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From Latin, "the masks of the drama." A list of characters at the beginning or at the end of a work of fiction.
This stemmed from the necessity of casting a play, and has somehow drifted into fiction from there; the end credits roll of a movie or TV show evolved from this practice too. Usually lists them by name with a short description, most often relaying who is related to whom. In works which fit into a large continuity with Loads and Loads of Characters (such as comic books), this helps the reader keep up with the characters involved in the work.
A Dramatis Personae is quite often written in a slightly olde-world style, evoking the Shakespearean style of writing. Sometimes this is done separately at the beginning of each chapter as part of In Which a Trope Is Described.
If the characters are not strictly listed alongside which actors are playing them in a live drama, expect identity-based shenanigans.
Anime & Manga
- Many manga volumes begin with the names and images of major (but usually not all) characters in the series/volume/story arc.
- Historys Strongest Disciple Kenichi takes this to the next level by showing a box with the name of any character who is showing up for the first time and any character who hasn't been seen in a while. Often with a brief description.
- The Dramatis Personae of Suehiro Maruo's Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show contains two real-life people who have no part in the story: Ikki Kita, a Japanese politician who was contemporary to when the story takes place; and Hibari Misora, a singer who rose to fame after World War II.
- Mahou Sensei Negima essentially starts off with one in the form of the class roster, introducing all of the girls in Negi's class. As the manga goes on, it also has brief character introductions at the beginning of each chapter.
- Every volume of Battle Royale opens with a page showing the full class roster, with the faces of the dead marked off. The list of names not greyed out gets very short, very quickly. This is largely necessary due to the Loads and Loads of Characters, it can be hard to keep up.
- Durarara and Baccano both throw a list of the characters over the opening. They also play around with this a bit - certain important characters are shown, but the names are withheld. Baccano gives Claire Stanfield aka The Rail Tracer aka Vino aka The Young Conductor the same amount of screen time as every other character, but withholds his name and successfully tricks the audience into assuming he's just an extra. Something similar is true for Durarara's first opening, which withholds the name of another character, but this time it clearly shows that the character will be important - it does the same freeze frame that the other characters get, but leaves out the name. This is promptly subject to Fridge Brilliance followed by a subversion: At first we think her name isn't listed because it's already been shown for another character, then we realize that isn't actually true. The second opening shows her actual name.
- During the Silver Age, Legion of Super-Heroes had the Legionnaire Roll Call so you'd know which of the many Legionnaires were starring in each particular story.
- Brought back in the post-Zero Hour version, with occasional variants (the Elseworld in which they're typical 1950s teenagers has "class attendence", for instance).
- Brought back in different form in the post-Final Crisis "deboot" Legion, where the first appearance of a character in an issue is accompanied by a caption giving name, codename, and powers. Becomes tedious in collected editions, where the same character will get introduced half-a-dozen times. (One must learn to ignore it.)
- X-Men occasionally did this during the 70s and 80s as their cast of characters expanded. Same for The Avengers.
- In fact, a variation on this was used in every Marvel comic published for a while in the late 90s.
- During the 1980s, when Marvel placed a picture of a character in a box in the upper left-hand corner of the cover (Different, but issue-specific pics of Spider-Man, for example, or the faces of each member of the X-Men), that box on an Alpha Flight cover only pictured the characters appearing in that issue (Most of the John Byrne issues, especially No.s 1-11, focused on specific characters).
- Modern Marvel comics tend to open with a page giving a brief text recap of the comic's premise and the story to this point, along with portraits of the major characters involved.
- The Justice League of America and Justice Society of America have also had Roll Calls, similar to the Legion version. In the Silver Age, the League was more likely to have each character's title appear next to them after they'd separated into two-person teams (which they did a lot). At least one book during the Ligntning Saga (a JLA/JSA crossover which reintroduced the pre-Zero Hour Legion) gave all three teams a separate roll call.
