Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
The Dwarf contains a number of truly interesting and compelling characters. Some of the more important and central characters in this short novel are described below.
The Dwarf himself in the narrator of this story. Living up to his title, he is is just over two feet tall. He is employed by the Prince but really is hardly noticed by the members of the court. He considers himself to be the most important member of the court, which is clearly self-delusion. He has a fondness for cruelty, violence, and no-good deeds. He takes joy in nothing except the pain of others and respects nobody, except possibly the Prince. He values his religious devotion but tends to prefer the idea of a wrathful God to a merciful one. While the other characters of this story grow and mature over the course of the book, the Dwarf seems incapable of self-reflection and character growth and, as such, represents the worst parts of people's humanity.
Master Bernardo is a true Renaissance man with endless curiosity. This painter, inventor, engineer, and scientist is clearly supposed to conjure up images of Leonardo Da Vinci. He creates a number of masterpieces in this story, including a portrait of the Prince's wife. While he is capable of creating beautiful art, he also puts his skills to use for more diabolical purposes in order to serve his Prince.
The Prince is the ruler of the Italian city-state in which this story is set. The very embodiment of Machiavellian notions, the Prince goes to great lengths in his pursuit of power, often using the Dwarf as his henchman. However, he turns on the Dwarf after his wife and daughter die.
Princess Teodora is the wife of the Prince. She employs the Dwarf in carrying secret notes to her lovers. While he cannot explain exactly why, the Dwarf feels extreme loyalty towards her that borders on affection.
Angelica is the kind, loving, naive, and innocent daughter of the Prince. Having no evil bone in her body, she is presented as the complete opposite of the conniving sociopathic Dwarf. All this makes her death that much more tragic when she drowns herself after the death of her lover.
Don Ricardo is one of the Princess Teodora's secret lovers despite his friendship with the Prince. He dies when the Dwarf takes it upon himself to serve him poisoned wine.
Lodovico Montanza il Toro is the Prince's arch nemesis. He and his companions are murdered by the Dwarf upon the Prince's orders after celebrating a cessation of hostilities with their "former" enemy.
Giovanni Montanza is Lodovico's son and the secret lover of Princess Angelica. When he is sharing a bed with the Princess, he is informed on by the Dwarf. This results in his immediate execution and makes relations with Lodovico that much more tenuous.
Boccarossa is the opportunistic leader of a band of mercenary soldiers. The Dwarf has admiration for his ruthless qualities. Boccarossa eventually turns on the Prince and leads the forces that defeat him after being hired by the brother of the slain Lodovico.
Ercole Montanza, the brother of Lodovico, leads the forces against the Prince in vengeance for his slain brother and nephew.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 666
The Dwarf, the narrator. He is twenty-six-inches tall but of good physical proportions, save for a slightly oversized head, and of exceptional strength. His wrinkled and beardless face, bristly red hair, and broad but low brow make him look older but less diabolical than he is. He is addressed once as Piccolino, but this instance may be a descriptive mode of address (it means “little fellow” in Italian) and not his actual name. His service to the Prince consists largely in doing the Prince’s dirty work. His penchant is for treachery, violence, bloodshed, and evil. He is incapable of love, and he never laughs. In his admiration of the Prince’s amoral pursuit of power, he personifies Machiavellianism. His own brutality is manifest in his killing of two dwarfs; beheading a kitten; poisoning a rival of the Prince, along with the rival’s personal attendants and a courtier who loves the Princess; and causing the beheading of the young man loved by the Prince’s daughter, who then, grief-stricken, drowns herself.
The Prince, the ruler of an Italian state. He is modeled on Cesare Borgia, duke of Romagna and the exemplar for Niccolo Machiavelli in his book The Prince (1560). He is unscrupulous in his quest for power. He dispenses with the services of the Dwarf after the deaths of his daughter and wife. When the Dwarf refuses under torture to disclose the nature of his consultations with the Prince’s wife, the Prince has him chained in a dungeon; the Dwarf is confident, however, that the Prince cannot be without his Dwarf for long.
