An unseen character or invisible character is a fictional character that is referred to but not directly seen by the audience.
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”. 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.
A particular example of an unseen character occurs in the 18th Century French short story, “Cosi-Sancta”, written by Voltaire. Though the character is indeed “seen” or described earlier in the story, he is “unseen” by the protagonist, Cosi-Sancta, during the scene in which she acts to save his life.
- Rosaline in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is never seen, but is only described.
- 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 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.
- 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".
- In the radio comedy series "The Clitheroe Kid", Jimmy's friend Ozzie was frequently referred to but never heard in the shows.
US television and radio
- On the mystery drama Columbo, 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.
- On Frasier, Maris Crane, Niles Crane's wife, is often the subject of plotlines and jokes, but is never shown on screen.
- F. C. Green, "Some Marginal Notes on Eighteenth-Century French Comedy", In:Studies in Modern French Literature Garnet Rees, Eugène Vinaver (eds), pp. 133-137
- Wellington, Marie A. The Art of Voltaire's Theater: An Exploration of Possibility (Peter Lang Pub Inc, 1987), p. 176. ISBN 0820404837
- Act II, Scene II
- Byrd, Robert E. Jr. Unseen Characters in Selected Plays of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee (Dissertations, Academic, 1998).
- 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 9780729404068
- Voltaire. Contes et romans (3 vol: I: Candide, Le monde comme il va, Zadig, Memnon, Micromegas; II: L'Ingénu, Cosi-sancta, Songe de platon, Le blanc et le noir, L'Homme au 40e écus, les lettres d'Amabed; III: La princesse de Babylone, Jeannot et Colin, Le taureau) Paris (1981)
- Gray, Henry David. "Romeo Rosaline, and Juliet". Modern Language Notes 29.7 (Nov 1914): 209-212.
- "'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.
- "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.