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How does a novelist and/or a playwright
make a character interesting for us?
One would think that the plot of a novel or play would mould it's characters and determine whether they are interesting or not, however, even in a mediocre book there can be a character that is interesting for some reason or other. This 'some reason or other' can be defined through the reader's relationship with this character; what makes a character interesting is that the reader either can identify and empathise with him/her or is placed in a position where s/he is able to make a value judgement about this character.
Characters that a reader remembers are usually main characters, purely because one sees and gets to know the most about them. To show how novelists and playwrights make their characters memorable and remarkable it is best to use the example of two main characters that are in situations that are comparable to some extent. The protagonists in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Forster's A Passage to India are involved in crime for various reasons and have to deal with different degrees of punishment but all are affected by mental strain. In this essay I will examine the different techniques the novelist/playwright uses by referring to both novels, more specifically the two main characters: Hamlet and Aziz.
As mentioned above, the most simple way that a novelist/playwright can make a character interesting is by letting the reader know a lot about them. There are different means to achieve this end; an all-knowing narrator can impart the information which usually gives the reader insight without getting them emotionally involved. This occurs in Forster's novel as the reader is still getting to know Aziz and also Fielding. Forster describes their appearance and views - we hear of Aziz's pride in Islam and the discrepancies in what he thinks about the "haughty and venal" English and how he acts towards them. Other ways of finding out more about a character include the novelist/playwright describing them through other characters and, of course, exposition by the character him/herself. What especially makes a character remarkable is if these different views are not compatible - controversy always heightens interest. For example, when watching a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet the audience will always ask the question: is Hamlet's insanity genuine? Hamlet himself claims this antic disposition is feigned, his mother attributes his madness to overwhelming grief about his father's death and shock at her hasty remarriage and Polonius tells the King that he believes Hamlet is acting abnormally because of his love for Ophelia. These three different opinions again lead to controversy: is Hamlet pretending to be mad because he is planning to kill the King in a 'fit of insanity'? Is Gertrude's feeling that Hamlet's behaviour is linked to her remarriage connected to some complicity in the current husband's crime? Does Polonius merely express his opinion to the King because he wishes to obtain something as Ophelia is his daughter? The reason that a character is more interesting as one gets to know more about him/her is because the facts oft lead to questions and this uncertainty is more provocative than the concrete facts.
A novelist/playwright can use uncertainty in a lot of other ways as this is what makes the reader reall
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Hamlet, himself, Shakespeare, Ophelia,
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Keywords referenced in this research material
the reader, Aziz, interesting, Ophelia, antic, Shakespeare, this one, disposition, opinions, Act One, main, Another way, value judgement, not resolved, Polonius, One time, hindus, getting to know, playwright, novelist, questions, no idea, remarriage, self, information, insanity, remarkable, heroic, asks, revelations, human, his or her, insight, first act, last act, thoughts, empathise, haughty, repercussion, ashamed, India, Laertes, mediocre, complicity, assaulting, commotion, coward, all knowing, mould, venal,