- Titus Maccius Plautus's ancient Roman play Miles Gloriosus is the Trope Namer, making this one Older Than Feudalism. Modern audiences may recognize the vainglorious soldier from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The play's comedic nature means we never learn for sure, but he at least is implied to be ever bit as badass as he claims.
- "Miles Gloriosus" is Latin for "boastful soldier", and even before Plautus the term was used for a comic stock character in Roman theater.
- As usual with Plautus, there is some influence from an older Greek stock character: "alazon" (αλαζών) which means braggart and/or arrogant, depending on the context. "The alazôn is an impostor that sees himself as greater than he actually is." He might be a soldier, a scholar, an artist, etc. He is typically coupled with a sarcastic character whose comments undermine the seriousness of any given argument. A particularly memorable example exists in "The Acharnians" (425 BC) by Aristophanes. Lamachus , a historical general, is presented as a "rabid militarist" who makes a speech as to the reasons the ongoing war should be prolonged. Dikaiopolis (the protagonist) mocks the rather pompous arguments and attire of his opponent. Reducing Lamachus to a laughing stock. That Lamachus was using empty threats of violence but fails to react to even the greatest insults, probably points to the brave general being just another blowhard.
- The figure of the Captain (Il Capitano) from Commedia dell'Arte is a Miles Gloriosus.
- William Shakespeare has a few of these:
- Don Armado in Love's Labour's Lost
- Parolles from All's Well That Ends Well.
- Pistol from Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V.
- Falstaff comes close, though his protestations of bravery tend to be so absurd that even he probably doesn't take them seriously.
- Rodrigo of Othello fits the "God's gift to women" version of this, paying a character who seems to fit the traditional clever servant role to help him in his quest to seduce Desdemona. Unfortunately, that other character happens to be Iago, and rather than the Humiliation Conga these characters often get, Rodrigo ends up as one of several corpses in the play.
- Shakespeare's use of this trope may be credited to John Lyly, who was one of England's preeminent writers in the 1580s. Lyly's play Endymion includes the braggart Sir Tophas who boasts of his prowess in war and his disdain of women. Natually, the pageboys think he's a hoot.
- Subverted and lampshaded in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The character named Miles Gloriosus actually does appear to be everything they say, although he's still a fame hogging, pigheaded fool.Miles: Stand aside everyone! I take LARGE STEPS!
- Józef Papkin, Lew Polnocy (and so on...) from the Polish play Zemsta.
- Gilbert and Sullivan give us a few interesting examples:
- Dick Dauntless in Ruddigore. His entrance song is about how his sloop turned tail and fled from a formidable French frigate, which of course they could have taken on... but... um... decided not to, just now. Because fighting them would be mean. Yeah, that's it.
- Played with in The Pirates of Penzance. The "modern Major-General" Stanley claims to know pretty much everything and is extremely, gloriously proud of it... but he finally mentions at the end of his song that he happens to be inept at his actual job. Result: the related trope (named after him, naturally), Modern Major General!
- Subverted by the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers - he sings a song boasting (quite truthfully) about his cowardice.
- Lewis in Pippin, a strong stupid type who likes wearing shiny breastplates, swinging a sword around and boasting about the number of enemies slain by his hand.
- Cyrano de Bergerac: At Act II Scene III, The Muskeeter is identified as this by Raguenau, who doesn't seem to realize (or care) that he is his wife's lover.
- Henrik Ibsen has several as well:
- Hjalmar Ekdal from The Wild Duck, mostly to impress his daughter and wife.
- Hilmar Tønnesen from The Pillars of Society as well. He may brag about hunting buffalo on the Dakota prairie, but don´t ask him do go there, he will blame his poor health. Note that Hjalmar and Hilmar are similar names (did Ibsen have a friend he liked to exploit in those plays?).
- And then, of course, the title character in Peer Gynt. This goes for the original Real Life Per Gynt as well. Both of them were known for telling stories of experiences ripped from someone else´s lives.
Miles Gloriosus / Theater