The Fictional 100

The Fictional 100

by Phd Lucy Pollard-Gott

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Overview

Some of the most influential and interesting people in the world are fictional. Sherlock Holmes, Huck Finn, Pinocchio, Anna Karenina, Genji, and Superman, to name a few, may not have walked the Earth (or flown, in Superman's case), but they certainly stride through our lives. They influence us personally: as childhood friends, catalysts to our dreams, or even fantasy lovers. Peruvian author and presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, for one, confessed to a lifelong passion for Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Characters can change the world. Witness the impact of Solzhenitsyn's Ivan Denisovich, in exposing the conditions of the Soviet Gulag, or Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, in arousing anti-slavery feeling in America. Words such as quixotic, oedipal, and herculean show how fictional characters permeate our language.

This list of the Fictional 100 ranks the most influential fictional persons in world literature and legend, from all time periods and from all over the world, ranging from Shakespeare's Hamlet [1] to Toni Morrison's Beloved [100]. By tracing characters' varied incarnations in literature, art, music, and film, we gain a sense of their shape-shifting potential in the culture at large. Although not of flesh and blood, fictional characters have a life and history of their own. Meet these diverse and fascinating people. From the brash Hercules to the troubled Holden Caulfield, from the menacing plots of Medea to the misguided schemes of Don Quixote, The Fictional 100 runs the gamut of heroes and villains, young and old, saints and sinners. Ponder them, fall in love with them, learn from their stories the varieties of human experience--let them live in you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440154393
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/12/2010
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.11(d)

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The Fictional 100

Ranking the Most Influential Characters in World Literature and Legend
By Lucy Pollard-Gott

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Lucy Pollard-Gott, PhD
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4401-5439-3


Chapter One

Hamlet

To be, or not to be.

These are the most famous words spoken by any literary character, as familiar to those who have never read Shakespeare or seen his plays performed as to the millions who have. As Marjorie Garber put it, "No one ever really reads Hamlet for the first time now; we've heard it all before in bits and pieces."

Indeed, the experience of reading Hamlet's words is a bit like browsing through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, so packed are they with well-known phrases: "a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance," "nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," "the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape," to give but a few examples. This phenomenon is true in part because Hamlet has so much to say. The "solitary Dane" is one of literature's most prodigious talkers, both to himself in his famous soliloquies and, of course, to the other denizens of Shakespeare's play. The Guinness Book of Records reports that "of Shakespeare's 1,277 speaking parts, the longest is Hamlet with 11,610 words." He speaks more than a third of the play, which is itself Shakespeare's longest, and his brooding presence dominates most of the rest.

Despite these verbal riches-or perhaps because of them-both Hamlet's words and his actions have provoked more interpretive disagreement than those of any other fictional figure. He has been both inspiration and sparring partner for the keenest minds of the last four centuries, who have written more about him than any other character in world literature. It would be hard to overestimate the quantity of praises laid at Hamlet's-and, of course, Shakespeare's-feet since the play's first performance in 1602, although there have been a handful of famous dissenters: notably, Voltaire, who found the play "vulgar and barbarous," and T. S. Eliot, who called it "an artistic failure"!

Before considering the conflicting interpretations, what do we know, or seem to know, about Hamlet? It is believed that Shakespeare reworked an existing story, in this case more legend than history. His treatment of the story fits roughly into the tradition of the revenge play, but he deepened its psychology immeasurably by making the revenge seem irretrievably problematic to Hamlet. As C. S. Lewis astutely observed, Hamlet "is not 'a man who has to avenge his father' but 'a man who has been given a task by a ghost.'"

Even before the ghost of his father appears, Hamlet is deeply troubled, and with good reason. He alone at the Danish court seems to mourn the dead king, his father. His mother, Gertrude, has married her husband's brother, Claudius, with "most wicked speed." Hamlet is gripped by the classic symptoms of depression: "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!" But when his father's ghost appears to him, telling him that he was poisoned by Claudius and charging him to kill the murderer now seated on the throne, Hamlet's depression verges on becoming suicidal and is compounded with rage. He resolves to feign madness, "to put an antic disposition on," in order to conceal his inner turmoil and divert attention from the revenge he is contemplating.

Critics and actors alike have disagreed over whether this madness remains a pretense or becomes real. In any case, his distracted behavior arouses more suspicion than it averts. Polonius attributes it to lovesickness for his daughter Ophelia, but this notion is later dispelled by Hamlet's rejection of her, and by implication all her sex, in the admonition, "Get thee to a nunnery!" King Claudius has other suspicions and enlists Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as spies.

