A fictional character is a person in a narrative work of art (such as a novel, play, television series, or movie). The character can be completely fictional or based on a real-life person. In that case, the difference between a "fictional" and "real" character can be made. Coming 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, mainly when played 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.
The word character can also mean "personality". We can say that someone has a "strong character" meaning a strong, confident personality. It is sometimes used as a noun in this sense: "He is a real character" (meaning someone you cannot easily forget).
A character role in a play means one of the people in the play who have a particular character (personality). They contrast with the main characters of the play. For example, there may be two lovers who are the main characters of the story. The character roles might be: a wicked step-mother, a kind nurse, an old wise man, a stupid fool, a domestic worker who is very old etc.
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- Baldick (2001, 37) and Childs and Fowler (2006, 23). See also "character, 10b" in Trumble and Stevenson (2003, 381): "A person portrayed in a novel, a drama, etc; a part played by an actor".
- OED "character" sense 17.a citing, inter alia, Dryden's 1679 preface to Troilus and Cressida: "The chief character or Hero in a Tragedy ... ought in prudence to be such a man, who has so much more in him of Virtue than of Vice... If Creon had been the chief character in Œdipus..."
- Aston and Savona (1991, 34), quotation: Page Template:Quote/styles.css has no content.
[...] is first used in English to denote 'a personality in a novel or a play' in 1749 (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v.).
- Harrison (1998, 51-2) quotation: Page Template:Quote/styles.css has no content.
Its use as 'the sum of the qualities which constitute an individual' is a mC17 development. The modern literary and theatrical sense of 'an individual created in a fictitious work' is not attested in OED until mC18: 'Whatever characters any... have for the jestsake personated... are now thrown off' (1749, Fielding, Tom Jones).
- Pavis (1998, 47).
- Roser, Nancy; Miriam Martinez; Charles Fuhrken; Kathleen McDonnold. "Characters as Guides to Meaning". The Reading Teacher 6 (6): 548–559.