Character Writings of the 1600s
September 5, 2013 12:58 PM Subscribe
The Corranto-Coiner, the Huffing Courtier, the Prater, the Squire of Dames, the Braggadocio Welshman, the Droll, the Pot Poet, the Ingrosser of Corn, the Duke of Bucks, the Drunken Dutchman Resident in England, the Factious Member, the Common Singing Men in Cathedral Churches, the Wittol, the Knight of the Post, and many more neglected stereotypes of 17th century England.
The narrow genre of character writing
is said to have been invented by the Peripatetic philosopher Theophrastus, who devoted a book called The Characters
to thirty sketches of moral and psychological exemplars. His work was rediscovered in England in the 16th century and much imitated in the 17th by writers of literary, as well as philosophical, ambition. The "friends" credited in the title of Sir Thomas Overbury's A Wife: Witty Characters Written by Himselfe and Other Learned Gentlemen His Friends
(much excerpted in the first link) include Johnn Donne and the playwrights John Webster and Thomas Dekker.
English interest in character writing subsided towards the end of the century, though La Bruyère carried on the tradition in France
. The observational and critical impulses behind the genre found more satisfying expression in the Picaresque novel, while the imminently dominant Realist style preferred the single life to the type.
But it fell to the master of Realism, George Eliot, to give character writing its viking funeral: her last and strangest
book was called Impressions of Theophrastus Such