- The Archie-published Sonic the Hedgehog comics generally do a quick list of all the characters who feature in each particular issue.
- After finishing a story, the Belgian/Dutch daily newspaper comic Suske en Wiske announces the following story with a short strip mentioning the main characters - which always includes the famous five (Suske, Wiske, Aunt Sidonia, Lambik and Jerom), and occasionally includes a few more important extras, though that is not always so. It also gives a short indication about the story to come, though it omits any twists and turns.
- With Strings Attached has a four-page character list at the end.
- The Royal Tenenbaums combines this with an Age Cut: the prologue shows the Tenenbaum siblings as children, and the Dramatis Personae credits introduce the actors playing them as adults.
- In Snatch a montage of short vignettes introduces each character, with freeze frames giving their names. The whole thing is set to Klint's "Diamond."
- All of the Pusher films begin with a montage of the major characters and their names, set to a pounding rock beat. Each character is harshly lit from above as they glare at the camera.
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which explicitly parodies the Shakespearean dramatis personae.
- Most of the Asterix books have a brief description of "A Few of the Gauls" on page 4, with the actual comic starting on page 5. Mansion of the Gods omits this page so that a 2-page spread later on (pages 28 & 29) doesn't have to be broken.
- Most Star Wars Expanded Universe novels from the New Jedi Order series onwards. Pretty helpful when they bring back a pre-existing but recently unused character and even fans could use reminder of his/her species and most recent occupation.
- Several books by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, including:
- The Mote In God's Eye
- The Gripping Hand
- Oath of Fealty
- Lucifer's Hammer
- The Pevear/Volokhonsky translations of The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and War and Peace.
- Some novels by Agatha Christie, e.g. Murder on the Orient Express.
- Her more theatrically minded contemporary Ngaio Marsh did this with every novel.
- Novels by Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A. A. Fair).
- Harry Turtledove's Into the Darkness.
- Most of Harry Turtledove's work. This is actually necessary, because Turtledove likes to write large novels with several intertwining plotlines seen from the viewpoint of different characters. So the book will have, say, six major protagonists. And each of them has several family members or comrades-in-arms. Plus a lot of throwaway characters that you only see once. The Dramatis Personae list runs for pages.
- Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco novels. She says she does it because Roman names follow such similar patterns that she gets confused herself.
- Done tongue-in-cheek in "Last Act in Palmyra" in which Falco joins a travelling theatre troupe.
- Most of Tamora Pierce's books include a list of characters, though they mostly are at the end of the book along with glossaries and other miscellaneous information.
- The American Girl books all begin with a two-page "photo album" of the heroine's family and friends.
- The Kushiel's Legacy novels by Jacqueline Carey have Loads and Loads of Characters and therefore have a dramatis personae that can go on for pages and pages.
- When the number of characters grew very large, the Left Behind novels began inserting a dramatis personae, divided handily into Good, Undecided, and Bad, at the beginning of each book.
- K.P. Bath's Escape From Castle Cant has this at the beginning, most likely because it's a sequel with lots of backstory.
- Malazan Book of the Fallen and its related side stories by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont each open with a Dramatis Personae (explicitly labelled as such). In the later books of the series, these can stretch over many pages.
- Given the Loads and Loads of Characters in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic Dramatis Personae at the end of each volume is very helpful.
- Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has this for all its many, many characters from main protagonist to minor support who's been mentioned in two sentences.
- The Bartimaeus Trilogy books 2 and 3 begin with a list of main characters, handily divided into Magicians, Commoners and Spirits
- Stravaganza by Mary Hoffman
- Warrior Cats by Erin Hunter lists all the clan cats, and some cats outside the clans at the beginning of each book.
- Sometimes including characters that never appear. Ever.
- The character list is also a common source of small continuity errors. The greatest victims of these errors are the unfortunate extras that appear only on the list and thus have their entire lives
mangledplayed out on the list. Some don't age, others live for far too long, others have physical descriptions that change constantly, some go through genderbenders, dead Red Shirts mysteriously come back to life...