Meanwhile, instead of immediately carrying out his revenge, Hamlet hesitates and decides to test the king's guilt by means of a play that will "catch the conscience of the king." For the newly arrived troupe of players, he rewrites "The Murder of Gonzago" so that the drama reenacts the poisoning of old King Hamlet by Claudius and his marriage to the widowed queen. This new play, "The Mousetrap," does no less than its name suggests, causing the enraged king to bolt from the audience at the crucial moment. Even with this confirmation, however, Hamlet fails to take the opportunity to kill the king when he catches him kneeling at his prayers. Instead, he goes to confront his mother with his loathing of her sexual guilt and mistakenly kills the eavesdropping Polonius, whom he believed to be Claudius hiding behind a tapestry.

The king's resolve is not so confused or hesitant. He sends Hamlet to England on a pretext, but really intends his murder (Hamlet turns the plot against the plotters, arranging for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to receive the death meant for him). Hamlet returns to find Ophelia dead and himself challenged to a fateful duel with her brother Laertes. The king has poisoned not only Laertes's mind against Hamlet but also the young man's sword tip and a cup of wine. By switching swords and exchanging wounds, both men die, but not before Hamlet stabs the king, and Queen Gertrude drinks the poison intended for Hamlet. Only Horatio survives to tell Hamlet's story.

The enigma of Hamlet centers on the reasons for his hesitation. One class of explanations locates the cause in Hamlet's character. Goethe found in Hamlet a romantic figure like his own young Werther: "A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away." Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Friedrich Schlegel independently proposed that Hamlet's ability to act was crippled by his habit of excessive deliberation; as Hamlet himself famously described it, "the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." Others, including Ivan Turgenev, in his 1860 essay comparing Hamlet with Don Quixote, have questioned Hamlet's supposed oversensitivity, pointing to his unfeeling treatment of Ophelia, and his reputed inactivity, noting his cold dispatch of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius.

Ernest Jones, expanding on a suggestion Sigmund Freud had made in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), took an entirely different tack. He interpreted Hamlet's hesitation as showing the disturbing effects of the return of a repressed Oedipal wish. In Hamlet's stead, Claudius has enacted the putative desire of the son to murder his father and sleep with his mother. Hamlet's revenge is then blocked by guilt over the vicarious fulfillment of that wish. His fixation on his mother's sexual behavior is seen as further evidence of his Oedipal preoccupation. This ingenious Freudian interpretation, with its "Aha!" quality, has raised as much ire as any other in the history of Hamlet responses, but its influence is undeniable. It has colored most twentieth-century readings of the role, for example actor-director Laurence Olivier's, whose Hamlet gives Gertrude a prolonged good-night kiss.

Not all accounts locate Hamlet's problem in his own traits or deep-seated motivations; some try to see his predicament from his perspective. He has received his charge to take revenge from a ghost whose reality and truthfulness he must evaluate. Moreover, the ghost sets for him what may be an impossible task: to murder his uncle and yet "taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught." His mind and heart are tainted almost from the moment of discovery, and his mother cannot but be punished along the way. When we scrutinize Hamlet's psyche, we function as outside observers and look for traits or defects of his to explain his behavior; but, to the extent that we identify with him and see through his eyes, we begin to appreciate the situation as it could appear to him and seek our reasons there to account for his behavior.

Often interpretations of Hamlet were worked out not in dry critical essays but in other works of art. After tracing the modern offshoots of Shakepearean drama, Ruby Cohn concludes that "more than any other work, Hamlet has infiltrated imaginative writing." Goethe's reaction to Hamlet is embodied in his novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96), where the hero finds his own identity in part through the process of staging a production of Hamlet. In James Joyce's groundbreaking novel Ulysses (1922), Stephen Dedalus expounds his biographical theory of Hamlet to his cronies in the library scene, one of the stops on Joyce's one-day odyssey through Dublin. Ulysses, a major landmark of twentieth-century fiction, is as much about Hamlet and Shakespeare as it is about Odysseus and Homer. In Russia, Boris Pasternak composed his own free translation of Hamlet, and his Dr. Zhivago (the protagonist of Pasternak's Nobel-prize-winning novel) includes a "Hamlet" as the first of his own poems. Numerous other literary offshoots of Hamlet could be cited, among them ones by Hauptmann, Laforgue, Mallarmé, Beckett (Endgame, through Hamm), and Tom Stoppard (Dogg's Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). The Hamlet "type" can be seen in a work such as Byron's dramatic poem Manfred. Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet (1991) and Lynn Redgrave's Shakespeare for My Father (1993) show the continuing influence of the character on new theatrical works.

