are scripted. A special characteristic of commedia dell'arte are the lazzi. A lazzo is a joke or "something foolish or witty", usually well known to the performers and to some extent a scripted routine. Another characteristic of commedia dell'arte is pantomime, which is mostly used by the character Arlecchino (Harlequin).

In film and television, drama is a genre of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular subgenre, such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical period drama", "domestic drama", or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.

<i>Perikeiromene</i> ancient Greek comedy by Menander

Perikeiromene (Greek: Περικειρομένη, translated as The Girl with her Hair Cut Short, is a comedy by Menander that is only partially preserved on papyrus. Of an estimated total of between 1030 and 1091 lines, about 450 lines survive. Most acts lack their beginning and end, except that the transition between act I and II is still extant. The play may have been first performed in 314/13 BC or not much later.

Nikola Nalješković was a Croatian poet, playwright and scholar. He wrote poetry, romantic canzones, masques, epistles, pastoral plays, mythological plays, farce, comedy and drama with features of Plautine erudite comedy and Roman mime. His dramatic works include lascivious and common themes.

References

  1. Chris Baldick (2008). "stock character". The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press. p. 317. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  2. Kamesha Jackson (2010). "stock character". In Ronald L. Jackson II. Encyclopedia of Identity. Sage Publications . Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  3. Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters: How to Build Story People Writers Digest Books, 1990
  4. E. Graham McKinley, Beverly Hills, 90210: television, gender, and identity (1997), 19.
  5. Ulrike Roesler and Jayandra Soni, Aspects of the female in Indian culture: proceedings of the symposium in ... (2004), 119.
  6. Andrew Griffin, Helen Ostovich, and Holger Schott Syme, Locating the Queen's Men, 1583-1603: Material Practices and Conditions of ... (2009), 172.
  7. Tara Brabazon, Ladies who lunge: celebrating difficult women (2002), 147.
  8. Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp. , 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930).