The Contemporary, a modern intellectual who is both the narrator of the play and a central character. He moves back and forth in the play’s time structure, introducing the many historical and literary personages, debating with them, and commenting on their role in history and relation to the modern world. the figures represent recurring archetypal characters that populate the modern imagination. the narrator hopes to convince them (and the audience) of the need to break the cycle of their behavior. the return of such tyrants as the Chinese emperor Hwang Ti and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte could mean the end of humanity in the atomic age. For his eloquent warnings of a nuclear holocaust, the Contemporary receives an award from Hwang Ti, but he proves to be ineffectual. Neither the tyrants nor the people are deterred by his intellectual arguments, and the cycle of destruction begins anew.
Hwang Ti (hwahng tee), the emperor of China from 247 to 210 b.c., the gentle-looking but ruthless founder of China’s first central government. To secure his regime from threats outside China, he orders the building of the Great Wall. To maintain totalitarian rule domestically, Hwang Ti demands the absolute praise and allegiance of his people. While seeking to silence the dissent ascribed to an unseen citizen called Min Ko, “The Voice of the People,” the fanatical emperor...
(The entire section is 487 words.)