Character Sketches

Draft your character sketch for Creative Project 1 (250-500 words).  Your character can be a “type” or a single person; it can be one created by you, or one you have read or seen somewhere (always tell the source). The character of a single person might look a bit like Chaucer’s description of the Pardoner, though you are welcome to diverge from this.  If you use Chaucer’s Pardoner, come up with a different description (that is very doable)!!!!

Here is a sample “character” from the first set of “character” sketches we have, by Theophrastus (371-c. 287 BCE).  Below is the first of thirty characters that Theophrastus wrote.  All of them are vicious.

The dissembler is the sort who goes up to his enemies and is willing to chat with them. He praises to their faces those whom he has attacked in secret, and commiserates with people he is suing if they lose their case. He is forgiving to those who slander him, and laughs at anything said against him. With people who have been wronged and are outraged his conversation is mild, and those who urgently seek a meeting with him he bids to come back later. He admits to nothing that he is actually doing, but says he is thinking it over, and pretends that he just arrived, and behaves like a coward. To those seeking a loan or a contribution, he says he’s short of cash, and if he is selling something says that he is not, and if he’s not, says that he is. If he has heard something, he pretends he hasn’t, and says he hasn’t seen something when he has, and if he has made an agreement he doesn’t remember it. He says about some things that he will look into them, about others that he doesn’t know, about others that he is surprised, about others that once in the past he had thought that way himself too. And in general he is apt to employ phrases like this: “I don’t believe it.” “I don’t think so.” “I’m astonished.” And “you’re telling me he’s become a different person.” “That’s by no means what he told me.” “The business is a mystery to me.” “Save your words for someone else.” “I do not see how I can doubt you—nor condemn him, either.” “Be careful you don’t make up your mind too quickly. Such are the phrases, dodges and contradictions it is characteristic of dissemblers to invent. When natures are not open, but contriving, one must be more cautious of them than of vipers.

–Loeb Classical Library, Trans Jeffrey Rusten (Harvard University Press, 2002).

For a virtuous character, see Joseph Hall, The Characters of the Virtues and Vices (1608), which was an early set of character sketches in English.  Half of these are virtuous, half vicious.  Here is the first, which is among the virtuous:

The Characterisme of an Honest Man

HE looks not to what hee might doe, but what hee should; Iustice is his first guide, the second law of his acti∣ons is expedience. He had ra∣ther complaine than offend, & hates sinne more for the indig∣nitie of it, than the danger: his simple vprightnesse workes in him that confidence, which oft-time wrongs him, and giues aduantage to the subtle, when he rather pities their faithlesnes, than repents of his credulitie: he hath but one heart, and that lies open to sight; and were it not for discretion, hee neuer thinks ought, whereof he would auoid a witnesse: his word is his parchment, and his yea his oath, which he will not violate for feare, or for losse. The mis∣haps of following euents may cause him to blame his proui∣dence, can neuer cause him to eat his promise: neither sayth he, This I saw not; but This I sayd. When he is made his friends Executour, hee defrayes debts, payes legacies, and scorneth to gaine by orphans, or to ransack graues; and therefore will be true to a dead friend, because he sees him not. All his dealings are square, & aboue the boord: he bewrayes the fault of what he selles, and restores the ouer∣seene gaine of a false reckoning. He esteemes a bribe venomous, tho it come guilded ouer with the colour of gratuitie. His cheeks are neuer stained with the blushes of recantation; nei∣ther doth his tongue falter to make good a lie with the secret glosses of double or reserued senses; and when his name is traduced, his innocencie beares him out with courage: then, lo, hee goes on the plaine way of truth, and will either triumph in his integritie, or suffer with it. His conscience ouer-rules his prouidence: so as in all things, good or ill, he respects the na∣ture of the actions, not the se∣quell. If he see what he must do, let God see what shall follow. He neuer loadeth himselfe with burdens aboue his strength, be∣yond his will; and once bound, what he can he will do; neither doth he will but what he can do. His eare is the Sanctuary of his absent friends name, of his pre∣sent friends secret; neither of them can mis-carry in his trust. Hee remembers the wrongs of his youth, and repayes them with that vsury which he him∣selfe would not take. He would rather want than borow, and begge than not pay: his faire conditions are without dissem∣bling; and hee loues actions a∣boue words. Finally, hee hates falshood worse than death: he is a faithfull client of truth; no mans enemie; and, it is a que∣stion, Whether more another mans friend, or his owne; and if there were no heauen, yet he would be ver∣tuous.


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