Stock character

A stock character is a fictional character that relies heavily on cultural types or stereotypes for its personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. Stock characters are instantly recognizable to members of a given culture. Because of this, a frequent device of both comedy and parody is to wildly exaggerate the expected mannerisms of stock characters.

Stock characters in the western tradition originate from the theatres of ancient Greece and Rome, and, somewhat more recently, from the Italian Commedia Dell'arte.

In the United States, courts have determined that copyright protection can not be extended to the characteristics of stock characters in a story, whether it be a book, play, or film. Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corporation, 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930).

Stock characters

  • The Contender: an athlete with raw talent, but who must rely on the guidance of a Wise Old Man or similar character in order to overcome internal limitations (lack of discipline or confidence) in order to triumph in an athletic competition.
  • The Damsel in Distress: the young, beautiful, virginal woman who must be rescued from some cruel fate by the Hero (see below), à la Penelope Pitstop. The damsel in distress is now often subverted, with the damsel being secretly formidable and waiting for the right moment to strike back.
  • The Ingenue, also young, beautiful and virginal, in mental or emotional rather than physical danger, usually a target of The Cad (see below).
  • The Dark Lord, a sinister villain with an entourage of henchpersons, usually bent on conquest of the world or universe. Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Sauron and Lord Voldemort are examples.
  • The Evil Genius, particularly as the foil of superheroes in comic books or of the hero in spy fiction such as the James Bond series.
  • The femme fatale, La belle dame sans merci, the Black Widow, the beautiful but evil woman who leads the hero to his doom.
  • The Fop, a highly fashionable aristocrat. He is typically overdressed and his speech is characterized by over-use or misuse of popular phrases (often French phrases) or various forms of hypercorrection. The fop is never intelligent and always talkative. (The Hero sometimes poses as a fop to allay his enemies' suspicions: Zorro hid behind the image of the Fop, Don Diego. The Scarlet Pimpernel hid behind the persona of Sir Percy Blakeney.)
  • The Fool, the fool is a clown or joker who speaks in riddles and puns. Often, the fool is intelligent and witty and reveals key truths about the characters with whom he fools (Shakespeare's fools, such as the ones in Twelfth Night and King Lear, are well-known examples).
  • The Henchman, a major villain's frequently incompetent stooge. (Heroes have sidekicks; villains have henchmen.)
  • The Mad Scientist, the insane man of science who either accidentally or intentionally "meddles with the forces of nature" and causes the trouble that the hero must correct. Well-known examples are Doctor Frankenstein and Dr. Strangelove. The 20th century mad scientist is based in large part on Nikola Tesla or rather Thomas Edison's portrayal of him to the media, but sometimes based on Albert Einstein.
  • The Miser, a wealthy, greedy man who lives miserably in order to save and increase his treasure. Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge is an obvious example.
  • The Noble Savage (and a related subtype, the Magical Negro), a representative of a disadvantaged or disempowered ethnic group or culture who aids the (usually white) Hero by helping him out of a jam or introducing him to spiritual enlightenment.
  • The Outlaw, sometimes a cold-blooded desperado, but also often a gallant highwayman or a dashing thief after the manner of Robin Hood.
  • The Rake or Cad, a man who seduces a young woman and impregnates her before leaving, often to her social or financial ruin. Often portrayed as a heavy drinker or gambler. Also known as a rake-hell. To call the character a rake calls attention to his promiscuity and wild spending of money; to call the character a cad implies a callous seducer who coldly breaks his victim's heart. See: Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress".
  • The Avenger, a hot-blooded young man who has had a loved one (usually a fiance) cruelly murdered and/or raped and seeks his revenge outside the law. (Laertes in Hamlet and Hamlet himself, as well as Amsterdam from the film Gangs of New York, are examples of Avengers.) He can often be the son of a Rake.
