The Dramatis Personae and Line Count in the Plays of William Shakespeare.
Use our Fact Sheets for a full list of Shakespeare's Characters and their line counts in each and every play. Click on a play in the right hand column to go directly to the list of dramatis personae.
'The most immediate striking thing when one plays in a Shakespeare play is the independent life of the characters. They seem to be writing themselves. There is no sense in the plays of Shakespeare's personality..the language is always the language of the character who utters it.'
Simon Callow in his book Being An Actor
Shakespeare has written some of the most enduring characters in literature. It is impossible to imagine where modern films, television and theatre would be without the existence of Hamlet, Lear, Othello, or Romeo and Juliet. As Harold Bloom notes in Shakespeare The Invention of the Human - it is a miracle that one writer was able to create over 100 major characters of different yet self-consistent voices as well as hundreds of distinctive minor characters.
The history plays required armies of soldiers and therefore have large cast lists. Henry VI Part 2 has 62 character entries, Richard III has 61 and Coriolanus 50. The earlier comedies usually have smaller casts, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has only 18 listed dramatis personae, followed closely by Love's Labour's Lost and Twelfth Night with 19 characters each.
There are significantly large differences between the line counts of the characters within the plays. Hamlet is the longest part with 1495 lines while the whole play of The Comedy of Errors has just 1786 lines. Richard III has 1171 lines and Henry V 1028 in Henry V alone. Julius Caesar speaks just 135 lines. Of the female characters, Cleopatra with 686 lines and Rosalind with 677 are the largest character parts.
As befits a writer concerned with history, there are a large number of soldiers as characters -- amongst them Henry V, Richard III, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Troilus, Othello, Macbeth, Benedick and King Lear - and royalty - Kings, Princes, Lords, Nobles, Queens and their attendants.
When Peter Hall and John Barton brought their groundbreaking approach to producing Shakespeare for the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960's, the focus was on characterisation that could be gleaned from within the text, rather than by imposing a characterisation from outside - 'the nature of the language tells us about the nature of the character.. the language is the character'. It is significant to remember that Shakespeare wrote the drama of the plays through its characters, with simple or no stage directions, and with the narrative revealed by what the characters say and do. Shakespeare's genius is that over 400 years after they were written, the hundreds of characters in his plays continue to have a viable life, as if they were freshly written. As Bernard Shaw once noted, we know Shakespeare's characters to such a degree as we know few if any persons alive.
Character List and Line Count