Dramatis personæ  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Dramatis personæ is a Latin phrase (literally 'the persons of the drama'), recorded in English since 1730 but in international use, for the characters in the plot of a play, and is used to refer collectively to the characters represented in a dramatic work (various forms of theater, but also on screen) to be played by the acting cast members, whether they act or use some other form (such as puppetry), or even if they are animals. Off-stage characters are not considered part of the dramatis personæ.

The dramatis personæ is also the list of character names at the beginning of a written play. In ancient Greece and in Shakespearean plays (as well as many other old drama) the names were listed in order of hierarchy, with gods at the top, peasants at the bottom. The female characters were listed below all the male characters.

Nowadays it is more customary to give a cast list, which also has next to each name the name of the actor playing the part or his stage name; an alternative type rather lists the names of the actors who played the parts originally. In order not to give away vital parts of the plot some names may be altered, for example mixed up with another name. Some minor characters may be listed just as the actors who perform the parts.

Other uses

In a wider sense, the term can be applied to any situation in which people/characters play a pre-defined role, or appear to do so - such as a metaphor, a drama, or a court case. It may also be facetiously applied in a position where a members of a group appear to play predictable roles, often for comic effect.

Dramatis personæ is used in the legal industry to identify the list of key people in a case. This is to minimise variations of names referred to throughout the matter. Vladimir Propp in his book, The Morphology of the Folktale uses the term dramatis personæ when referring to the protagonist/hero of fairy tales, specifically the Russian tales of Alexander Afanasiev.

It is also sometimes used in anthropology to denote the roles people assume when performing a social ritual.


Outside the theatre medium, some novels also have a dramatis personæ at the beginning or end. This is most common in books with very large casts of characters.

One can find, in the opening pages of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a dramatis personæ. A critical approach to the text may indicate that Krakauer, despite his prior vocation as a journalist, wished the Everest 'account' to be read less as a travelogue and more as a drama.

Sociology & Cultural Studies

The term is used to describe the multiple identifications one may adopt in an attempt to emphasize the expression of one's own individualism. An individuality is never obtained, as this process of establishing dramatis personæ creates a postmodern 'persona' which 'wears many hats', each different hat worn for a different group or surroundings. A logic of identity and individuality is replaced by a more 'superficial, tactile logic of identification where individuals become more mask-like personæ with mutable selves.' This self can no longer be theorized or based solely on an individual's job or productive function. The term was used by Karl Marx throughout his magnum opus Capital, where the capitalist and worker are introduced as dramatis personae in human history.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dramatis personæ" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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