A stock character is a stereotype fictional character. In a theatre, novel, play or film, the audience immediately knows about him or her without further explanation. All types of fiction use this device, especially comedy.
They have been used in all forms of theatre, right back to the Ancient Greek theatre. The Star Wars movie franchise offers many examples. They are archetypal characters, simplified and "flat". As a result, they may be easy targets for parody, and criticized as clichés. Stock characters help to identify a genre or subgenre. For example, a fairy tale or fantasy is likely to have a knight-errant as hero and a witch as opposition.
One stock character often used is the low-class character(s) who warn the hero of danger to come. Examples:
- The witches who warn Macbeth that he will not be defeated "until Birnam wood move to high Dunsinane", and that "no man of woman born" may harm him.
- A beggar tells Caesar "beware the Ides of March!".
As the hero falls, he is usually allowed a final comment. Caesar's was "Et tu, Brute?" meaning "Not you as well, Brutus?" That's known as a valediction (means a farewell comment). Shakespeare has many examples: Another famous example is Richard III's last cry of "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
- Chris Baldick (2008). "stock character". The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press. p. 317. ISBN 9780199208272. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- Kamesha Jackson (2010). "stock character". In Ronald L. Jackson II (ed.). Encyclopedia of Identity. Sage Publications. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- Flatness is a critical term. It means something like: "not fleshed out, and so is not like a real person, more like a cardboard cut-out".