Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748
Anna Andreyevna is the governor's wife. In his notes on the characters, Gogol describes her as ‘‘still tolerably young, and a provincial coquette,’’ who ‘‘displays now and then a vain disposition.’’ Her concern with appearance is indicated by the stage direction that ‘‘she changes her dress four times’’ during the play. The governor's wife flirts shamelessly with Hlestakov. When he informs her of his engagement to Marya, she approves, imagining the benefits she will enjoy in Saint Petersburg as a result of the marriage.
Bobchinsky, along with his brother Dobchinsky, is a landowner in the town. In his notes describing the characters, Gogol states that the brothers are ‘‘remarkably like each other.’’ They are both ‘‘short, fat, and inquisitive … wear short waistcoats, and speak rapidly, with an excessive amount of gesticulation.’’ Gogol distinguishes them by noting that ‘‘Dobchinsky is the taller and steadier, Bobchinsky the more free and easy, of the pair.’’
Dobchinsky, along with his brother Bobchinsky, is a landowner in the town. It is Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky who first see Hlestakov at the inn and mistake him for the government inspector. They immediately run to tell the governor that the government inspector has arrived, thus initiating the case of mistaken identity that propels the entire play.
The governor of the town has the most to fear from the arrival of the government inspector because he has the most power of anyone in the town and is the most corrupt. In his notes on the characters, Gogol describes the governor as ‘‘a man who has grown old in the state service,’’ who ‘‘wears an air of dignified respectability, but is by no means incorruptible.’’ When Hlestakov announces that he has become engaged to the governor's daughter, the governor immediately indulges himself in fantasies of the luxurious, high status life he will enjoy in Saint Petersburg as a result.
Hlestakov, also spelled Khlestakov, is a young man of about twenty-three. He is a government clerk of the lowest rank and is traveling through the small town accompanied by his servant, Ossip. Hlestakov has lost all of his money gambling and is unable to pay his food and lodging bill at the inn. The people of the town mistake him for the government inspector, who was set to arrive there incognito to check up on the workings of the local government. Hlestakov at first thinks the governor intends to arrest and imprison him for not paying his bill but eventually realizes that he is being treated as an honored guest of the town. Hlestakov makes the most of this opportunity, weaving elaborate lies about his life in Saint Petersburg, gorging himself at a feast they have provided, milking the local government officials for all of the bribery money he can, and offering a false proposal of marriage to the governor's daughter. Hlestakov leaves town just before a letter posted to his friend and revealing his chicanery is intercepted and read by the town's postmaster—who brings it before the governor. By this time, Hlestakov is far gone; he is out of reach of any revenge that the townspeople may have wished to exact upon him. Gogol insisted that the character of Hlestakov is not calculatingly deceitful but an opportunist, merely making the most of the case of mistaken identity into which he has fallen.
Marya is the governor's daughter. She and her mother rush to the inn to meet the reputed government inspector. She responds to Hlestakov's flirtations and accepts his marriage proposal. Hlestakov, however, flees the town, telling her that he will return in several days to get her, but he has no intention whatsoever of doing so or of following up on his proposal.
Ossip is Hlestakov's servant. Gogol describes him as a middle-aged man who ‘‘is fond of arguing and lecturing his master.’’ Gogol notes that Ossip is cleverer than Hlestakov and ‘‘sees things quicker.’’ Ossip muses aloud to himself, informing the audience of Hlestakov's true identity and destitute financial circumstances. Ossip wisely hurries Hlestakov out of the town as soon as possible, fearing that his deception will soon be found out.
The postmaster is described as ‘‘an artless simpleton.’’ He abuses his station by opening and reading the letters of others, occasionally keeping those that he finds most interesting. His role is minor, but key to the plot, because he intercepts Hlestakov's letter to his friend, which reveals that Hlestakov is not the government inspector.