Messer Bernardo, a painter, inventor, and scientist, identifiable as being based on Leonardo da Vinci. He paints a portrait of the Prince’s wife that corresponds to da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and previously painted a nattvard (Eucharist) in the refectory of the Franciscan monastery of Santa Croce, equivalent to da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Princess Teodora, the Prince’s wife. She uses the Dwarf as a means of exchanging letters with her lover, Don Ricardo, after whose death she turns to God and uses the Dwarf as her scourge. She is the one person the Dwarf would love, as he himself says, if he were capable of love; he remains devoted to her, in any case. The Prince shows his love for her as she grows ill and dies.
Don Ricardo, a courtier, friend, and fellow brothel-patron of the Prince, whom he cuckolds. When the Prince has the Dwarf serve poisoned wine to Lodovico Montanza and his attendants, the Dwarf, in excess of his instructions, takes it upon himself to poison Don Ricardo as well.
Angelica, the sweet, innocent daughter of the Prince. She loves Giovanni Montanza and commits suicide after his death. She is as incapable of evil as the Dwarf is incapable of love.
Giovanni Montanza, the son of Lodovico. The Prince, thanks to the Dwarf’s information, finds him in bed with Angelica and beheads him on the spot. Subsequently, the Dwarf recalls his own earlier beheading of Angelica’s pet kitten.
Boccarossa, a leader of mercenary soldiers who hires out first to the Prince and then to the enemies of the Prince. The Dwarf admires him.
Lodovico Montanza il Toro
Lodovico Montanza il Toro, an enemy of the Prince, evocative of the Milanese Ludovico Sforza il Moro. He and his retinue are murdered by poisoned wine at a banquet given by the Prince, ostensibly in celebration of a truce.
Ercole Montanza, the brother of Lodovico and uncle of Giovanni. He musters the followers of his murdered brother and, with the purchased help of Boccarossa and his mercenaries, seeks to defeat the Prince.
Fiammetta, the mistress of the Prince. She dies, along with many others, during the plague, which, in its severity, brings about the end of the fighting.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425
Although his position permits him access to privileged information, the Dwarf is about as unreliable as a narrator can be. Stunted emotionally as well as physically, he imagines himself central to the life of the court, when in fact, if the Prince notices him at all, he considers the Dwarf a disposable lackey. “Reality is the only thing that matters,” declares the Dwarf, who admits that he cannot perceive the stars or value dreams. He also concedes that he cannot understand love, yet love, whether that of Angelica for Giovanni or that of Teodora for God, is crucial to the events he narrates. The Dwarf’s version of reality is so circumscribed as to be almost solipsistic, like Pä Lagerkvist’s final image of him, chained in the darkness of a solitary cell. Some of the Dwarf’s most confident assertions are immediately refuted by events, as when, seeing them during the military truce, he proclaims that Angelica and Giovanni, clandestine lovers, are obviously bored with each other. “It is difficult to understand those whom one does not hate,” says the Dwarf, who succeeds in hating everyone but the Prince and understanding no one, including himself.
Bernardo, a brilliant scientist, artist, and inventor, is a fictional version of Leonardo da Vinci and, more generally, the archetypal Renaissance man. Animated by boundless curiosity, he might have adopted the Humanist motto “humani nihil a me alienum puto” (nothing that is human is alien to me). By contrast, the Dwarf, considering himself to be a member of an alien race, despises human beings. While the Dwarf has a pathological dread of the body and of being touched, Bernardo exemplifies another Renaissance ideal, the sound mind in the sound body, and he is intent on studying anatomy. Bernardo’s moments of exuberance alternate with moments of severe depression when, aspiring to accomplish everything, he realizes the futility of attempting anything. Many of his projects remain incomplete.
Like a Borgia or a Medici, the Prince is an amoral leader motivated by vanity and personal pleasure. No one is a hero to his dwarf, and, though the narrator expresses admiration for the Prince, the endorsement comes for all the wrong reasons and from the wrong source.
Each of the characters in this short novel is a victim of the insufficiency of the human self. The only ones to suggest the possibility of transcending the inadequacies of the merely human are the two main female characters: Angelica with her doomed love for another human and Teodora with her confused gropings toward God.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 47
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Weathers, Winston. Pä Lagerkvist: A Critical Essay, 1968.