Unseen character

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Not to be confused with ghost character.

An unseen character[1] is a fictional character referred to but not directly observed (seen or heard) by the audience.[2]

In a study of 18th-century French comedy, F. C. Green suggests that an "invisible character" can be defined as one who, though not seen, "influences the action of the play".[1] This definition, according to Green, would rule out a character like Laurent (Lawrence), Tartuffe's unseen valet, whose sole function is merely to give the playwright an opportunity to introduce Tartuffe.[1][3]



In Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605 and 1615), the protagonist idealizes the farm girl named Aldonza Lorenzo and decides to call her "Dulcinea del Toboso". She is often referred to but never appears.


Unseen characters occur elsewhere in drama, including the plays of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee.[4][5] Author Marie A. Wellington notes that in the 18th-century, Voltaire included unseen characters in a few of his plays, including Le Duc d’Alençon and L’Orphelin de la Chine.[6]

UK television and radio[edit]

  • Minder: Arthur Daley's wife, referred to only as "'Er Indoors", is never seen or heard, but often quoted.[14]
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: the scorers (Samantha or Sven) are regularly referred to but never appear, as the show does not in fact award any scores. 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 seen or heard from in their own voices. Fans of the programme often refer to these characters as "the silents".[15]
  • One Foot in the Grave: Nick Swainey's mother is frequently mentioned from Series 2 onwards, but is never seen.[citation needed]

US television[edit]

  • On the mystery drama Columbo, Columbo often described his wife in detail but she is never portrayed in the series.[16]
  • On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis Lindstrom's husband, Dr. Lars Lindstrom, is oft-referenced but never seen.[17]
  • 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.[18]
  • 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.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d F. C. Green, "Some Marginal Notes on Eighteenth-Century French Comedy", In: Studies in Modern French Literature Garnet Rees, Eugène Vinaver (eds), pp. 133-37
  2. ^ Wellington, Marie A., The Art of Voltaire's Theater: An Exploration of Possibility (Peter Lang Pub Inc, 1987), p. 176.
  3. ^ Act II, Scene II
  4. ^ Byrd, Robert E. Jr. Unseen Characters in Selected Plays of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee (Dissertations, Academic, 1998).
  5. ^ Ade, George. "Introducing "Nettie"; Who Is the Leading But Unseen Character in a New Princess Playlet", The New York Times (6 December 1914): Drama Music Real Estate Business Financial, pg. xx2
  6. ^ Wellington, Marie A. The Art of Voltaire's Theater: An Exploration of Possibility (Peter Lang Pub Inc, 1987), p. 176; ISBN 0820404837
  7. ^ Gray, Henry David. "Romeo Rosaline, and Juliet". Modern Language Notes 29.7 (Nov 1914): 209-212.
  8. ^ Michael Miller (27 September 2013). "'Romeo and Juliet' meets Jeff Buckley in 'The Last Goodbye'". Los Angeles Times. accessed 16 May 2014.
  9. ^ "The Women". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Goldstein, Malcolm (2007). "The Women". The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Volume 2. Columbia University Press. p. 1489. ISBN 978-0-231-14032-4. 
  11. ^ Bennett, Michael. Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd: Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter. Palgrave Macmillan (2011), p. 27; ISBN 9780230118829
  12. ^ Styan, John L. (1960). The Elements of Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 209. ISBN 0-521-09201-9. 
  13. ^ Three Sisters Act 4, Julius West's translation: "NATASHA: Mihail Ivanitch Protopopov will sit with little Sophie, and Andrei Sergeyevitch can take little Bobby out. ... [Stage direction] ANDREY wheels out the perambulator in which BOBBY is sitting."
  14. ^ "'Er indoors' enters the lexicon", independent.co.uk, 31 August 1992; accessed 15 May 2014.
  15. ^ "In praise of … silent Archers characters", The Herald, Glasgow, 25 March 2011; accessed 9 November 2014
  16. ^ Profile of Columbo, museum.tv; accessed 16 May 2014.
  17. ^ Lars Lindstrom reference on "Famous television characters we never actually saw", mentalfloss.com; accessed 15 May 2014.
  18. ^ Reference to unseen Seinfeld character "Bob Sacamano", ugo.com; accessed 15 May 2014.
  19. ^ "Famous television characters we never actually saw", mentalfloss.com; accessed 15 May 2014.