"Twelve Angry Men," an iconic courtroom drama by Reginald Rose, did not begin on the stage as is often the case. Instead, the popular play was adapted from the author's 1954 live teleplay that debuted on CBS and was soon made into a movie.
The script is filled with some of the best dramatic dialogue written, and Rose's cast of characters is some of the most memorable in modern history.
In the beginning, the jury has just finished listening to six days of trial proceedings inside a New York City courtroom. A 19-year-old man is on trial for the murder of his father. The defendant has a criminal record and a lot of circumstantial evidence piled up against him. The defendant, if found guilty, would receive a mandatory death penalty.
Before any formal discussion, the jury casts a vote. Eleven of the jurors vote “guilty.” Only one juror votes “not guilty.” That juror, who is known in the script as Juror #8, is the protagonist of the play.
As tempers flare and the arguments begin, the audience learns about each member of the jury. Yet, none of them has a name; they are simply known by their juror numbers. And slowly but surely, Juror #8 guides the others toward a verdict of “not guilty.”
The Characters of 'Twelve Angry Men'
Instead of organizing the jurors in numeric order, the characters are listed here in the order they decide to vote in favor of the defendant. This progressive look at the cast is important for the final outcome of the play, as one juror after another changes their mind about the verdict.
He votes “not guilty” during the jury’s first vote. Described as "thoughtful" and "gentle," Juror #8 is usually portrayed as the most heroic member of the jury. He is devoted to justiceand is right away sympathetic toward the 19-year-old defendant.
Juror #8 spends the rest of the play urging the others to practice patience and to contemplate the details of the case. He thinks that they owe it to the defendant to at least talk about the verdict for a while.
A guilty verdict will result in the electric chair; therefore, Juror #8 wants to discuss the relevance of the witness testimony. He is convinced that there is reasonable doubt and eventually succeeds in persuading the other jurors to acquit the defendant.
Juror #9 is described in the stage notes as a “mild gentle old man...defeated by life and...waiting to die.” Despite this bleak description, he is the first to agree with Juror #8, deciding that there is not enough evidence to sentence the young man to death and becomes more and more sure of himself as the play proceeds.
During Act One, Juror #9 is the first to openly recognize Juror #10’s racist attitude, stating that, “What this man says is very dangerous.”
This young man is nervous about expressing his opinion, especially in front of the elder members of the group. In Act One, his allure makes others believe that he is the one who changed his mind during the secret vote.
But, it wasn't him; he didn't dare go against the rest of the group yet. However, it is also his experience from the slums where he grew up, just like the defendant, that will later help other jurors form an opinion of “not guilty.”
As a refugee from Europe, Juror #11 has witnessed great injustices. That is why he is intent on administering justice as a jury member.
He sometimes feels self-conscious about his foreign accent, but overcomes his shyness and is willing to take on a more active part in the decision-making process. He conveys a deep appreciation for democracy and America’s legal system.
He is the timidest man of the group. For the 1957 adaptation, he was played by John Fielder (the voice of “Piglet” from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons).
Juror #2 is easily persuaded by the opinions of others and cannot explain the roots of his convictions. In the very beginning, he goes along with the general opinion, but soon Juror #8 wins his sympathy and he begins contributing more, despite his shyness.
He is in the group of the first six jurors to vote "not guilty."
Described as an “honest but dull-witted man,” Juror #6 is a house painter by trade. He is slow to see the good in othersbut eventually agrees with Juror #8.
He defies the adversity and pursues the facts, in search of a more complete and objective picture. Juror #6 is the one who calls for another ballot and is also one of the first six pro-acquittal ones.
A slick, superior, and sometimes obnoxious salesman, Juror #7 admits during Act One that he would have done anything to miss jury duty and is trying to get out of it as fast as possible. He represents the many real-life individuals who loathe the idea of being on a jury.
He is also quick to add his piece of mind to the conversation. He seems to want to condemn the defendant because of the youth's previous criminal record, stating that he would have beaten the boy as a child just like the defendant's father did.
He is an arrogant and impatient advertising executive. Juror #12 is anxious for the trial to be over so that he also can get back to his career and his social life.
However, after Juror #5 tells the group about his knowledge of knife-fights, Juror #12 is the first one to waver in his conviction, eventually changing his mind to "not guilty."
Foreman (Juror #1)
Non-confrontational, Juror #1 serves as the foreman of the jury. He is serious about his authoritative roleand wants to be as fair as possible. Despite being described as "not overly bright," he helps calm down the tensions and moves the conversation onward with professional urgency.
He sides with the "guilty" side until, just like Juror #12, he changes his mind after learning about the details of knife-fighting from Juror #5.
The most abhorrent member of the group, Juror #10 is openly bitter and prejudiced. He is quick to stand up and physically approach Juror #8.
During Act Three, he unleashes his bigotry to the others in a speech that disturbs the rest of the jury. Most of the jurors, disgusted by #10’s racism, turn their backs on him.
A logical, well-spoken stock-broker, Juror #4 urges his fellow jurors to avoid emotional arguments and engage in rational discussion.
He does not change his vote until a witness’s testimony is discredited (due to the witness’s poor vision).
In many ways, he is the antagonist to the constantly calm Juror #8.
Juror #3 is immediately vocal about the supposed simplicity of the case and the obvious guilt of the defendant. He is quick to lose his temperand is often infuriated when Juror #8 and other members disagree with his opinions.
He believes that the defendant is absolutely guilty until the very end of the play. During Act Three, Juror #3’s emotional baggage is revealed. His poor relationship with his own son may have biased his views and it is only when he comes to terms with this that he can finally vote “not guilty.”
An Ending That Raises More Questions
Reginald Rose’s drama "Twelve Angry Men" ends with the jury agreeing that there is enough reasonable doubt to warrant an acquittal. The defendant is deemed “not guilty” by a jury of his peers. However, the playwright never reveals the truth behind the case.
Did they save an innocent man from the electric chair? Did a guilty man go free? The audience is left to decide for themselves.