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The Development Of Characterisation From Everyman

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2438 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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Everyman is a medieval morality play believed to be written ‘late in the fifteenth century’ (Worthen 2004: 236), while Six Characters in Search of an Author was written in 1920. The vast difference in time periods between the two plays suggests that the development of characterisation could also be vast. In Medieval times civilisation had reverted back to simplicity (Holland 2010), with plays typically involving ‘the personification of moral or psychological abstractions’, and single characters to represent society as a whole (Worthen 2004: 236). However, by the writing of Six Characters it was common for plays, like other literature, ‘to penetrate the minds of their characters more deeply’ (Greer and Lewis 2004: 661), creating more complex and individualised characters.

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The idea of complexity is significant in comparing the characterisation from Everyman to Six Characters. While Everyman has a simple purpose to instruct morality to the masses, Six Characters has a more complex aim, as Pirandello uses his characters to raise questions that ultimately are left unanswered. Dillon suggests that Medieval theatre ‘aimed to teach and improve its audiences’ (Rees 2010), therefore the characters in Everyman act as religious metaphors to clearly communicate morals to the spectators. It is apparent that ‘the language of Everyman presents no great difficulties’ to an audience, and in fact the whole play follows a clear plot where ‘the meaning is rarely in doubt’ (Allen 1953: ix). The audience see Death, ‘that no man dreadeth’ (Anonymous 115), order Everyman to make the ‘pilgrimage’ to death (Anonymous 146), who then struggles to find anyone to accompany him. In contrast to this fairly simple plot and aim, Six Characters questions the ideas of reality and illusion, using the characters to bring these issues to the foreground. The complexity of the play is self-consciously stated when the Producer says, ‘if you can understand them [Pirandello’s plays] you must be very clever’ (Pirandello 1.77-78), as they question the very play the audience are watching. As highlighted in a review of the play by the Manchester Guardian in 1925, the characters pose the question “What is real?” (Bassnett 1989: 44), trying to create their own ‘vision of humanity’ (Bassnett 1989: 78). As Worthen suggests, the play makes the audience reflect in depth on reality and illusion, but is ‘inconclusive’ in that it doesn’t provide a final answer on whether it is the actors or characters in the play that depict ‘reality’ (Worthen 2004: 687). The Son even states, ‘I am a character who has not been fully developed dramatically’ (Pirandello 1.712-713), which again provokes ambiguity on characters’ identity. In questioning our identity by discussing how ‘each of us is several different people’ in different situations (Pirandello 1.642), it would be easy to suggest that the Father would provoke self-reflection in some members of the audience. The contrasting aims of the two plays therefore suggests the reasons behind Pirandello’s arguably more developed characters than those presented in Everyman.

Development of character could be gauged on a character’s purpose in a play. As the purpose of Everyman is to teach morality to the audience, the characters are constructed as merely functional. Rather than acting as well-rounded characters that each have a different personality, many of the characters could easily merge into one. For example Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Strength, Discretion, and Beauty all come together to help Everyman, but then all leave him to undertake his journey alone. Most of these characters are therefore presented as kind and helpful, and then regress into cowardice at the end of the play, to represent that nothing can be taken with you in death except good deeds. There is no need for the characters to be complex with multifaceted personalities, as this could distract the audience and complicate the simple meaning of the play. Performed amongst other morality plays the audience should understand that the characters function to represent ‘typical Christian life’ and to put across a moral message (Holland 2010). Six Characters could also be seen as using its characters for a functional purpose. The idea that the six protagonists are ‘trapped for all eternity’ in one moment (Pirandello The Scene.304), and only exist to tell their own story could be intended to provoke thought on character in the audience. It also suggests that they are simply constructions of the play to perform their story, questioning whether they are well-developed.

It would be easy to assume that as time goes on the characters that playwrights create become more individual and life-like. While this could be deemed correct in the idea that Everyman features characters that are based on abstract concepts, such as Knowledge and Good Deeds, and Pirandello presents human characters, this argument is a lot more complex than it appears on a superficial level. In both plays, the characters are named by the role they play in life, and act as we would assume them to according to this role; as what Wallis and Shepherd refer to as ‘recognisable social types’ (Rees 2010). For example, the character of Everyman is presented to act as all humans do, and is therefore restricted to having general characteristic traits of mankind rather than individual ones (Holland 2010). He is simply guilty of the sins that humans generally make, for example when he states, ‘All my life I have loved riches’ (Anonymous 388), and ‘money maketh all right that is wrong’ (Anonymous 413). Here, Goods is portrayed as an evil character, representative of how in Christian belief, ‘love of money is the root of all evil’ (Clarke 1823: 559), as he states, ‘My condition is man’s soul to kill’ (Anonymous 442), and laughs at Everyman’s misfortune. As well as these ‘allegorical characters’ that act as metaphors for concepts (Allen 1953: viii), in Six Characters the metatheatrical theatre workers on stage are referred to as the roles they play in the company. Rather than having individual names, they are grouped together with titles such as Leading Actor, Young Actress, and Producer. Like in Everyman, the group of actors also act how actors are stereotypically portrayed to be; Worthen suggests ‘the Leading Actor must always be “acting” the “Leading Actor”, whether he is onstage or not’ (Worthen 2004: 687). This applies especially to the Leading Actor and Actress, for example the Leading Actor is elevated in complaining, ‘If the theatre, ladies and gentlemen, is reduced to this…’ (Pirandello 1.806-807), and the Leading Actress patronisingly orders, ‘Put him in my dressing-room for me will you’ (Pirandello 1.36). Interestingly, when questioned about identity, the Producer replies that he is, ‘the Director, the Producer – I’m in charge’ (Pirandello 3.107-108); rather than seeing himself as an individual personality he is defined by his job title.

