What Shakespearean character has your personality type? Oh yes, we're doing it, going where few have gone before and matching a Shakespearean character with each of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types. Myers-Briggs devotees will love this, and the uninitiated may well find their appetite whetted to learn more.
One of the chief things that makes the works of William Shakespeare timeless is his genius for characterization. Shakespeare’s numerous characters are not only amazingly varied but also insightfully well-rounded, making them believable and memorable. Together they form a host of possible examples of the popular Myers-Briggs sixteen personality types.
Nevertheless, this must be a fun rather than exact exercise. For one thing, Shakespeare lived nearly four centuries before the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed, so he was hardly creating his characters with those preferences in mind or a knowledge of the sixteen types. (Though he was aware of the four humors—sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic—which have been roughly, and to some, unsatisfactorily, linked to the combinations SP, SJ, NF, and NT.) What is more, we often see his characters in times of stress if not calamity, so it can be difficult to discern whether their behavior is typical for them or if they’re growing and trying something new. And of course these types weren’t meant to pigeon-hole people into stereotypes; the Myers-Briggs Foundation expressly states that everyone is unique, and this applies also to such individual characters as those of Shakespeare. It’s hard enough to read other people, but with Shakespeare characters, we often simply don’t have enough data to tell for sure.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
Based on the insights of Carl Jung and decades of research, Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Briggs (mother and daughter) developed the MBTI instrument, describing sixteen personality types determined by an individual’s preferences in four areas:
- Introversion (I) or Extroversion (E)
- Sensation (S) or iNtuition (N)
- Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
“There are no right or wrong preferences.… You can do both. You just prefer one…. While all the preferences are equal, each has different strengths and different challenges.”
(Preferences, Myers Briggs Foundation)
Four subgroups or "function pairs" have also been defined:
SJ - Traditionalists; SP - Experiencers;
NF - Idealists; and NT - Conceptualizers.
While Shakespeare often gives us more information about and insight into the negative characters in his plays, we’re just looking at the positive or admirable characters here. (Who wants to identify with a villain?)
This is just a lighthearted guesstimate at which Myers-Briggs types best fit some of Shakespeare’s commendable characters.
ISFP ♦ Hero (Much Ado)
Hero appears to be an ISFP, although it’s hard to be completely sure. ISFPs are generally hard to spot because they are so careful about revealing themselves (as is Hero). Hero is definitely an Introvert: in groups she is generally quiet; she’s more talkative one-on-one or with those she knows well. Moreover, like an ISFP, she has a hard time expressing her deepest feelings, especially in front of a group. Thus when she is brought to her fiancé, Claudio (also an Introvert—who proposed through a friend), she can’t say anything aloud about her love and joy in front of other people. But with her cousin and close friends, she can be quite playful. As with most personality types with the letters SP, she’s easy-going and flexible. Her wedding dress is what we’d expect of a Sensing type—more fashionable than the Duchess of Milan’s. Finally, she seems most like an ISFP in her intense reaction to being falsely accused and rejected by both Claudio and her father: She is devastated and swoons. ISFPs are among (if not the) most deeply sensitive of the types. But when her name is restored and they apologize, she is willing to move on and let bygones be bygones, typical for an ISFP.
ISFJ ♦ Benvolio (Romeo and Juliet)
Benvolio, friend and cousin of Romeo, is a good example of an ISFJ. He’s clearly an Introvert: When Romeo avoids him, Benvolio gives Romeo space, saying: “Measuring his affections by my own,/ That most are busied when they're most alone, / … [I] gladly shunn'd who gladly fled from me.” He’s also practical and among the most level-headed in the play: He sees no point in seeking Romeo if Romeo doesn’t want to be found, and he’s the straight man to the antic Mercutio and the romantic Romeo. Benvolio also shows the heart of a Feeler: Witness, for example, his gentle and caring (yet practical as an S) approach to improving Romeo’s spirits; his loyalty; and his being a peacemaker who is always trying to break up fights between his friends and enemies. He also shows himself a Traditionalist (SJ) in reminding them of the Prince’s prohibition of fighting between Capulets and Montagues and in trying to keep Mercutio and Romeo in line with both law and proper behavior.
