An unseen character or invisible character is a fictional character referred to but never directly observed by the audience. They are characters that are "heard of, but never heard from". They are continuing characters—characters who frequently interact with the other characters and who influence current story events.
The significance in the plot excludes from this definition various occasional barely mentioned characters, such as Laurent (Lawrence), Tartuffe's unseen valet, whose sole function is merely to introduce the pompousness of Tartuffe, as seen from his very first words of the play; see Scene II.
Unseen characters are a common device in drama. Books can feature characters who are referenced by others, but whose actions and dialogue are never directly described. The work of Voltaire, for example, included the "unseen character".
- Rosaline in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is never seen, but is crucial to how the title characters meet.
- In Alain-René Lesage's 1707 play Crispin an unseen character called Damis with his forced secret marriage is essential to the whole plot.
- In Clare Boothe Luce's play The Women (1936), and the 1939 film based on the play, male characters (husbands, lovers, etc) are referred to but do not appear, even in photographs, and the entire cast (from stars to extras) is all female.
- Godot in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is never seen. The play's two main characters spend the entire play waiting for Godot to arrive.
UK television and radio
- Dad's Army: Captain Mainwaring is equally hen-pecked by his wife, Elizabeth, who never appears onscreen despite frequent references to her.
- Minder: Arthur Daley's wife, referred to only as "'Er Indoors", is never seen or heard, but often quoted.
- The Clitheroe Kid: Jimmy Clitheroe often talked about his unseen friend "Ozzie".
- I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: the scorers Samantha (or occasionally Sven) are regularly referred to but never appear. An empty chair is provided for them at recordings.
- In the long-running British radio soap opera The Archers, a number of permanent inhabitants of the village in which the story is set are frequently referred to by name but are never heard from in their own voices. Fans of the programme often refer to these characters as "the silents".
US television and radio
- On the mystery drama Columbo, Detective Lieutenant Columbo often described his wife in detail but she is never portrayed in the series.,
- On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis Lindstrom's husband, Dr. Lars Lindstrom, is oft-referenced but never seen.
- On Seinfeld, Bob Sacamano, Lomez and "Cousin Jeffrey" are often mentioned but never seen. The first two are friends of Cosmo Kramer, and the last is the cousin of Jerry Seinfeld. Jeffrey works for the New York City Parks Department, as Jerry is told ad nauseam by his Uncle Leo.
- On The Andy Griffith Show, Juanita Beasley, for whom Barney Fife occasionally expresses affection, is unseen but often referenced and telephoned by the love-struck Fife.
- On Will and Grace, Stan Walker, Karen Walker's incredibly wealthy, unfaithful, and morbidly obese husband, is never seen, although his wife and mistress fight over him and his estate.
- F. C. Green, "Some Marginal Notes on Eighteenth-Century French Comedy", In:Studies in Modern French Literature Garnet Rees, Eugène Vinaver (eds), p. 135
- Wellington, Marie A. The Art of Voltaire's Theater: An Exploration of Possibility (Peter Lang Pub Inc, 1987), p. 176.
- See for example, Byrd, Robert E. Jr. Unseen Characters in Selected Plays of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee (Dissertations, Academic, 1998).
- See also Ade, George. "Introducing "Nettie"; Who Is the Leading But Unseen Character in a New Princess Playlet", The New York Times (December 6, 1914): Drama Music Real Estate Business Financial, p. xx2
- Theodore Besterman and J.L. Schorr, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, University of Michigan, 1956, p. 195; republished by Voltaire Foundation, 1990 (digitized March 28, 2008); ISBN 0729404064, ISBN 9780729404068
- "'Romeo and Juliet' meets Jeff Buckley in 'The Last Goodbye'", Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2013; accessed 16 May 2014.
- "The Women". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
- Goldstein, Malcolm (2007). "The Women". The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Volume 2. Columbia University Press. p. 1489. ISBN 978-0-231-14032-4.
- "Mrs Elizabeth Mainwaring profile at". Den of Geek!. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "'Er indoors' enters the lexicon", independent.co.uk, 31 August 1992; accessed 15 May 2014.
- Profile of The Clitheroe Kid, myoldradio.com; accessed 15 May 2014.
- "In praise of … silent Archers characters", The Herald, Glasgow, 25 March 2011; accessed 9 November 2014
- Profile of Columbo, museum.tv; accessed May 16, 2014.
- Lars Lindstrom reference on "Famous television characters we never actually saw", mentalfloss.com; accessed May 15, 2014.
- Reference to unseen Seinfeld character "Bob Sacamano", ugo.com; accessed May 15, 2014.
- "Famous television characters we never actually saw", mentalfloss.com; accessed May 15, 2014.
- Unseen TV characters: Stan Walker, ugo.com; accessed May 15, 2014.