AskDefine | Define archetypal

Dictionary Definition

archetypal adj : representing or constituting an original type after which other similar things are patterned; "archetypal patterns"; "she was the prototypal student activist" [syn: archetypical, prototypal, prototypic, prototypical]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of or pertaining to an archetype.

Extensive Definition

An archetype (pronounced: /ˈarkətaɪp/) is a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality, or behavior. This article is about personality archetypes, as described in literature analysis and the study of the psyche.
In the analysis of personality, the term archetype is often broadly used to refer to
  1. a stereotype—personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of such a type; or
  2. an epitome—personality type exemplified, especially the "greatest" such example.
  3. a literary term to express details.
However, in a strict linguistic sense, an archetype is merely a defining example of a personality type. The accepted use of archetype is to refer to a generic version of a personality. In this sense "mother figure" can be considered an archetype and instances can be found in various female characters with distinct (non-generic) personalities.
Archetypes have been present in folklore and literature for thousands of years and appear to be present in prehistoric artwork. 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 and that from the Greek noun αρχέτυπον (archetypon) and adjective αρχέτυπος (archetypos), meaning "first-moulded". The Greek roots are arkhe- ("first" or "original") + typos ("model", "type", "blow", "mark of a blow").
Pronunciation note: The "ch" in archetype is a transliteration of the Greek chi () and is most commonly articulated in English as a "k".

Jungian archetypes

The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung's psychological framework archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. A group of memories and interpretations associated with an archetype is a complex, e.g. a mother complex associated with the mother archetype. Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution.
Jung outlined four main archetypes:
  • The Self, the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation
  • The Shadow, the opposite of the ego image, often containing qualities that the ego does not identify with but possesses nonetheless
  • The Anima, the feminine image in a man's psyche; or:
  • The Animus, the masculine image in a woman's psyche
  • The Persona
Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images:

Archetypes in literature

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 Eurocentric (chiefly British) social importance such as Hamlet, the self-doubting hero and the initiation archetype with the three stages of separation, transformation, and return; 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 Pyramus and Thisbe), 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 which may be derived from priesthood authority archetypes from the Bible such as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, etc).
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.
In the superhero genre, two main archetypes are Spider-Man and Superman. Superman represents the old, bright and optimistic view of superheroes who were both physically and morally perfect (e.g. they would always do the right thing). Spider-Man represents the more realistic, cynical view where superheroes are simply regular people with extraordinary powers (i.e. they can be selfish and immature at times, while self-sacrificing and noble at others).
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



  • Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Vol. I, Premitive Mythology. (1991 reprint revised ed.), New York: Penguin Group Inc.
  • Jung, C. G., (1934–1954). The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious. (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Bollingen. ISBN 0-691-01833-2
  • Arrien, Angeles (1992). Signs Of Life: The Five Universal Shapes And How To Use Them. Sonoma, CA, USA: Arcus Publishing Company. ISBN 0-916955-10-9
  • The hero within: six archetypes we live by
archetypal in Bulgarian: Архетип
archetypal in Catalan: Arquetip
archetypal in Czech: Archetyp
archetypal in Danish: Arketype
archetypal in German: Archetypus
archetypal in Estonian: Arhetüüp
archetypal in Spanish: Arquetipo
archetypal in Esperanto: Arketipo
archetypal in Persian: کهن‌الگو
archetypal in French: Archétype
archetypal in Croatian: Arhetip
archetypal in Italian: Archetipo
archetypal in Hebrew: ארכיטיפ
archetypal in Kazakh: Архетип
archetypal in Kurdish: Arketîp
archetypal in Dutch: Archetype (model)
archetypal in Japanese: 元型
archetypal in Norwegian: Arketype
archetypal in Occitan (post 1500): Arquetipe
archetypal in Polish: Archetyp (psychologia)
archetypal in Portuguese: Arquétipo
archetypal in Russian: Архетип
archetypal in Simple English: Archetype
archetypal in Slovak: Archetyp
archetypal in Serbian: Архетип
archetypal in Finnish: Arkkityyppi
archetypal in Swedish: Arketyp
archetypal in Turkish: Arketip
archetypal in Ukrainian: Архетипи
archetypal in Chinese: 原型
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