ESTP ♦ Viola (Twelfth Night)
ESTPs are bold, quick, active, pragmatic, original, and—because they easily attract others—natural leaders in social groups. Viola shows herself to be all of these. When shipwrecked in a new land, she asks plenty of practical questions to size up her situation and quickly makes the bold move of dressing as a young man and getting employment with the Duke. (She’d rather work as a woman for Countess Olivia, but since that’s not possible, she pragmatically shifts to the Duke). As a young woman with no protector (her father deceased and her brother missing), she deems this the safest and most effective way to get room and board while she figures out what to do next. And even though Viola is passing herself off as “Cesario,” as an ESTP, she can’t help getting everyone around her to like her; in fact, both Olivia and the Duke end up falling for Cesario/Viola respectively. Her little experiment (and ESTPs love experimenting) goes awry in multiple ways, but Viola shows a typical ESTP talent for thinking and landing on her feet.
ESFP ♦ Orlando (As You Like It)
Orlando appears to be an ESFP. Though for some time his eldest brother Oliver has neglected educating him as a gentleman (as their father’s will expressly stipulated), Orlando has borne it in silence until the opening of the play. This sounds like the optimistic, conflict-averse, living-in-the-present ESFP. Orlando is also well-liked by everyone who knows or meets him (except the two villains), another trait of the ever-popular ESFP. When Orlando finally decides to confront Oliver, he does so in an impromptu and physical way, characteristic of the athletic, action-oriented SP. He’s very caring and sympathetic to Adam, his father’s loyal servant, as an ESFP should be. When he falls for Rosalind, he must express it to the world in poems scattered about the forest: undoubtedly a sign of an Extrovert Feeler, who often need to put their feelings into words. (True, his poetry isn’t very good, but we have to remember his education has been cut short.) Rosalind notices that he doesn’t show signs of wasting away for love and is still dressed smartly, though living in the forest, which is another tip-off: ESFPs are perhaps the best dressers of all the personality types.
ISTJ ♦ Isabella (Measure for Measure)
From Isabella’s very first lines of the play, where she is hoping for stricter rules at the convent she is about to enter, she shows notable indications of being an ISTJ. Those signs continue throughout the play as she holds herself and others to the highest possible standards, in true ISTJ style. That she is an Introvert is also seen in her reserve: She recoils from the idea of going to Angelo, the Duke’s deputy, to speak out in public and beg for mercy for her brother. That she is a T is shown from the fact that she goes anyway: She expresses her love for her brother in her actions—especially in doing things she doesn’t want to do—more than in affectionate words, and when she does speak up for him, she articulates the logical arguments of the case, gradually warming to the task and growing more confident. She is quite determined when she makes a decision (J) and not swayed by feelings (T again). In all things, her primary motive appears to be doing strictly what is right—a clear hallmark of an ISTJ.
ISTP ♦ Horatio (Hamlet)
A man of few words, Horatio is a good example of an ISTP. This type is independent and realistic—the opposite of gullible—and enjoys action, even danger. Horatio is skeptical when he hears that the king’s guards have repeatedly seen a ghost in the middle of the night, but when he sees it himself, he bravely and promptly goes over and speaks to it. Like a good Introvert and easy-going Perceiver, he patiently listens to Prince Hamlet’s long and sometimes rambling speeches. As a good Thinker, he is not afraid to speak unwelcome truths but is ever the voice of reason—practical, realistic (Sensing) reason—to his prince and friend. When Hamlet is dying, Horatio impulsively (a Perceiving trait) wants to die with him but agrees to the prince’s plea to live and explain Hamlet’s story and how the tragedy unfolded. Indeed, not only has he witnessed it all, but throughout the volatile plot, Horatio has shown a key gift of the ISTP: remaining calm and helpful in times of crisis.
ESTJ ♦ Paulina (Winter's Tale)
In The Winter’s Tale, Paulina is the wife of the courtier Antigonus and true friend to the queen of Sicilia, Hermione. When the paranoid king, Leontes, accuses his innocent wife of adultery, Paulina is the only defender of Hermione brave enough to tell the king to his face that he’s wrong and insane. As is common for Thinkers, she is direct, outspoken, and unaware of how she may be coming off; in fact, she brings Leontes to his knees with remorse before she notices the effect her words are having on him. When she tries to be more sensitive, she fumbles repeatedly before giving up and retreating into silence. Practical, decisive, and passionate about restoring things to the way they should be and confident that she knows the right way to accomplish it (all clear indications of an Extroverted SJ), Paulina orchestrates the ultimate reconciliation between the king and queen.
