Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674
Gorboduc (gohr-BOH-duhk), a king of ancient Britain. After ruling his land wisely for many years, he disregards the advice of his sage counselors, divides the realm between his two sons, and thus brings tragedy on his family and his country. He recognizes the folly of his decision too late, when he learns of the unnatural deaths of his sons. Filled with remorse, he learns that as a human being, he must grieve; the patience prescribed by his advisers is an attribute of gods alone. He is finally murdered by his people, who have fallen into anarchy as a result of the overturning of the natural order of succession and government.
Videna (vee-DAY-na), his queen. She is partial to her older son and disapproves from the beginning the king’s resolution to deprive Ferrex of half his rightful inheritance, for she foresees in Porrex the envy and pride that later erupt in his brother’s murder. Horrified by Ferrex’s death, she curses and disowns her younger child, then wreaks her unnatural revenge on him.
Ferrex (FEHR-ehks), Gorboduc’s older son, his mother’s favorite. Although he is less malleable than Porrex, he listens to the counselors who encourage him to build an army as protection against the jealous ambition of his brother, thus provoking Porrex’s attack.
Porrex (POHR-ehks), Ferrex’s brother. Easily convinced by flatterers that Ferrex intends to rob him of his realm, he is enraged to learn that his brother is armed and retaliates by invading his territory and murdering him. Returning grief-stricken to his parents, he finds that Gorboduc will not accept his explanation that he killed Ferrex to save his own life. Banished from his father’s sight, he is slain by his own mother.
Arostus, Gorboduc’s counselor. He praises the king’s decision to give the kingdom to his sons, for he believes that the young men can learn to rule wisely under their father’s guidance. After the death of the princes, he moralizes to the king about the uncertainty of human life, but his words give no comfort to his master.
Philander, another of the king’s advisers, who later attempts to control Porrex’s ambition and anger. Although he does not foresee the inevitable strife that is to arise from the division of the realm, he argues that the princes should learn to govern well from their father’s example and suggests that to disrupt the natural order by handing down the crown before the death of the king is to “corrupt the state of minds and things.”
Eubulus, Gorboduc’s secretary. He pleads with the king to preserve the kingdom intact for the sake of its citizens, for he knows that “divided reigns do make divided hearts.” He prophesies the dissatisfactions that arise in both princes. After the death of the king and queen, he counsels the immediate quelling of the popular revolt and argues that no subject has a right to rebel against his prince for any cause. When he hears of Fergus’ rebellion, he laments the fate of his country, which will be torn by civil wars until the legitimate heir can be restored to the throne.
Dordan, Ferrex’s wise counselor, who attempts to mollify the prince’s resentment at being deprived of half his kingdom.
Tyndar, parasites of the two princes. They play on their masters’ feelings of resentment and ambition, inciting them to their disastrous combat.
Fergus, the duke of Albany. In league with other noblemen to put down the popular revolt, he decides to try to win the crown for himself by force. His ambition begins a long series of civil wars.
Clotyn, the duke of Cornwall,
Mandud, the duke of Loegris, and
Gwenard, the duke of Cumberland, lords allied to put down rebellion and later to overcome Fergus’ army.
Marcella, Videna’s lady in waiting, who relates with grief and horror the queen’s murder of her remaining son.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160
Baugh, Albert. A Literary History of England. 2d ed. East Norwalk, Conn.: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967. A discussion of the play and its authors, setting them within the contemporary artistic world and reflecting on later developments of the dramatic form they introduced.
Berlin, Normand. Thomas Sackville. New York: Twayne, 1974. An excellent introductory volume that places Sackville the author and Gorboduc the drama within the context of their times, as well as identifying their continued importance for English literature.
Brooke, C. F. Tucker. The Tudor Drama. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964. Discusses the play’s historical and literary sources, the impact of the blank verse upon contemporary writers, and the overall effects the play had on the development of English drama.
Ousby, Ian. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A good starting point for the first-time reader or student of the play. Briefly explains its plot, its stage and stylistic innovations, and the influence it had on English drama.