Subject (acting)

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The subject is a spectrum of theatrical roles that actors from around 1700 to 1980 specialized in.


In classical drama, since the 17th century, the various persons ( personages ) in a play are divided into different subjects, also called role or stage subjects, according to their character and function in the play . The role subjects were related to the composition of the drama troops (and later the ensembles in the city ​​theaters ). An actor had to be hired for each subject in order to be able to cover the spectrum of roles in the repertoire pieces (see repertoire system ). These technical terms were relevant for actor contracts until the 20th century. Legally, this information meant for the actor both a right to work in his role as well as protection from the tasks of other role subjects.

The defined means of expression in the role subjects could be both a limitation and a creative option for the performers, as long as they were still on their own. Role subjects lead to a standardization of stylistic devices. To this day there are actors who appear in a standing role (which is no longer appreciated, at least in the German-speaking area, and is sometimes given derogatory terms such as Knallcharge for an exaggerated, comical supporting role). Instead of the previous definition of role subjects, actors' contracts now sometimes specify the area of ​​application to small, medium or large roles.

Due to the naturalism in the theater since around 1900, the role subjects have increasingly dissolved and made room for individual design. The development of theater direction and the growing supremacy of the director have increasingly diminished the importance of the role subjects. In acting, at least on the surface, they no longer exist. The traditional subjects have been particularly persistent on the opera stage , where they are closely connected with the vocal subjects , i.e. with the vocal possibilities.


The ständeklausel as there was a social distinction between serious and comic roles that softened since about 1800, but continues to resonate today. In the 18th century, in addition to the basic distinction noble / caractère (fine / coarse or noble / peasant), there was an intermediate subject called demi-caractère (usually translated as “simple”), which serves as a vessel for the bourgeois figures. In this gradation there were the noble mothers, the affectionate mothers (demi-caractère) and the funny mothers (caractère).

Age, stature, voice, social background, experience, talent, but also, for example, the clothes they brought with them (especially for the traveling troops ) were important for the classification of actors into role subjects . A prerequisite repertoire of gestures and rules of behavior belonged to a role subject.

The role subjects include
Actresses actor
Naive young people, Vivid (low status ) Outdoorsman, young comedian, dumpling (lower class)
Young lover, sentimental (high class) Young lover (high standing)
Heroine, heroine hero
Salon lady , femme fatale Bonvivant ( bon vivant , womanizer)
Character actress , e.g. B. Character actors , e.g. B.
  • Father role
  • intriguer
  • Comedian , batch role

Differentiating adjectives such as youthful, affectionate, funny are often added to the subjects. Furthermore, the first actors in the respective subject are often referred to: first hero, first lover. The character actors were usually distinguished from the lowly comedians.

Practical use

In order to ensure a balanced program in the repertoire system, many theater directors engaged their ensemble with the help of a classical play. This selection can be varied, such as B. Schiller's Cabal and Love .

Kabale und Liebe by Friedrich Schiller first performed in 1784
gender people Roll compartment complement was standing
male President of Walter ,

at the court of a German prince

Hero father noble
male Ferdinand von Walter ,

his son, major

Lover youthful noble
male Court Marshal von Kalb Bon vivant noble
Female Lady (Emilie) Milford ,

Mistress of the prince

Salon lady noble
male Worm ,

House Secretary to the President

1. Character player civil
male Miller , town musician

or, as they are called in some places, Kunstpfeifer

Father player civil
Female Mrs. Miller ,

the wife of town musician Miller

Mother player civil
Female Luise Miller ,

his daughter

Naive lover youthful civil
Female Sophie ,

Lady's maid

Lively - naive youthful noble
male A valet of the prince Character batch older civil
Male Female Various secondary characters Beginner &

Roles according to individuality

young to old noble / bourgeois

Related phenomena

A more original form of the stage fan are the stereotypical characters of the Commedia dell'arte or the popular theater , which in some cases can be traced back to typologies in ancient comedy ( e.g. Miles Gloriosus ) (see Funny Person ). Other theatrical traditions such as the Spanish, French and English have different, sometimes more differentiated and still existing roles such as the vice from Shakespeare's time. The American Ingenue , for example, became known through the musical in continental Europe, for which there is no exact German equivalent.


  • Bernhard Diebold: The role subject in the German theater business of the 18th century , Leipzig: Voss 1913. Reprint Nendeln: Kraus 1978. ISBN 3-262-00504-5
  • Hans Doerry: The role subject in the German theater business of the 19th century , Berlin: Gesellsch. f. Theater history 1926
  • Gerhard Ebert: "Improvisation and the art of acting. About the creativity of the actor. Henschel Verlag, Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-89487-172-5 .
  • Gerhard Ebert: "ABC des Acting", Henschel Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-89487-474-0 .
  • Gerhard Ebert, Rudolf Penka: "Acting", Henschel Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89487-294-2 .
  • Gerhard Ebert: "The actor", history of a profession, Henschel Verlag, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-362-00531-4 .