Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561
Bérénice (bay-ray-NEES), the beautiful queen of Palestine, deeply in love with Titus, who has succeeded Vespasian, his father, as emperor of Rome. This love obliterates everything about her and makes her neglectful and unfair in her treatment of Antiochus, the king of Commagene, who also loves her and who seems better fated than Titus to answer her passion. When Titus learns that Bérénice, as empress, would be unacceptable to the people of Rome, he realizes that he cannot tell her the truth. Blaming his father’s death for the delay in announcing his plan to marry her, he asks Antiochus to explain to Bérénice that the emperor is preparing to sacrifice his love out of duty to his people. At first, Bérénice refuses to believe Antiochus, and she accuses him of speaking and acting because of jealousy. In a last interview with Titus, she expresses her anger and despair, but when she is certain that the emperor still loves her, she finds strength enough in her own love to give up all thought of happiness. She asks Antiochus to renounce the love he feels for her as well, and she leaves behind her in Rome the two men whose love she can, in her difficult situation, neither accept nor return.
Titus (tee-TEWS), the emperor of Rome. As a monarch, he is majestic, conscientious, and even clever, but as a man he suffers because of the unhappiness he must inflict on himself and others. To overcome his understandable weakness of will because of his love for Bérénice and his friendship with Antiochus, he must look constantly to the great examples of history as models for his own conduct. In parting with Bérénice, he must lose the person who has given him the most help in discovering his own virtues as a man and as a prince.
Antiochus (an-TI-eh-kuhs), the king of Commagene. A considerate friend and war companion of Titus and a chivalrous lover of Bérénice, he becomes the devoted and tortured confidant of the two lovers. He suffers to see Bérénice unhappy because of a rival who is also his friend. In this difficult position, he reveals an impulsive and anxious nature. He is easily blinded by the smallest hint of hope and depressed by any disgrace, and he would gladly sacrifice himself if he could be sure of the happiness of the woman he loves without hope. He contemplates suicide until Bérénice strengthens him through her own nobility of deed and firmness of will.
Paulin (poh-LA[N]), the confidant of Titus. He represents the point of view of Rome, both the Senate and its people, when he explains that Titus cannot make Bérénice his wife without arousing public protest. Paulin’s belief is that a hero should be able to master his passions.
Arsace (ahr-SAHS), the confidant of Antiochus. He tries to remain optimistic and to comfort Antiochus in his distress. Although Arsace’s arguments are logical, Antiochus, deeply in love with Bérénice, knows that love has no logic.
Phénice (fay-NEES), the confidante of Bérénice. She tries to plead the cause of Antiochus.
Rutile (rew-TEEL), a Roman citizen, representing on stage the people of Rome.