Characters Discussed

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Napoleon Bonaparte

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Napoleon Bonaparte, who is portrayed as a man driven by an inscrutable fate and conscious of his ability to master Europe. He is a great leader, at times impatient with his subordinates’ abilities. Above all, he wants to found a new dynasty to rank with the established royal families of Europe. Disappointed in his negotiations with Tsar Alexander for the hand of a Russian princess, he turns to the defeated Emperor Francis of Austria, who gives him the hand of Marie Louise as his second wife after Napoleon has divorced the unfortunate Empress Josephine because of her failure to provide an heir. Even though he is defeated by the Austrians and Prussians at Leipzig, Napoleon does not lose his sense of destiny. Exiled to Elba, he returns for the famous Hundred Days, only to be defeated a second time at Waterloo. His efforts are finally compared by the Spirit of Years, who sees all of history, to the struggles of an insect on a leaf. Napoleon disrupted many lives and caused great slaughter, all for nothing.


Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife, who cannot believe it is truly her fault that she bears no children, even though Napoleon points to bastard children as proof of his own potency in the marriage bed. Despite her protests and tears, for she truly loves her husband, Josephine is forced to consent to make way for Marie Louise.

Marie Louise

Marie Louise, the princess of Austria and a pawn of circumstances and politics. She is married to Napoleon to help save Austria from conquest. Eventually, she bears a son to Napoleon, though almost at the sacrifice of her own life. After Napoleon is defeated and exiled to Elba, Marie Louise and her small son, styled as the king of Rome, go to her native Austria for asylum.

George III

George III, the king of England. He is shown first, in 1805, as a robust monarch watching preparations being made along the English coast to meet the expected French invasion. Later, King George is shown at the age of seventy-two, shortly before his death, at the mercy of his physicians, who bleed him, drug him, and give him cold-water treatments in cruel, though well-meaning, fashion. From the state of a monarch, he is reduced to the condition of a pathetic mental case who stands as a living symbol between the prince regent and the British throne.

Tsar Alexander of Russia

Tsar Alexander of Russia, who is portrayed as a self-seeking monarch who looks down on Napoleon as an upstart, despite the friendship he expresses for Napoleon and the French at the famous meeting between Alexander and Napoleon on a raft in the middle of the River Niemen.

Emperor Francis of Austria

Emperor Francis of Austria, a monarch forced, against his judgment as a father, to deliver Marie Louise as Napoleon’s second wife. This alliance is concluded after Napoleon has dictated bitter terms following the defeat of the Austrian and Russian forces at Austerlitz.

Sir William Pitt

Sir William Pitt, the energetic prime minister of England who struggles to save his country and Europe from Napoleon. In 1805, Pitt works against isolationist members of Parliament to provide for the defense of England. Later, he works even harder to enlist the Continent against Napoleon. Weakened in health, he continues his political struggles, even though George III refuses to permit a coalition government.

Charles James Fox

Charles James Fox, the prime minister after Sir William Pitt. Fox tries to negotiate with Napoleon, even to warning Bonaparte of an attempt at assassination. Unfortunately for Fox, his sincere efforts at negotiation are used by Napoleon to screen his plotting against Prussia.

Lord Horatio Nelson

Lord Horatio Nelson, the famous British admiral who defeated the naval forces of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar and thus saved his country from invasion. A man of great courage and hardiness, he paces the deck of his flagship in a bright uniform until cut down by a musket shot during the battle.

Admiral Villeneuve

Admiral Villeneuve, Napoleon’s naval planner, who works against the odds of poor ships and equipment to forge a fighting navy for his master. When his best efforts meet defeat at Trafalgar, he stabs himself to death at an inn.

The Immanent Will

The Immanent Will, the force that the playwright saw as the power or energy behind the workings of the universe. Because it is blind and uncreative in any rational sense, the force is called It.

The Spirit of Years

The Spirit of Years, the oldest of the allegorical spirits, introduced to give the play a sense of panorama and perspective. The Spirit of Years is the leader among the other spirits, chastening them and dampening their enthusiasms when necessary.

The Spirit of Pities

The Spirit of Pities, a spirit of the universal spirit of human nature. This allegorical figure is an idealized human spectator, the chief commentator on the events described.

The Spirit Sinister

The Spirit Sinister, a savage allegorical spirit who rejoices in the carnage and the evil displayed during the Napoleonic era.

The Spirit Ironic

The Spirit Ironic, an allegorical spirit who comments on the irony, sometimes tragic and sometimes humorous, as the events of the drama unfold.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 175

Bailey, James Osler. Thomas Hardy and the Cosmic Mind: A New Reading of “The Dynasts.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956. Presents a strong analysis of Hardy’s philosophical views as expressed in The Dynasts.

Dean, Susan. Hardy’s Poetic Vision in “The Dynasts.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. A thorough and accessible discussion of Hardy’s epic vision and of his concept of the Immanent Will.

Maynard, Katherine Kearney. Thomas Hardy’s Tragic Poetry: The Lyrics and “The Dynasts.” Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. Examines The Dynasts in the context of Hardy’s shorter poems and helps to define his sense of tragedy in a secular age.

White, R. J. Thomas Hardy and History. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974. An invaluable study of Hardy’s treatment of history in The Dynasts and elsewhere.

Wright, Walter F. The Shaping of “The Dynasts”: A Study in Thomas Hardy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. Especially useful in assessing Hardy’s verse forms, as well as his indebtedness to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

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