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The term "ghost character" is used in this list with the following meaning:

A character who is known to characters inhabiting the stage but who does not himself appear in person on the stage is a "ghost character."

This may include such characters as Helena's father, Macbeth's father, or Justice Shallow's old friends. Old Nedar, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, is apparently alive but never enters the action of the play; Sinel is dead but mentioned in the course of dramatic conversation; Sampson Stockfish may or may not still be alive, but Shallow remembers him as the fruiterer with whom he once fought.

In every case where such a "ghost character" is listed, the character description will either identify the character as such or will make clear that the character does not appear on stage during the course of the play.

While it is a generally accepted practice to apply the term "ghost character" to characters who inhabit the stage but do not speak, such as Falstaff's Page in 2 Henry IV—or a fortiori to speaking characters who go unlisted in the dramatis personae—such is not the practice in this Compendium of Renaissance Drama Prosopography. Any character that takes the stage is listed as such here. Non-speaking and uncredited rôles are treated the same as speaking and credited rôles for purposes of this listing. Non-speaking rôles are noted as such in their character descriptions.

Characters who are also ghosts, such as Hamlet's father, are not "ghost characters" but actual characters and are so listed.

In some cases a point will be stretched to include names that do not rise to the level of "ghost character." Falstaff, for example, refers to the Greek physician Galen and characters from the Bible. Where it is believed that these references to non-characters might be of benefit to the researcher they have been included. In every case they are noted in their descriptions as "Only mentioned" to distinguish them from dramatic characters and "ghost characters."