This essay defines character as a device that collects every example of a kind of person. This formalist definition derives from seventeenth-century books of characteristic writings. The essay tests this definition against the antiformalist one derived from the realist novel, in which the job of a character is to individuate. The comic rather than tragic historiography of the formalist account makes it slightly preferable to the antiformalist one. The essay's archive is intended to be comprehensive and includes representative examples from poems, novels, plays, comic books, and works of criticism.

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