ESFJ ♦ MacDuff (Macbeth)
Macduff, a Scottish nobleman, appears to be an ESFJ. He is clearly a “Traditionalist” (SJ), whose loyalty—to the king, the king’s sons, and his country—is among his highest principles. This is shown not only in his sticking with the rightful heir to the Scottish throne, Malcolm, rather than the newly crowned Macbeth, but also when Malcolm tests him. To be sure that he isn’t one of Macbeth’s spies, Malcolm pretends to be worse than Macbeth, claiming vice after vice. At first, Macduff tries to dismiss these, but eventually gives up in despair for his country. Malcolm sees in this Macduff’s true patriotism, rather than a false loyalty put on for show.
Expressing his emotions openly—both his horror when he discovers King Duncan murdered and his deeply felt, affectionate grief for his murdered wife and children—Macduff is clearly an F. And as is typical for the popular ESFJ, he is well-known and well-liked, with several different characters calling him “good” and “worthy.” This loyal Scotsman, who has also been deeply and personally wronged by Macbeth, is the perfect foil to bring down the tyrant.
INFP ♦ Desdemona (Othello)
INFPs are known for their idealism, optimism, sensitivity, desire for harmony, and passion for their values. As Introverts, they do not put themselves forward and tend to be quiet in group settings. At the same time, they are deeply concerned about people, especially those they love, and about their values; so they can be surprisingly bold in defense of others or when a value is violated. We see all of these qualities in Desdemona. As an NF, she cares more for her ideals than social conventions, so she has no qualms about marrying a man of another race or bothering to get her father’s permission—something unthinkable to her father, given how docile she usually was. But, with the NF talent for diplomacy, she is able to smooth things over with her father and assure him of her love and gratitude to him (in contrast to Cordelia in King Lear; see below). And as an INFP—sometimes nicknamed “the Mediator”—Desdemona loves to help people, and enthusiastically takes on the task of reconciling Cassio to her husband. Unfortunately, Iago takes advantage of Desdemona’s good-hearted attempts at mediation with tragic results.
INFJ ♦ Banquo (Macbeth)
Banquo’s introversion shows up in his reserve: Though he is on stage for about a third of the play, he speaks less than Ross, a minor character. This makes his other preferences even more difficult to read than many Shakespearean Introverts, but there are clues. For instance, Banquo is likely a Feeler (F) in that he without envy accepts simply praise and a grateful hug from King Duncan while Macbeth gets a promotion for fighting equally bravely in the same battle. Banquo was with Macbeth when the three witches made their predictions, but his response was very different. Though he liked what the three witches foretold about him, he knew better than to trust them, remarking that those with evil intent often use half-truths to lead others astray. Values are clearly more important to him than status, a sign of an NF, and INFJs have an uncanny ability for reading people. Though he suspects Macbeth, he masks it quite well when speaking with him after Macbeth’s rise to power; he seems in this to be something of a social chameleon, another characteristic of an INFJ. We can also ascertain his type by how he approaches problems: He leads with his intuition, the dominant function of an INFJ.
ENFP ♦ Beatrice (Much Ado)
The witty heroine of Much Ado About Nothing bears many marks of an ENFP. Her comfort in speaking and joking with anyone and her friendliness with everyone (except Benedick) show clearly that Beatrice is an Extrovert. Her facility with wit and wordplay is emblematic of an NF, and rather than being a planner or manager-type, she takes things as they come like a Perceiver. She shows a typical NF diplomacy in declining the prince of Aragon’s marriage proposal. Her devotion to freedom over convention or routine manifests an NFP personality, thus she pushes back (charmingly) against her uncle’s hints that she should marry, preferring rather to be master of her own fate—a boldness almost unthinkable for a woman in that time. (In fact, her uncle tells his daughter, Hero, not to imitate this trait of Beatrice’s). Also her behavior before and after Hero’s “death” is classic NFP: She’s lighthearted and easy-going until a value is challenged, at which point she becomes a passionate champion against injustice.