Hamlet does not live only on the page, but above all on the stage. The tradition of the role's performance is so long, and only briefly broken by the English Civil War, that some of Hamlet's stage business can be traced back to Shakespeare's time. As the great theater historian Arthur Colby Sprague pointed out, through their actions on the stage, actors become interpreters of Hamlet's character, and "no Shakespearean part has had more varied interpretations." Hamlet has beckoned the leading actors of every era, and few actors could be called great without attempting him.

The roster is impressive, including Richard Burbage (the first Hamlet), William Davenant, David Garrick, John Philip Kemble, Edmund Kean, Edwin Booth, Sarah Bernhardt (who played the role in male costume), John Barrymore, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Kenneth Branagh. In 1995, Ralph Fiennes won the Tony Award for best actor for his tortured, frenetic prince. In 2009, Hamlet is back on Broadway, played by Jude Law.

Besides being tested on the boards, the premiere actors of the role nowadays bring their performances before the camera. The celebrated Sarah Bernhardt is credited with the first appearance of Hamlet on film in Le Duel d'Hamlet (1900), a French short film (with synchronized sound recording) that dramatized just one scene, Hamlet's fatal duel with Laertes. Laurence Olivier (in 1948) and Kenneth Branagh (in 1996) each directed superlative film versions of their own distinctive portrayals. Olivier's Hamlet is a seductive mix of introspective coldness and masculine vigor, perfectly inhabiting his Danish-medieval cinematic ambiance in this unsurpassed black-and-white film. Its chief rival is Branagh's Hamlet, which marked the fourth century of the play's existence by presenting the entire work uncut. Running to four hours, it never seems long, but rather moves forward relentlessly, propelled by the vitality and fresh intelligence of its star. The uncut version brings to the fore some of this character's best moments: for example, the Yorick scene in the graveyard, with the full text restored, has never been played better or more poignantly than in Branagh's film. When Hamlet learns that the skull he holds is that of his childhood playmate, the jester Yorick, he reacts this way:

Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chop-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come: make her laugh at that.

Most productions stop the speech there and proceed immediately to Laertes' entrance with the corpse of Ophelia. But Shakespeare doesn't stop there. He enlarges the point to consider the irony of mortality for even those who seemed most invincible in life:

Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!

Branagh does not miss this opportunity to deliver Shakespeare's one-two punch.

These giants of film notwithstanding, Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet is well worth watching too, with Mel Gibson surprisingly effective as a brash, rough-and-ready prince. Actors as different as Nicol Williamson and Ethan Hawke have also turned in interesting film performances of the role.

So profound a dramatic role is bound to attract parody to relieve the gloom with a lighter touch. The proliferation and success of Hamlet parodies, especially in the nineteenth century, depended on people's ready familiarity with all the nuances of his character, story, and words. His greatest soliloquy, introduced by the famous life-or-death question, "To be, or not to be," has been a favorite comic target. One farcical version, called Hamlet Revamped (1874), set it to the tune of "Three Blind Mice"; another, emphatically titled Hamlet! The Ravin' Prince of Denmark!! (1866), began the speech:

'To be or not to be, that is the question,' Oh dear! I'm suffering from the indigestion!

The propensity to soliloquize was itself parodied in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1874), by W. S. Gilbert (of operetta fame), in which the other characters protest and try (in vain) to stop Hamlet when they detect the signs of a soliloquy coming on. Mark Twain's Duke in Huckleberry Finn suffers from the same tendency, but makes of Hamlet's famous speech a hilarious patchwork of Shakespearean and pseudo-Shakespearean phrases.

Hamlet travels well. His determination to reflect on his deepest motives, even when this only increases his anguish, holds a fascination unbounded by time, language, or culture. His dilemmas and his reflections upon them probe the fundamental aspects of human experience: death and bereavement, love and duty to those we love, justice and mercy, sin and guilt, friendship and loyalty, to name only some of them. As the noted critic Harold Bloom has argued, Hamlet lies at the center not only of the "Western canon" but of a multicultural world canon.

Adapting the role of Hamlet is a worldwide phenomenon, certainly not limited to parody. In Japan, for example, there is a long tradition (more than a century) of serious Shakespeare performance, often ingeniously adapted into Japanese Kabuki and Noh forms, but also produced in modern translations. In 1990, an amazing seventeen productions of Hamlet in one form or another appeared on the Tokyo stage.

Facilitating his longevity, Hamlet's style has continued to change, along with the manner of staging the dramatic world he moves through. The grandiloquent declamation and formal staging of earlier centuries have given way to more conversational tones and avantgarde art direction. The turning point was probably the Moscow Art Theater Hamlet of 1912 jointly produced by Konstantin Stanislavsky (originator of "method" acting) and Gordon Craig (who also designed its spare, cubist sets). Their Hamlet, V. I. Kachalov, began the tradition of emphasizing Hamlet's aloofness from the other characters-being present among them but maintaining both physical and psychological distance.

