In the bibliographic or scholarly study of texts of dramatic literature, a ghost character is a term for an inadvertent error committed by the playwright in the act of writing. It is a character who is mentioned as appearing on stage, but who doesn’t do anything, and who seems to have no purpose. It is generally interpreted as an author’s mistake, indicative of an unresolved revision to the text. If the character was intended to appear and say nothing, it is assumed this would be made clear in the playscript.
The term is used in regard to Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, including the works of William Shakespeare, all of which may have existed in different revisions leading to publication. The occurrence of a ghost character in a manuscript may be evidence that the published version of a play was taken by the printer directly from an author’s foul papers.
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 Capulets' 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.