Have you ever come across the technique of persona and wondered what it was? If so, in this article, we are going to explore exactly what persona is as well as finding out what it is used for. We are also going to be looking at a series of examples which will allow us to gain a greater understanding of how it can be used within both spoken conversation and as a literary device.
What Is Persona?
The English word persona comes from an old Latin term which literally means a mask of an actor. It can be linked to the entire cast of character within a set piece but most commonly it is used to talk about a character through which, the writer airs his own views and opinions. This could be about anything ranging from religious beliefs, political thoughts and many other personal ideas which could be conveyed through a character.
A persona is not only a voice for a writer, but can also be used by an actor or other form of storyteller to put across the specific traits and beliefs that they wish to portray. In actual fact, persona was a technique that was once exclusively used in a theatrical sense but over time it has evolved to be used in works of fiction and poetry. The concept for its inclusion in written literature was first introduced by the world famous writer, T S Eliot.
When used as a literary device, persona is an ideal opportunity for writers to be able to voice a belief or opinion which they might not be able to do if it were coming directly from them. This might be for reasons of oppression or simply the fear of offending or upsetting someone. Another reason that someone might use a persona is to create a character through which they can express words and feelings that they may not emotionally be able to do as themselves.
In a more real life sense, many actors will often take on a persona in order to sell an idea or product which may not be as well received otherwise. By using a persona they are able to use that characters personality traits to better explain the concept, therefore gaining more interest.
Examples of Persona In Speech
As we mentioned, persona is something which originally came from theatre and acting and so feature heavily in this setting still today. We are going to look at some examples of persona being used in a spoken sense whether that is through the medium of TV, stage or song.
- Actor Leigh Francis has famously developed the persona of Keith Lemon, who is a loud, brash and suggestive character. This is in complete stark contrast to the actor who is shy, reserved and quiet. This persona allows the actors to express his thoughts and views on the world in a way that he never could himself. Not only this, but the character is used for comedic effect and therefore can get away with much more shocking statements and opinions.
- Another modern persona that we might all recognise is Ali G, the persona made up by comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Similarly to the above example, Cohen would never be able to get away with airing the views and opinions of his persona and so uses it to create comedy TV shows and movies. He later created other personas, Bruno and Borat whom he used in a similar way.
- There are some great examples of persona within the music world, for example David Bowie used the persona of ZIggy Stardust and the singer Lady Gaga is a persona of Stefani Germanotta. This gives performers a chance to experiment with their own style in the safe covering of being someone else and is a popular way of expressing music and art.
Examples of Persona In Literature
After persona became a popular literary tool for writers, it has been used more and more often to their advantage. In order to gain a greater understanding of this, it is important to take a look at some examples of how it has been used in the past.
- A good example to begin with comes from the founder of persona in literature, T S Eliot in his poem ‘The love song on Alfred Prufrock. In this poem, he uses the persona of Alfred to talk about a mental conflict. This is seen particularly in the first part of the poem.
- In the poem My last Duchess written by Robert Browning, the author uses the persona of a Duke in order to display feelings and emotions which are prominent within the character.
- In Ernest Hemingway’s The old man and the sea, he uses a persona in the form of the character Santiago. This is apparent in the opening paragraph, where it would seem that the writer becomes the character. He uses the opportunity to air his thoughts on the struggle against forces seen in the natural world.
- Joseph Conrad makes use of a persona in his novel Heart of darkness. The name of the persona in this case is Marlow and is thought to be one of the most well recognised examples of persona in literature. The writer uses the persona to discuss his own real life visit to the Congo and how he dreamed of visiting far off lands as a young boy.
Using a persona is a way to help a writer or person to put across views or opinions that they hold themselves but through another character. A persona is created in order to help the creator to lift any sort of oppression which prevents them from being able to express their thoughts as themselves. Not only this but persona is an excellent way to add an extra creative flair to a speech or a piece of writing.
Whilst it finds its roots on the theatrical stage, persona has become more and more of a popular technique used by writers in both poetry and prose.