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Archetypal patterns are characters or basic plot devices that appear repeatedly in various forms throughout different narratives represented in literature and film. Archetypes are like the blueprints for creating different characters and plots in works of fiction. Names and details may differ, but the underlying theme remains the same from text to text. Examples of archetypal patterns include the interactions between the hero and the villain, the fate of the star-crossed lovers, and the quest pattern.
The main aspect of archetypal patterns is that they are universally recognized, meaning the basic characteristics and interactions between archetypes translates across different cultures. These patterns are typically ingrained in society and children learn them from a very early age. Nearly every culture has at least one story that fits into one of the patterns.
The hero versus villain is one of the most popular archetypal patterns in the world. Examples exist in nearly every culture, from the epic adventure of Beowulf versus Grendel from Beowulf to modern day television plot arcs about police battling criminals. A hero cannot exist without a villain to fight, nor can a villain exist without a hero to stop him from succeeding in his evil plans. The two are mutually dependent on each other, and together they bring a sense of urgency and climax to a story.
Another of the common archetypal patterns deals with characters setting off on a quest. King Arthur and his knights of the round table quested for the Holy Grail; Hercules of Greek mythology went on a quest to complete the 12 labors with which he was sentenced as a punishment for killing his wife and child. Ferris Bueller can even be interpreted as spending his infamous "day off" questing. The quest itself rather than the final goal that the hero hopes to achieve is usually the main point of a quest narrative, as the hero learns the most valuable lessons during the adventure.
The star-crossed lovers theme is another popular archetypal patterns; the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet offers one of the best-known examples of this archetype. The overall theme of this narrative revolves around two lovers, typically young and innocent, who are fated to be separated by an unstoppable force of some type. Their lives traditionally end in tragedy. Although Shakespeare popularized the pattern, examples of star-crossed lovers can be seen throughout early mythology. Greek mythology, for example, is full of lovers drawn to each other only to be torn apart by the wrath of the gods.
Archetypal patterns play out repeatedly throughout stories, movies, and television shows. The strains of archetypes are so prevalent in human cultures that psychologist Carl Jung devised his own set of archetypes and applied them to his psychotherapy to help patients gain a better understanding of their motivations. Jung’s theories were based on years of research that determined that nearly every culture follows the same archetypal patterns. He posited that these patterns could be used to create a unified overview of how the human mind works.