THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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CHARACTER (Gr. χαρακτήρ from χαράττειν, to scratch), a distinctive mark (spelt “caracter” up to the 16th century, with other variants); so applied to symbols of notation or letters of the alphabet; more figuratively, the distinguishing traits of anything, and particularly the moral and mental qualities of an individual human being, the sum of those qualities which distinguish him as a personality. From the latter usage “a character” becomes almost identical with “reputation”; and in the sense of “giving a servant a character,” the word involves a written testimonial. For the law relating to servants’ characters see Master and Servant. A further development is the use of “character” to mean an “odd or eccentric person”; or of a “character actor,” to mean an actor who plays a highly-coloured strange part. The word is also used as the name of a form of literature, consisting of short descriptions of types of character. Well-known examples of such “characters” are those of Theophrastus and La Bruyère, and in English, of Joseph Hall (1574-1656) and Sir Thomas Overbury.
Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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