Just as you need to pay attention to the title of the play, you need to look at the character’s names as well. Most names have “meanings” that can be found in a book of baby names (these lists are also available on line now.) For instance, “Thomas” will always be associated with the “Doubting Thomas” of the New Testament. A playwright may not be referencing this connection if he names a character “Thomas”, but then again, he might. It’s worth examining the meaning of your character’s name, just to be sure you aren’t missing anything.
Amadeus. As I talked about last time, Amadeus translates, literally, to “He Loves God.” As crude as Mozart can be, he must also have moments where his love of and communion with God are clear.
Agnes of God. St. Agnes chose martyrdom at the age of 14 to giving up her virginity. There are obvious correlations between her story and the Agnes in Peilmeier’s play. But for those who don’t know anything about St. Agnes, the appellation “of God” helps to make Agnes’ purity clear to the audience. If you play Agnes, you need to make purity part of her character; if you play one of the other characters in the play, you need to be aware of Agnes’ purity. The names of the other two characters, Martha and Miriam Ruth, have Old and New Testament connections worth exploring: Martha and Mary (a derivative of Miriam) are sisters in the New Testament, and Miriam appears in Exodus while the Book of Ruth is the only book named after a woman.
Doubt. St. Aloysius is the Catholic patron saint of youth. For Sister Aloysius to take his name, it says something about what matters to her and how she conducts her life.
The Little Foxes. Regina is Latin for “Queen.” Hellman’s choice of this name for her leading character probably speaks to both her bearing and her self-image.
Bright Ideas. Eric Coble’s black comedy is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Not only should you read Macbeth to understand all the references and correlations, the character’s names in Bright Ideas gives you clues as to who serves what function. The leads, however, are not named after Lord and Lady Macbeth; their names reference other historical characters, and provide additional meaning to those roles.
Enchanted April. Three of the characters in this play have names that may give some indication of their character’s nature: Rose, Mrs. Graves, and Michael Wilding. This naming convention is often used in comedies written prior to 1900, such as Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (e.g., Lady Sneerwell and Lord Backbite).
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair du Lune. “Frankie and Johnny” is an old ballad. The correlation between the story of the ballad and the characters in Terrence McNally’s play may not be readily evident, but it is too famous a song for the choice of their names to be merely coincidence. You need to figure out what McNally is telling you about the characters and their relationship.
No Man’s Land. All of the characters in Pinter’s play are named after cricket players. The obvious question is, “Why?”
Distant Fires. Kevin Heelan’s play has three black men (Raymond, Foos, and Thomas) and three white men (Angel, Beauty, and General). The first obvious question is, “What sort of name is Foos?” Check the Urban Dictionary, there’s a variety of reasons why Heelan might have chosen this name for this particular character. The second obvious question is, “Why are all the white men known by nicknames, and why do those nicknames reflect such definitive, one-dimensional concepts?”
The Wisdom of Eve. No one names a character “Eve” by accident! It’s up to you to figure out what the playwright is trying to tell you by referencing the couple from the Garden of Eden.
To read Part I, go here.
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