- Rather bizarrely, and for reasons unknown, Dashiell Hammett's hardboiled noir The Glass Key does this.
- The Case of the Seven of Calvary by Anthony Boucher, a mystery novel with a tendency to hang lampshades on the then-current mystery novel tropes, begins with a list of the dramatis personae that explicitly divides the characters into 'people to whom you need to pay attention if you're trying to solve the mystery' and 'people who can be safely ignored'.
- Books in Neal Stephensons epic Baroque Cycle have them at the end; they have some characters' histories as well as basic descriptions, and so come with a spoiler warning. Entries for people that really existed are in normal typeface, whereas characters Stephenson invented have their entries in italics.
- Die schwarzen Brüder by Lisa Tetzner. It unfortunally contains spoilers for the novel.
- The Warhammer 40000 Horus Heresy books include a list of all the people in it at the beginning to help keep track of who is part of what group.
- the lists are even titled Dramatis Personae
- The Khaavren Romances, due to being a parody of Alexandre Dumas, feature a dramatis personae section before each book.
- Raptor Red has a dramatis personae not of the characters, but of the various species that appear, all in scale to each other, with a silhouette of the writer and his dog to show size. Utahraptors are big.
- Twilight Saga book 4, Breaking Dawn has a character sheet at the end (characters are divided according to their vampire covens).
- Rather necessary in David Weber's Honor Harrington series of books, as his series now has more characters than a large country.
- Something of a necessity in The Wheel of Time novels, in the back of each book there is a combined glossary/dramatis personae, pointing out and telling you how to pronounce different who's and whats that appeared in the book in question, or in the story overall, as well as provide some extra information that, while nice to know, isn't important enough to have a character mention in the book.
- Early Dragonriders of Pern novels had this at the end of each book, but later novels either omitted or simply gave only names and a location for a character
- The Bionicle novel Raid on Vulcanus lists the major characters of the book on the first few pages, complete with B&W images of their toys.
- The Silmarillion has the first chapter preceded by the "Valaquenta", a full description of the Valar and associated powerful entities.
Live Action TV
- In the pilot episode of Arrested Development, not only does the Narrator introduce every main character (except for George Sr and Tobias, who were at first meant not to stay for the entire series) , their first appearance is also accompanied by a subtitle similar to the Boss Subtitles.
- The first episode of Leverage also does this, when the team (except Sophie) is first introduced. In seasons two and three, a shortened version appears as the opening credits.
- An edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle that this troper owns has such a list, including real characters such as Stalin and Abakumov. Although Stalin is depicted in the text, Viktor Abakumov is merely referred to in passing.
- Blackadder season 3 has, true to its Romantic stylistics, credits in form of a period drama Dramatis Personae.
- The TOS Outer Limits episode "Counterweight" does this at the end, presumably as Filler.
- Pretty much any play ever made. See above.
- It's Boring but Practical. When you're casting a play, you want to make sure you know who everyone is, and get a basic description if you can, so you don't end up casting The Obi-Wan type to play the restless, young Tom Wingfield.
- It should be said that not every play gives for every major character a short description like "an elderly Lady, in love with Nanki-Poo".
- The playbill in the original production of Rent had a page listing the main charecters and their relationships to each other, in case anyone got confused.
- The Colonel's Bequest, being constructed as a stage play, introduces the characters this way.
- The Warriors introduces characters and gangs with a freeze-frame featuring their name.
- A tait of Suda51 is to introduce characters this way. One of the most memorable is Killer 7.
- You'd think clicking the cast page in Terror Island would lead you to a page listing the actual webcomic characters. Instead...
- Order of the Stick compilations after the first. There's also this.
- Most webcomics, including online archives of print comics, will have character description pages; you could make a case that it's a form of Dramatis Personae. It's often obsolete, though.