Characterization is the playwright’s imaginative creation of characters that can effectively dramatize his story. The action of the play is presented through such characters. He does so by imbuing the characters with certain recognizable human traits and qualities. These qualities include physical attributes, moral, psychological and emotional dispositions, their attitude towards other characters and situations, and so on. At the point of conceptualization of the idea he wants to present in his play, he thinks of the best way to present it to make it interesting and at the same time informative. He builds this idea into a story form and thinks of the type of characters that can tell this story effectively.
So he uses the characters to explicate his theme and propel the plot, His ability to craft the play in such a way that each character blends well in the plot is called characterization. These characters are presented and they develop in the course of the action. In most cases, the characters grow from innocence to maturity or from ignorance to knowledge. They also change according to situations and events. When this is done, the characters are referred to as round characters.
In Arms and the Man for instance, Raina grows from innocence to maturity in the course of the play. You will recall that at the beginning of the play, Raina is very romantic and full of fantasy first about Sergius and later about her Chocolate Cream Soldier. Her understanding of love is very shallow. By the end of the play, she realizes the difference between reality and fantasy as she marries Captain Bluntschli. On his own part, Sergius realizes his ignorance of the military and also the need to marry for love and not for position.
The important elements in characterization are consistency and motivation. A good playwright must craft his play in such a way that his characters are consistent. You don’t expect a character to behave like an educated young woman in the opening scene and in the following acts like an illiterate village girl. This could happen if there is a proper motivation for that. For example, if she is pretending to be what she is not in order to obtain some information, get something or to escape from danger. Motivation in characterization means that there must be a good reason for any action that is taken by every character in the play. What is the reason for Captain Bluntschli’s flight from the battlefield? A soldier who is paid to fight cannot just run away like that. He runs away because they do not have ammunition, he cannot fight with his bare hand so he runs away to save his life.
The characters are the persons, in the play. They are endowed with moral and dispositional qualities that are expressed in their dialogues and in their action. The reason or grounds for action, temperament and moral dispositions constitute his motivations. They act out the story of the play from the beginning to the end. They act within the limits of possibility and plausibility. This means that they and their actions should be as close as possible to reality. The playwright therefore creates a story that is credible for them to act. However, in an allegorical play, each character acts within the limits of what it represents.
Each playwright, depending on his style, chooses how to develop his characters. This brings us to a discussion on characters.
The ability to create characters and to ensure that they blend/suit the action of the play is what we refer to as characterization. What is created is called character. Characters refer to the people who act the play. Drama is the most active form of literary art and is presented in dialogue. It is not like the novel or poetry where the novelist tells a story. The story in a play is told as people talk to one another and interact in inter-personal relationships. These people are referred to as characters. Characters in a play must not necessarily be human beings. Animals or things can be used as characters. This depends on the intention of the playwright and the style he wants to adopt. In allegorical plays like Tess Onwueme’s The Desert Encroaches or Everyman, a medieval play, animals and abstract qualities are used as characters.
In the play, you can identify each character through his name, through what he says, what he does, what other characters say about him and what the playwright says about him. The playwright’s comment is contained in the stage direction. The stage direction is usually enclosed in a bracket and in most cases written in italics. You can find it at the beginning of the scene or at any point in the play whenever the playwright want to give information about the character, his action, the environment, the mood or any other information that is relevant to the action and which is not embedded in the dialogue.
Types of Characters
There are different types of characters in drama. They include the protagonist, the dynamic character, the static character, the flat character, the round character, and stereotypes.
He is the main character and at the center of the story. He is called the protagonist or the hero. If he is pitted against an important character, like in Hamlet, the opponent is called an antagonist. In the play, Hamlet is the protagonist while King Claudius is the antagonist and the relationship between them is what we refer to as conflict. Usually the story revolves around him and in fact the story is about him. He is easily identifiable because he stands out over and above most other characters. Everything revolves around him as he influences the action that he is going through. He creates a world for himself which could be big or small, palatable or detestable. He lives to sustain or oppose what happens to him. His role is usually central to the development of the theme, and whatever happens to him or whatever he does has much significance to the outcome of the story. He is often referred to as the hero of the story or the protagonist and he is one of the major characters. His central position in the story places him in a very important position.
The playwright therefore portrays him carefully. His many – sided and complex nature is presented in details. He helps to inject life in the story when he is properly presented. In Oedipus Rex, for instance, King Oedipus is the protagonist. He is not just one of the major characters but he is the major character. The story that is told in the play is about the birth, the rise and the fall of King Oedipus. Sophocles uses him to show his audience that man is helpless before the gods. This means that a man cannot change his destiny no matter how hard he or the people around him. In the case of King Oedipus, his parents try to change his destiny by ordering, when he was born and they discovered that he has been doomed to kill his father and marry his mother, that he be thrown into the forest where he was expected to die but the servant spared his life and offered him to the shepherd. As he grows, he tries to change that fate but does not succeed. Instead he moves closer to it and eventually fulfills it.