An archetype (pronounced /ˈɑrkɪtaɪp/) is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality, or behavior.
In philosophy, archetypes since Plato at least, refer to ideal forms of the perceived or sensible things or types. Archetypes can be found in nearly all forms of literature, with their motifs being predominantly rooted in folklore.
William Shakespeare is known for creating many archetypal characters that hold great social importance in his native land. Falstaff, the bawdy, rotund comic knight; Romeo and Juliet, the ill-fated ("star-crossed") lovers; Richard II, the hero who dies with honor; and many others. Although Shakespeare based many of his characters on existing archetypes from fables and myths (e.g., Romeo and Juliet on Arthur Brooke's Romeus and Juliet), Shakespeare's characters stand out as original by their contrast against a complex, social literary landscape. For instance, in The Tempest, Shakespeare borrowed from a manuscript by William Strachey that detailed an actual shipwreck of the Virginia-bound 17th-century English sailing vessel Sea Venture in 1609 on the islands of Bermuda. Shakespeare also borrowed heavily from a speech by Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses in writing Prospero's renunciative speech; nevertheless, the unique combination of these elements in the character of Prospero created a new interpretation of the sage magician as that of a carefully plotting hero, quite distinct from the wizard-as-advisor archetype of Merlin or Gandalf. Both of these are likely derived from priesthood authority archetypes, such as Celtic Druids, or perhaps Biblical figures like Abraham, Moses, etc.; or in the case of Gandalf, the Norse figure Odin.
Certain common methods of character depiction employed in dramatic performance rely on the pre-existence of literary archetypes. Stock characters used in theatre or film are based on highly generic literary archetypes. A pastiche is an imitation of an archetype or prototype in order to pay homage to the original creator.
Sheri Tepper's novel Plague of Angels contains archetypical villages, essentially human zoos where a wide variety of archetypal people are kept, including heroes, orphans, oracles, ingénues, bastards, young lovers, poets, princesses, martyrs, and fools.
The superhero genre is also frequently cited as emblematic of archetypal literature.
The young, flawed, and brooding antihero [Spider-Man] became the most widely imitated archetype in the superhero genre since the appearance of Superman.
—Bradford W. Wright, Comic Book Nation: The transformation of Youth Culture in America 212
—Superman on the Couch by Danny Fingeroth 151
In the analysis of personality, the term archetype is often broadly used to refer to
But in a strict linguistic sense, an archetype is merely a defining example of a personality type. In this sense "mother figure" can be considered an archetype and instances can be found in various female characters with distinct personalities.
Archetypes have been present in mythology and literature for hundreds of years. The use of archetypes to analyze personality was advanced by Carl Jung early in the 20th century. The value in using archetypal characters in fiction derives from the fact that a large group of people are able to unconsciously recognize the archetype, and thus the motivations, behind the character's behavior.
The word archetype appeared in European texts as early as 1545. It derives from the Latin noun archetypum via the Greek noun arkhetypon and adjective arkhetypos, meaning "first-moulded". The Greek roots are arkhe- ("first" or "original") + typos ("model", "type", "blow", "mark of a blow").