Personally, I define “role” as a character type that obeys stereotypical assumptions, while I see a “character” as being a created person who has individual characteristics and idiosyncrasies that represent themself. In this way I would class both the “characters” in Everyman and the “actors” in Six Characters as undeveloped roles, who behave how an audience would expect them to behave depending on their stereotypical features. While these characters are confined by their stereotypical labels and are therefore unable to develop fully, the six characters highlighted in the title of Pirandello’s play are, ironically, the only ones who are portrayed to be individual, rejecting the stereotypes they’ve been branded with. Though it is clear that the six characters have actual names, for example ‘Amalia’ (Pirandello 2.90), on the stage and in the script they are referred to by their family roles, such as Father and Stepdaughter. In addition to the labels they are given in relation to each other, like the characters in Everyman they are presented wearing masks, which “are designed to give the impression of figures constructed by art, each one fixed forever in its own fundamental emotion” (Pirandello 1.103). The six characters are therefore intended to be defined by both their family role and the emotion they represent, for example “Remorse for the FATHER, Revenge for the STEPDAUGHTER, Scorn for the SON’ and ‘Sorrow for the MOTHER” (Pirandello 1.103). Looking at the characters with this perspective, they could seem as underdeveloped as the theatre workers and the concept characters in Everyman, as they are stuck in ‘one moment’ and in one emotion (Worthen 2004: 686). However, Pirandello designs these characters with individual traits. While the Stepdaughter is presented as intent on revenge, and at one point ‘resumes her previous position’ (Pirandello 1.463) as if she is in a fixed state, she is also portrayed as ‘full of a warm tenderness’ for her younger sister (Pirandello 1.103). In terms of character development, it seems that even though both plays suggest each character is fixed, or a stereotype, the six family characters in Pirandello’s play are the most developed as they are the most individually unique, and they break away from the barriers they are constructed in.

In the preface to Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello stated that, ‘Every creature of fantasy and art, in order to exist, must have his drama, that is, a drama in which he may be a character and for which he is a character’ (Bassnett 1989: 85). The essential “drama” of the six characters is to allow their secrets to be unfolded on stage, and therefore in doing this they can stand alone as characters. While the characters in Everyman were given no exposition so an audience can focus on the moral, the exposition and back-story for the six characters in Pirandello’s play make them appear much more developed, and therefore real. The Father suggests ‘a fact is like a sack… To make it stand up, first you have to put in it all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place’ (Pirandello 1.602-604). Likewise, to understand a character, to make it developed and more life-like, the audience needs to see its exposition. For example the Father reveals how he ‘couldn’t bear the sight’ (Pirandello 1.464) of his wife because he felt sorry she was ‘incapable of love’ (Pirandello 1.296), allowing the audience to understand why he sent the Mother away. These individual and detailed feelings show the development of character as he seems life-like, ‘a life full of his own specific qualities’ (Pirandello 3.101-102). While the stock characters in Everyman could only be imagined in similar situations, such as giving moral advice, the six main characters of Six Characters seem to be ‘alive in their own right’ (Bassnett 1989: 79), and the audience would have enough information about them to imagine them in ‘scores of situations’ (Pirandello 3.157).

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The characters of Six Characters seem to be more developed and rounded than those in Everyman, but we can also explore which ones develop as the plays go on. The character of Everyman begins as a sinner, and gradually uses more religious language such as, ‘O Gracious God’ (Anonymous 153) and ‘high Judge, Adonai’ (Anonymous 245), to his realisation that he is ‘worthy to be blamed’ (Anonymous 477) where he then confesses his sins. While his character does develop, we don’t see any real thought processes that present an individual state of mind, therefore it is difficult to empathise with the character. On the other hand, while in Six Characters the Stepdaughter has been defined as a character searching for revenge, she begins the play a confident, teasing and attention-seeking character, and then becomes increasingly angry and intense, and we see her individual emotions laid open. Adriano Tilgher suggests the characters in Six Characters have ‘souls’ (Bassnett 1989: 41), and are therefore developed and life-like in comparison to the inhuman concepts created in Everyman. How developed a character is can significantly affect the audience’s reaction to a performance. A character’s expositional background and complexity can make it easier for audience members to engage emotionally and empathise with them. It would therefore probably be easier to empathise with the family characters in Pirandello’s play than the concept characters in Everyman. Morality plays ‘often used masks to avoid empathy’ (Rees 2010), therefore Everyman would be successful in making the audience think about morality rather than be emotionally moved. Contrastingly, the development of characters in Six Characters in Search of an Author could help the audience emotionally engage, allowing them both to think and feel.

Character development, therefore, can be subjective. While in Everyman the characters could seem like simple personifications, when interpreted by performers they could become ‘recognizable as individuals’ on stage (Worthen 2004: 236), and they could be as complex as a performer wants them to be. The lack of stage directions in Everyman can give freedom to a performer, therefore enabling the characters to be made much more complex, while Pirandello’s stage directions could restrict a performer to following the predetermined, fixed character traits. While it is straightforward to suggest that characterisation develops significantly from simple to complex from Everyman to Six Characters, it is debatable who the most developed characters are. All are given stereotypical labels, and while the protagonists of Six Characters seem to have more individuality than those in Everyman, if their reality is an illusion (Pirandello 3.72-73), are they actually complex?

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