1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Character

CHARACTER (Gr. χαρακτήρ, from χαράττειν, to scratch), a distinctive mark (spelt “caracter” up to the 16th century, with other variants); so applied to symbols of notation or letters of the alphabet; more figuratively, the distinguishing traits of anything, and particularly the moral and mental qualities of an individual human being, the sum of those qualities which distinguish him as a personality. From the latter usage “a character” becomes almost identical with “reputation”; and in the sense of “giving a servant a character,” the word involves a written testimonial. For the law relating to servants’ characters see Master and Servant. A further development is the use of “character” to mean an “odd or eccentric person”; or of a “character actor,” to mean an actor who plays a highly-coloured strange part. The word is also used as the name of a form of literature, consisting of short descriptions of types of character. Well-known examples of such “characters” are those of Theophrastus and La Bruyère, and in English, of Joseph Hall (1574–1656) and Sir Thomas Overbury.