Presentation of Characters

Presentation of Characters

Your understanding of the scene will be entirely dependant on your understanding of the characters. The first thing to remember is that they aren't real! Then you need to work out how much you can learn about the characters.

Finally it is important to consider what the question wants you to write about. The notes below should guide you through writing about character including some tips and potential pitfalls.

A common error whether writing about plays or novels is that students are inclined to write about the characters and events as if they are real. Their essays become psychological studies, not appreciations of literature.

Within the context of a play the audience is supposed to suspend his or her own disbelief and imagine that it is real. After all, the purpose of the actors is to convince the audience that what takes place on stage is real.

However, as a good exam candidate you need to see beyond this. You need to acknowledge that playwrights create characters for a purpose.

Some characters' primary role may be to develop the plot for other characters.

  • What is the function of the character in the scene?
  • What may the writer have intended?

To get a C or above you need to show an awareness of the writer.

There are a number of different areas to consider that will help you develop an understanding of characters.

You should consider the following categories:

  • Background information
  • Action
  • What they say
  • Diction
  • Social status
  • Mood
  • Response to other characters
  • Changes during the scene

Sometimes the examiner will include a brief introduction of the scene to help you understand the scene.

Note: this does not necessarily happen, so if it does, you should assume that the information is very important.

The actions of the characters are sometimes included in the stage directions. Stage directions are notes made by the playwright telling a director what to make the characters do.

  • In what context does the audience first see the character in this extract?
  • What are they doing?
  • What do the actions, mannerisms and behaviour of the characters tell you about them?
  • Do they act differently during the scene?
  • What does this tell you about their feelings, response to different characters?
  • Do their actions seem to contradict what they say, or suggest that there is something being hidden?

The most obvious point to consider is what does the character say.

  • What do they say about the events on stage?
  • What do they say to other characters?
  • What do they say about other characters?
  • Do they talk about a particular theme?
  • Do their ideas about a theme conflict with the ideas of others?
  • Do they appear to change their mind about a particular idea during the course of the scene?
  • Do they discuss issues differently with different characters?
  • Do they state their feelings explicitly, or do you have to work out their emotions from what they say?

As you know from the sections on poetry and Shakespeare, diction means the words that are used. A poet chooses particular words to create a certain effect. A playwright is dependant on the words he or she chooses to create a character.

Look carefully at the types of words that are used. You may find that the choice will associate a character with a certain social class. The words they use should also help you to understand their mood.

  • Do the words chosen by the playwright create a certain rhythm or pace in the scene?
  • How and why does the playwright do this?

Do the words suggest that the characters come from a particular social class or culture?

Make sure you are aware of how the playwright uses vocabulary and appearance to reflect the characters social status. Does this tell you anything about the character, or does it merely show the setting of the play?

As always illustrate your answers with examples of vocabulary used.

Playwrights may give notes on how the characters speak.

  • Does their mood develop or change during the course of the extract?
  • Do the characters use particular words that help you to understand their mood?
  • Does the audience learn about a character?s mood from the way another character talks about or to them?
  • Does another character comment on their mood? Are their observations accurate? Why? Why not?
  • Does the way an actor delivers a line affect the audience's understanding of the line?
  • Is the mood of an individual character different from that of the others? How does this affect the overall mood?

In real life we learn about other people from the way they interact with those around them. Similarly, in a play you need to look at the words and actions of other characters to learn about a particular character. This may involve two characters talking about a third, before or after their appearance on stage.

Characters may alter their behaviour in response to the actions of another character.

  • Does one character talk differently to different characters? Why?
  • How do the characters appear to feel about one another?
  • Does the behaviour directed towards particular characters create dramatic tension?
  • Are the characters aware of the feelings of another towards them?

People change. It is very likely that the extract you will receive includes a character experiencing a certain event, or learning of particular news, changing their situation and feelings. When writing about an extract, you should show an awareness of how a character develops or changes during the scene.

Find evidence to support your comment. Mention which exact lines alter their thoughts or behaviour. What makes them change; action, new information, persuasion, another character, or self analysis?

Presentation of Characters

It is essential to remember that you are writing about a play. Although you may have read the scene several times, you should consider how the audience would respond to the character and events in the scene when seeing the play for the first time.

  • How does the audience's response to the character change or develop as result of this scene?
  • Do the events in the scene build on previous events in the play or alter preconceptions?
  • How are characters used to develop a theme or event within the scene?
  • Do minor characters serve only to provide information for the protagonists (main characters) or are they of importance in themselves?
  • Is the purpose of a character to bring out a different perspective of a certain character?

You must read the question carefully. If not you may find that you spend twenty minutes writing about a character who appears in the extract but is not mentioned in the question. This will invariably waste marks.

One of the major mistakes that many students make in extract questions is that they spend too much time giving a plot summary of the events in the scene. When writing about character, don't merely recount what happens in the extract and paraphrase their speeches. Show an analysis of their character.

Be wary of talking generally about the character without giving focused examples. It is easy to lose sight of the question, and writing about the characters as if it is a case study rather than a dramatic textual study. Close analysis will get higher marks.