ENTP ♦ Touchstone (As You Like It)
Like most ENTPs, Touchstone is quick, witty, and cynical. Thus his position as a court jester is perfect for Touchstone, especially as in it he can say almost anything. This office is well suited for an ENTP, who can see the big-picture problems, tends to be critical, and—though socially savvy—also tends to say unpleasant truths and let the chips fall where they may. His willingness to leave the court and go with Rosalind and Celia into the Forest of Arden fits his Perceiving preference—flexible and spontaneous—as well as his overall type: ENTPs are quite comfortable with independent action and breaking the rules, especially when a deeper principle calls for it. Sometimes nicknamed “The Debater,” an ENTP tends to enjoy debate for its own sake—so much so that they can argue both sides of a controversy. Touchstone definitely shows this trait, most clearly in his banter with Corin, the shepherd.
INTP ♦ Cordelia (King Lear)
The heroine of King Lear is likely an INTP, though it’s a little hard to tell, as she keeps her thoughts to herself and is not on stage for much of the play. She is no doubt an Introvert: She is reserved and has trouble expressing her feelings, as she explains: “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” At the same time, she appears to be a Thinker, being too honest to exaggerate or curry favor. Though she loves him dearly, she doesn’t even attempt to make her father, King Lear, feel better in her refusal to flatter him (unlike Desdemona’s reassurances to her father when she disappoints him). The whole demand that she and her sisters vie to express the most love for him is simply too illogical to her. As an iNtuitive (Myers-Briggs standard practice is to capitalize the N not the I to distinguish it from “Introvert”), Cordelia cares more about her integrity than status. Time and again she shows little concern about worldly goods like power or money. She sees right through her sisters’ facades just like an INTP—who almost makes a hobby of noting discrepancies in what people say and thus is rarely deceived. She also appears to be Perceiving—she doesn’t have any plans, isn’t sure what to say, but takes things as they come rather than planning them out.
INTJ ♦ Prospero (The Tempest)
Prospero, duke of Milan, is almost a textbook INTJ. In Milan, he was devoted to learning and studying his books (in standard Introverted, iNtuitive, and Thinking fashion), so he put his brother, Antonio, in charge of handling the practical aspects of ruling Milan. Unfortunately, Antonio turned on him and set him and his daughter, Miranda, adrift in a rickety, old boat. Fortunately the boat was sea-worthy enough to get them to a desert island where Prospero spends the next twelve years in classic NT style, tutoring Miranda and growing in his knowledge of the “magical arts” and thus in power. When at last his enemies sail near the island, Prospero, in true INTJ mode, decisively and strategically takes action, calling up the storm which dumps them on his island and arranging for the king’s son, Ferdinand, alone to meet Prospero’s daughter ( the two promptly falling in love as he hoped). Prospero is as brilliant, unconventional, independent, and ultimately—through hard work—powerful as INTJs tend to be.
ENFJ ♦ Hermione (Winter's Tale)
Hermione, the queen of Silicia, presents as an ENFJ. At the beginning, we see common signs of an ENFJ in her wit, charm, and ability to reach people, as when she convinces Polixenes, her husband’s childhood friend and king of Bohemia, to extend his stay when he was previously determined to go. In her next scene, we see another small sign of her being both a J (in liking order), when she initially needs a break from her rambunctious son, and an EF (warm-hearted) when she soon wants him back with her again. She is highly principled (a strong sign of an NF), with an innate sense of her own dignity and has quite the decisive, determined streak (J): When her husband falsely accuses her, abandons their baby daughter, and causes the death of their son, she (presumed dead) conceals herself in a “removed house” of Paulina’s for sixteen years, though her husband is quite contrite. She only reconciles with him once their daughter is restored to the kingdom.
ENTJ ♦ Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar)
ENTJ seems a perfect fit for Julius Caesar. Shakespeare shows Caesar to be a natural leader and excellent general, who easily gains followers, sways people, and enjoys power. Three times he declines the offered crown. But each time it is harder for him; Caesar was evidently hoping the crowd would make him accept the crown and is disappointed when instead they cheer his humility. Shakespeare’s tragedy also depicts Caesar with a not uncommon ENTJ weakness—overconfidence—and the type’s usual reliance on reason: He dismisses both the soothsayer’s warnings and his wife’s portentous dream and plea that he stay home. The last thing he wants is to be accused of being fearful or superstitious. Instead, he falls for his enemies’ ruse and goes to the Senate when they offer him a crown. In Myers-Briggs summaries, ENTJs are often nicknamed “Commander” because of their foresight, drive, confidence, ability to achieve success in their lofty plans, and penchant rise to the top; all of these precisely describe Julius Caesar.