In playwriting, a ghost character is a character who is mentioned as appearing on stage but neither says nor does anything but enter, and possibly exit. They are generally interpreted as editing mistakes, indicative of unresolved revisions to the text. If the character was intended to appear but say nothing, it is assumed this function would be clearly identified in the play.
The term is most often used in discussion of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, which are assumed to have existed in several revisions, only one of which is usually published. It is most associated with the works of William Shakespeare and is often thought to be evidence that the published version of the play is taken from his foul papers.
What the presence of such a character means often varies by play and by commentator. Some commentators[who?] claim that the ghost character in Timon of Athens, for example, proves the play's weakness and unfinished nature, though such an argument is rarely used for other ghost characters.
Other plays of the period include ghost characters, such as John Webster's The White Devil, in which "little Jacques the Moor", "Christophero", "Guid-antonio", and "Farneseis" are mentioned entering, but have no lines.
List of Shakespeare's ghost characters
- Violenta, All's Well That Ends Well, a character who enters with the Widow in Act III, scene 5, possibly another daughter of the Widow and sister to Diana.
- Lamprius, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene 2. Some editors assume this is the name of the Soothsayer, but the Soothsayer is implied to be Egyptian in Act II, Scene 3. Lampryas is named in Plutarch as his own grandfather, from whom he got an anecdote about Antony, which is the likely source.
- Rannius, Antony and Cleopatra, also in Act I, scene 2
- Lucillius, Antony and Cleopatra, an attendant of Enobarbus in Act I, Scene 2.
- Beaumont, Henry V. He is one of the casualties in the Battle of Agincourt, noted in Act III, scene 5 and listed as a casualty in Act IV, scene 8. He is in the stage direction at the beginning of Act IV, scene 2, suggesting Shakespeare wanted to develop the character further, but never did.
- Innogen, included in early editions of Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, scene 1 and Act II, the wife of Leonato.
- Petruchio, Romeo and Juliet, companion of Tybalt at the fight in Act III, scene 1, also mentioned as attending the Capulet's banquet in Act I, scene 5. Some editions, such as the Oxford/Norton, give him the line "Away, Tybalt", which other editors render as a stage direction. He appears in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, played by Carlos Martín Manzo Otálora.
- Mercer, Timon of Athens, a guest at Timon's banquet in Act I, scene 1, presumably seeking Timon's patronage. The Norton/Oxford edition adds a stage direction for him to cross stage and exit.
- Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Bantam Doubleday, 1990.
- David Gunby et al. (eds). The Works of John Webster: An Old-Spelling Critical Edition'. Cambridge University Press. 1995. p. 125