Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 782
Knowell, an old gentleman. A kind and generous father, he is somewhat inclined to formality and overstrictness in governing his son. After being tricked into a ridiculous situation by his son Edward, Wellbred, and Brainworm, he good-humoredly forgives them and confesses that he has brought on his discomfiture by his own meddlesomeness.
Edward Knowell, Old Knowell’s son. A bright young student, he troubles his father by too much attention to poetry, “that fruitless and unprofitable art.” With his friend Wellbred, he finds enjoyment in the foibles of his associates. He is much taken with Kitely’s lovely sister Bridget; with Wellbred’s and Brainworm’s help, he marries her.
Brainworm, Knowell’s witty, mischievous servant. A literary descendant of the witty slave of Roman comedy, he is the prime mover of the dramatic action. Having, as he says, “a nimble soul,” he appears in various disguises, aids his young master, and befools his old one. His wit arouses Justice Clement’s admiration and earns his pardon.
Wellbred, Dame Kitely’s younger brother. A gay, somewhat impish young bachelor, he writes to Edward Knowell an uninhibited letter that is intercepted and read by Old Knowell, who is shocked at its flippant disrespect. When the old gentleman endeavors to separate this baneful influence from his son, Wellbred, aided by Brainworm, tricks the old man. He also arranges Edward’s marriage.
Captain Bobadill, a braggart captain. He is fond of quoting snatches of Elizabethan plays, particularly fromThe Spanish Tragedy. His fund of anecdotes of his pretended military career is boundless. He is foolish and cowardly but not vicious. One of the distinctions of the role is that Charles Dickens acted it in a nineteenth century performance of the play.
Master Matthew, a poetaster. A suitor of Mistress Bridget, he pours out plagiarized verse at the slightest excuse, pretending that it is extemporaneous. He is a great admirer of Captain Bobadill, who condescends to show him fencing skills and delivers critical comments on current plays.
Master Stephen, a country gull, the nephew of Old Knowell. A foolish, self-important youth, he admires Bobadill’s bluster and far-fetched oaths and tries to imitate him. He provides much amusement for his Cousin Edward and Wellbred. His stupidity and dishonesty lead him into difficulties with Downright and the law.
Kitely, a pathologically jealous husband. Comically obsessed with the mistaken idea that his wife is faithless, he is ridiculous in his efforts to have her spied on and to guard her. His jealousy makes him an easy dupe for his brother-in-law Wellbred, who sends him on a wild-goose chase while Edward Knowell and Bridget are getting married. He is apparently cured of his jealousy by Justice Clement.
Dame Kitely, an attractive young woman who enjoys company. Her brother Wellbred sends her and her husband separately to Cob’s house to catch each other in supposed unfaithful conduct.
Downright, a blunt country squire, Wellbred’s half brother. Humorless and fiery-tempered, he irritates and insults many people, including Captain Bobadill, who threatens him and gets a beating in exchange for threats.
Justice Clement, an ebullient, jovial eccentric. Shrewd enough to see through the plots that have confused Old Knowell and Kitely, he is so much amused by Brainworm’s pranks and so pleased with the young married couple that he asks forgiveness for them and obtains it. Although he is disgusted with the sham soldier, the sham poet, and the country gull, he indicates that they shall have clemency—in harmony with his name.
Oliver Cob, a water bearer, Captain Bobadill’s landlord. He is a mixture of stupidity and native wit. After being beaten by Captain Bobadill, he sets the law on him. Discovering the quarrelsome gathering at his hovel, he believes Kitely’s accusation that his wife is the bawd for Dame Kitely and Old Knowell and gives her a beating.
Tib, Cob’s foolish wife. Angry and sullen after her undeserved beating, she finally allows Justice Clement to pacify her and accepts Cob again as her loving and obedient husband.
Mistress Bridget, Kitely’s charming sister. A romantic heroine without sharply individualized traits, she is attracted to Edward Knowell and consents to her brother-in-law’s plan for her to become Knowell’s wife.
Thomas Cash, a foundling, Kitely’s protégé and employee. He is caught in the middle of the mutual jealousies of Kitely and Dame Kitely, but he escapes damage.
Roger Formal, Justice Clement’s gullible clerk, who allows Brainworm to get him drunk and steal his gown and his identity.