Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526
Henry IV, an apparent madman who claims that he is the medieval German king Henry IV. In his fifties, Henry lives in a villa in Italy, surrounded by his advisers, who are really his hired companions. Henry is visited by a group of persons from his past: his nephew, di Nolli; his former love, Matilda; and a psychiatrist, among others. During the visit, Henry, who actually recovered from his illness a dozen years ago but has kept up pretenses to remain contented, pretends to fall in love with Frida, Matilda’s daughter, whom he calls his true love. Taunted by Matilda’s lover, Baron Belcredi, Henry is gradually driven to violence, and he kills Belcredi in a fit of rage.
Marchioness Matilda Spina
Marchioness Matilda Spina (SPEE-nah), a forty-five-year-old widow. She was once the object of Henry’s attention before his mental illness. At that time, there was a historical pageant at which everyone pretended to be historical characters. Henry was Henry IV, and Matilda was Matilda of Tuscany. When Henry’s horse shied, he fell and struck his head. When he awoke, he thought himself to be Henry IV. Matilda now has a relationship with Baron Belcredi, and she is shocked to see Henry paying attention to her daughter Frida, who looks exactly like Matilda did in her youth.
Marquis Charles di Nolli
Marquis Charles di Nolli (dee NOHL-lee), Henry’s nephew. Still in mourning for his mother, Henry’s sister, the marquis has brought the party to see Henry because his mother believed that Henry was almost cured and should be examined. For this reason, di Nolli has brought the psychiatrist Dr. Genoni. The marquis is also tired of supporting Henry’s establishment financially and would like to see Henry declared sane.
Baron Tito Belcredi
Baron Tito Belcredi (TEE-toh behl-CRAY-dee), Matilda’s lover, who is a few years younger than she and somewhat of a fop. Facile and witty, he displays contempt for Henry and believes him to be a fake. Jealousy plays a role in this belief, because Belcredi is envious of the grip that Henry’s memory has on Matilda. He taunts Henry until the “king” is driven to violence.
Frida (FREE-dah), Matilda’s daughter. She is nineteen years old and engaged to di Nolli. Shy and beautiful, she looks exactly like her mother at the time of Henry’s accident. Henry is struck by this resemblance and pretends that she is his love. He courts her, though she is afraid of him, until his attentions become real and he cannot bear to part with her.
Landolph, one of Henry’s four keepers, who maintain the pretense that they are court advisers. Landolph and the other three—Harold, Ordulph, and Berthold—humor Henry and insist that visitors wear medieval costumes and assume the names of people from King Henry’s time. Landolph is astonished when Henry finally admits to them that for the last twelve years he has been cured of his illness but told no one because he felt a certain stability in his pretense. Landolph has believed for all these years that Henry was really insane.
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