  • The Sidekick, the Hero's helper: Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes. The Sidekick is often a figure of fun, but is trustworthy and sometimes shows surprising resourcefulness and bravery. In whodunnits and secondary literature on detective fiction in general, the Sidekick is often referred to as the Watson—slightly dumber than the average reader, time and again overlooking decisive clues, occasionally drawing the wrong conclusions (such as Capt. Hastings, a friend of Hercule Poirot's).
  • The Wise Old Man, an elderly Merlin or Yoda figure who trains and advises the Hero; often portrayed as a wizard or hermit.
  • The Competent Man, who can do anything well; repair a machine, fight, cook a meal, build a house -- the heroes (and heroines) of Robert Heinlein's fiction are generally Competent Men. MacGyver is an example of a Hero who is also a Competent Man.
  • The Angst-ridden Youth, a young male character, usually handsome and virile, but conflicted, sullen, and at odds with the establishment. Epitomized by James Dean.
  • Prince Charming, the prince who rescues the damsel in distress, appears in a number of fairy tales, including Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.
  • The absent-minded professor, an academic with important information whose focus on his learning leads him to ignore his surroundings. (Based in part on Isaac Newton?)
  • Hooker with a heart of gold or the Tart with a Heart, outwardly tough and hard, hiding a heart of gold underneath. The modern interpretation of this character is often "The Stripper (also Whore or Hooker) with a Heart of Gold". Think Alabama from True Romance.
  • The Town Drunk, serves as a figure of fun, serves as a moral example, or is used as a plot device to disrupt public gatherings.
  • The Whiz Kid, a brainy sidekick to the hero. Often, physically the weakest of the group. As a result, he can be useless in a fight, but knows his way around computers and technical stuff. Often witty in an erudite way. Typically talks using big words.
  • The Jokester, often a part of a group of adventurers. Not to be confused with the fool, the Jokester copes with the seriousness of the situation (often war) with constant good humor. Sometimes he may be crying on the inside, or his laughter might mask insecurities. Occasionally, his perpetual good humor can be annoying, but he is always loved by his teammates. Nightcrawler of the X-Men and Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H are examples.
  • The Womaniser, normally male persons characterized by having many love affairs with different women. Examples: Casanova and Don Juan.
  • The Subservient Negro, an ethnic stereotype: an aide-de-camp or second-in-command, always the one the Caucasian leader is "depending upon", and always expendable. The character usually dies nobly.
  • The Tough guy usually uses his attitude and no-nonsense skills, including physical persuasion and intimidation, to get what he wants. A typical tough guy would be an Italian-American gangster with significant capacity to deal out and take punishment, such as multiple characters on The Sopranos.
  • The Elderly Martial Arts Master is typically an extremely old Asian man who is nonetheless a near invincible master of the martial arts.
  • The Private Investigator, a hero archetype who stumbles into detective stories to solve a mystery case, whether it be a whodunnit murder or other crime activity. The Private Investigator (or P.I.) is usually cool, relaxed, intelligent, sardonic, and introspective, often relating events through an internal monologue. A stereotype look would see him drink whiskey, smoke cigarettes, dress in a raincoat and fedora and be an excellent shooter (based on Clint Eastwood or Humphrey Bogart).
  • Redshirt, an inconsequential character who is killed or injured soon after his or her introduction in order to indicate the dangerous circumstances faced by the main characters. The term originated in reference to the frequent use of such characters in the television series Star Trek. In the series, these characters usually wore red uniforms, signifying their station as security personnel.
  • The Bad Fianc, a villain who is romantically interested in the heroine despite a complete lack of interest on her part. Often, the Fianc�is rich and snobbish or macho and sexist. The heroine will typically choose a seemingly less desirably male character to become romantically involved, leading to jealousy on the part of the Fianc� The Fianc�may be in cahoots with the heroine's mother, who is usually a snob. Caledon Hockley from Titanic is an example.
  • The Gang members, this may be a single character representing the whole, or a group of members (also causing the stormtrooper effect). Usually, the sterotype includes Asian(and mainly HongKong or any Cantonese speaking Asian) Triads, Russian Army, Japanese big coporate companies, Middle East gurilla troopers, etc.

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