This is the second article in a series about some psychological aspects of character development. In the first article I defined acting as the invention of a new, human personality. Personalities are multi-layered, like an onion. And in this article we start peeling.

WYSIWYG is an acronym used by web designers and it stands for ‘What you see is what you get.’ It’s used to describe certain web designing applications. In describing the outer layer of a personality I would amend that to the unpronounceable  WYSMBWYGBIASPOTWS or, ‘What you see may be what you get but it’s a small part of the whole story.’ Okay, I suck at acronyms. Marlon Brando put it nicely when he said that everyone is an actor. That’s true and it’s important to remember. All of us, with rare exception, adapt our personalities to current circumstances. Your director knows a certain ‘you’ but the ‘you’ your parents, spouse or partner knows is quite different. As I said in the first article, we all move through society in ways that we believe are most appropriate. It’s this layer of your character that the audience sees. To use the onion metaphor, the outer layer also happens to be the thinnest layer and it can easily fall away given the right circumstances.

Shakespeare’s Richard III, by all outward appearances, is a sardonic, sociopathic beast. But in his first speech we see a bit of that outer layer flake away when he says of himself,

“…I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton, ambling nymph;

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature…”

(As an aside, it’s interesting that he blames nature, not God for his deformities. In a time when God was universally accepted as the Creator, what does that tell us about Gloucester?)

We’ve all heard the expression, “I can see right through him.” Seeing through that first layer is pretty easy for most people. And in Richard’s case, under that tough, Machiavellian façade is a man who feels totally inadequate. Shakespeare has given us early insight into Richard to make him a somewhat more sympathetic character.  But, on the other hand, one look at the guy and you have a pretty good idea of why he’s so bitter. Shakespeare has just made it easier for us.

So that’s the outer layer. The easiest one. What does your audience see and what do your character’s words tell us about your freshly minted personality? Are you guarding against something? Is there something about the things you say that reveal an important aspect of your character’s nature? You shouldn’t have much trouble discerning that sort of thing. It’s going to get a little more complicated and challenging as we go deeper. Every layer has something interesting teach us.