This insight into his predicament epitomizes twentieth-century portrayals of Hamlet on the stage and in film, with their heightened sense of the man's isolation in his own torment. This is fitting because, among fictional characters, Hamlet still stands alone.

Chapter Two

Odysseus (Ulysses)

Come, I will tell you of my voyage home with its many troubles.

After Hamlet, the most individualized character in world literature, we have Odysseus, the most versatile. The perilous voyage home of Odysseus, "the man of many ways," from conquered Troy to his native Ithaka, took ten years, but the voyages of Odysseus through literature span a multitude of works and at least twenty-eight centuries.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Fictional 100 by Lucy Pollard-Gott Copyright © 2009 by Lucy Pollard-Gott, PhD. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Illustrations....................xi
Acknowledgments....................xiii
Introduction....................xv
1 Hamlet....................1
2 Odysseus (Ulysses)....................9
3 Don Quixote....................14
4 Eve....................21
5 Genji....................26
6 Oedipus....................31
7 Don Juan....................35
8 Chia Pao-yü....................40
9 Sherlock Holmes....................44
10 Arjuna....................52
11 Adam....................59
12 King Lear....................63
13 Shahrazad (Scheherazade)....................67
14 Achilles....................71
15 Job....................76
16 Heracles (Hercules)....................79
17 Aeneas....................83
18 Othello....................86
19 Beowulf....................90
20 Sita....................93
21 Christian (Bunyan's Pilgrim)....................97
22 Perceval (Parzival)....................100
23, 24 Romeo and Juliet....................103
25 Alice....................109
26 Medea....................113
27 Electra....................117
28, 29 Troilus and Criseyde....................121
30 Noah....................125
31 Huckleberry Finn....................128
32 Lin Tai-yü (Black Jade)....................134
33 Frankenstein....................137
34 Jean Valjean....................142
35 Werther....................149
36 Aladdin....................153
37 Madame Bovary....................156
38 Siegfried (Sigurd)....................161
39 Hlakanyana....................165
40 Cinderella....................169
41 Gulliver....................173
42 Carmen....................178
43 Agamemnon....................181
44, 45 Tokubei and Ohatsu....................184
46 Wakdjunkaga....................187
47 Beauty (Belle)....................190
48 Candide....................193
49 Draupadi....................196
50, 51 Tristan and Isolde....................200
52 Golem....................205
53 Anna Karenina....................208
54 Okonkwo....................212
55 Sancho Panza....................216
56 P'an Chin-lien....................220
57 Hsi-men Ch'ing....................224
58 Ukifune....................227
59 Pinocchio....................231
60 The Wife of Bath....................235
61 Jane Eyre....................239
62 Captain Ahab....................243
63 Shakuntala....................247
64, 65, 66 Ivan, Alyosha, and Dmitry Karamazov....................251
67 Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde....................256
68 Antigone....................260
69 Hunchback of Notre-Dame....................264
70 Emma....................268
71 Pulcinella (Punch)....................271
72 David Copperfield....................274
73 Scrooge....................277
74 Panurge....................282
75 Natasha Rostova....................286
76 Peter Pan....................289
77 Hester Prynne....................294
78 Bigger Thomas....................297
79 Efraín....................301
80 Superman....................306
81 Sir John Falstaff....................310
82 Uncle Tom....................314
83 Dorothy Gale....................318
84 Bhima....................323
85 Joseph K/K....................326
86 Willy Loman....................329
87 Dorian Gray....................334
88 Ivan Denisovich....................338
89 Invisible Man (Ellison's)....................341
90 Tarzan....................345
91 Rip Van Winkle....................350
92 Scarlett O'Hara....................353
93 Long John Silver....................357
94 Natty Bumppo....................360
95 Botchan....................364
96 Marili, the Doctor-Man....................367
97 Colonel Aureliano Buendía....................370
98 Palm-Wine Drinkard....................374
99 Holden Caulfield....................378
100 Beloved....................382
Notes....................386
Suggested Readings....................433
Index....................461

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The Fictional 100 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
InMaschera More than 1 year ago
Synopses, analyses, evaluations, and history of the great fictional characters. What a tour de force! It's not possible to list everything I find impressive about The Fictional 100. The breadth and scope of this collection of fictitious characters, in addition to the challenge of intelligently condensing so many works of depth without descending into superficiality, is nearly staggering. The overriding tone of this highly educational work is a gentle reasonableness, fair-mindedness -- affection for many of the characters, compassion where affection is impossible, clear-eyed judgment without judgmentalism. A strong but not overpowering psychological analysis infuses each chapter. This is a rare kind of book; few works in our culture show so much awareness of the literary traditions of so many other cultures. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago