Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2018
Mr. Beetle appears primarily in Act II. He is married to Mrs. Beetle. He is very proud of his ‘‘capital,’’ the ball/pile of dung and dirt that he and his wife have worked for some time to gather. After getting the first ball done, Mr. Beetle wants to make another, then another. Mrs. Beetle decides that they should find a deep hole to bury their first pile in so that they do not have to worry about it while making the second pile. Mr. Beetle becomes infuriated when the strange beetle steals the ball under his wife’s nose. Mr. Beetle is more concerned with the location of his capital than his wife’s whereabouts. Mr. Beetle represents greed.
Mrs. Beetle appears primarily in Act II. She is married to Mr. Beetle, and shares his enthusiasm for their ‘‘capital.’’ It is she who suggests that they have to protect the dung ball while working on the next one. When her husband goes off to look for a hole to bury it in, Mrs. Beetle wanders in the lair of the ichneumon fly. When she looks inside for a moment, the strange beetle steals the capital. Mrs. Beetle goes looking for her husband, believing he has taken it. When she returns briefly to her original location, she argues with Mrs. Cricket over what is more important, a dung ball or a home and children. Mrs. Beetle believes the former. Like Mr. Beetle, Mrs. Beetle is greedy.
The blind ant appears primarily in Act III. He continuously counts to four to keep time for the worker ants throughout the act. The quickness of his words determines the pace. The ant ignores the tramp’s requests for information and only continues counting. He continues to count even after the yellow ants invade and conquer.
The chief engineer is an ant who appears primarily in Act III. He runs the Ant Realm for the mysterious ‘‘she,’’ receiving information from the inventor and the messenger and acting on it. It is the chief engineer who answers the tramp’s questions about the operation and tries to put him to work. The chief engineer directs the operation against the yellow ants, the Ant Realm’s last enemy. He is power hungry, adapting his words to fit the situation and to his benefit. The chief engineer appoints himself dictator and emperor when war breaks out between his ants and the yellow ants. While he tries to win without mercy to his enemy or his men, he fails. The chief engineer only thinks in terms of work, control, and victory: nothing else matters.
The chrysalis makes her first appearance in Act II and appears though the epilogue. She is a moth waiting to be born. She looks forward to her birth, for the chrysalis believes she will do something great. She is sure the world will change because of her. However, when the moth finally emerges from the chrysalis, other moths are dying after entering the light that the tramp creates. Like her fellow moths, the chrysalis, as a newborn moth, dies only moments after she was born. The chrysalis represents the whole of the life cycle, hope in birth and suddenness of death.
Appearing primarily in Act I, Clytie is a female butterfly. She enjoys being chased by male butter- flies, especially Otto. She is also jealous of Iris, another female butterfly, and speaks disparagingly of her when she is not present. Unlike Iris, Clytie does not like poetry, even the poem Felix writes for her. She is more concerned with her appearance and flirtation. She tries to get every male, including the tramp, to chase her. Clytie is very superficial.
Mr. Cricket appears primarily in Act II. He is married to the very pregnant Mrs. Cricket, whom he has moved to a sandy hillock. They are to take over the home of another cricket who was eaten by a bird. Mr. Cricket is loving and worried about his scared wife’s well-being. When he leaves his wife to let others know where he is, she is killed by the ichneumon fly. Mr. Cricket returns himself and suffers the same fate.
Mrs. Cricket appears primarily in Act II. She is pregnant and married to Mr. Cricket, with whom she has moved to a sandy hillock. They are to take over the home of another cricket who was eaten by a bird. She wants to have a nice home for her new family. Mrs. Cricket is very frightened of something from the moment that she enters the hillock. After debating the merits of home versus dung heap with Mrs. Beetle, Mrs. Cricket is killed by the ichneumon fly. When her husband returns, he suffers the same fate.
Appearing primarily in Act I, Felix is a male butterfly. Unlike the other butterflies, Felix is shy and not flirtatious. He is a published poet and thinks a lot. Felix is in love with Iris, and tells her he has really only been in love one previous time. Then he was a caterpillar and only admired his love from afar. Felix tries to please both Iris and Clytie with poems. While Iris appreciates them, at least at first, Clytie does not. Felix is stymied by both butterflies and continues on as the frustrated poet.
The fly appears primarily in Act II. He has a lair where his daughter, the larva, lives, and where he stores the many insects he kills. The fly is only concerned with killing other edible insects and feeding his daughter. After he realizes that the tramp is inedible, the fly shares his enthusiasm for his daughter and children in general with him. The fly has no real conscious. He kills Mr. and Mrs. Cricket in front of the tramp without hesitation, and would kill both the tramp and the parasite if they were edible. The fly is despised by the parasite, who enacts a measure of revenge at the end of Act II. The parasite eats both his larva daughter and much of his store of food while the fly is off hunting for more prey.
The inventor is an ant who appears briefly in Act III. He is proud of the fact that he has invented a war machine that can kill thousands of men continuously. He is considered a scientific genius by his fellow ants.
Appearing primarily in Act I, Iris is very flirtatious female butterfly. Like Clytie, she enjoys attention from the other male butterflies, primarily Victor and Felix, but later, Otto as well. Iris toys with Felix’s feelings for her, asking him about other women he has been involved with and making him write poems for her. Iris is rather insensitive to Felix, and by the end of the act, she is brusque towards him when he tries to read a new poem to her. Iris’s coldness also shows itself when she is amused that a bird eats Victor after he asks her to love him. Iris is arguably the most superficial butterfly.
The larva is the daughter of the ichneumon fly, appearing in Act II. She is bored in the lair, constantly being fed by her doting father. She is killed and eaten by the parasite at the end of the act.
In the prologue to The Insect Play, the lepidopterist is collecting butterflies for his scientific collection. He is angry at the tramp for making him lose potential specimens. The lepidopterist vows revenge on the tramp, but is really more concerned with acquiring butterflies for his collection. The lepidopterist claims to love nature, but represents man’s indifference to the beauty of nature.
The messenger is an ant who appears in Act III. He reports to the chief engineer about the declaration of war by the yellow ants and continues to update him as the situation develops.
Appearing primarily in Act I, Otto is a male butterfly. He is in love with Clytie, primarily, but also flirts with Iris. Otto repeatedly tells both of them that he loves them and wants to be loved by them. He will do whatever they want him to. Otto is proud when he comes up with a rhyme for his own name, and begins to write his own poem. Otto is nearly eaten by a bird, though avoids the fate of Victor. Like most of the butterflies, Otto is superficial.
The parasite appears primarily in Act II. He shares the tramp’s distaste for the regular killings of the ichneumon fly. But the parasite is angrier about the amount of food the fly hoards while others go hungry. After the fly leaves to continue the hunt, the parasite enacts his revenge by going into the lair. The parasite eats the fly’s daughter and much of his stored food. The tramp is appalled by the parasite’s actions. The parasite is an opportunist.
The second engineer is an ant and appears primarily in Act III. He is second in command to the chief engineer, and is his superior’s ‘‘yes man.’’ They share the same beliefs about work, war, and victory. The second engineer assists in the direction of work and war. He is wounded in the attack by the yellow ants.
The strange beetle appears in the second act. He takes Mr. and Mrs. Beetle’s dung heap, their ‘‘capital,’’ when Mrs. Beetle has entered the ichneumon fly’s lair. The strange beetle is never seen again.
The tramp is the main character who ties the whole of The Insect Play together. At the beginning of the play, he is trying to sleep after drinking alcohol. He is awakened by the lepidopterist, who is collecting butterfly specimens for his collection. The tramp is the only human to observe and be a part of the action that takes place in the three acts of the play. First, the tramp dozes in the butterflies’ cafe, overhearing their flirtatious, though empty, talk. He does not like their superficiality. Then the tramp witnesses the harshness of insect life through the actions of the ichneumon fly, who kills Mr. and Mrs. Cricket, and other insects, to feed his larva daughter. A parasite kills the larva and eats the fly’s store of food. The tramp also witnesses the greed of Mr. and Mrs. Beetle with their pile of dung, and how this scenario ends badly. Finally, the tramp comes across an ant realm, and a war between these ants and yellow ants. The tramp kills the yellow leader after he declares victory. At the end of The Insect Play, the tramp worries about his death after the chrysalis, who is waiting to be born throughout the play, dies soon after her birth as a moth. This predicts the tramp’s death. His body is found in the morning by the woodcutter and the woman. The tramp represents man’s conscious.
Appearing primarily in Act I, Victor is a male butterfly and a lady-killer. He is primarily interested in Iris and enjoys embarrassing Felix. Victor recites a poem that Felix has recently published in front of Iris knowing that he would be uncomfortable. Victor does not like poetry. Victor’s enthusiastic chasing of Iris leads to his demise. After he asks her to love him, a bird eats him. Iris is very amused by how he dies. Like most of the butterflies, Victor is superficial.
The woman appears only in the epilogue. She is carrying her sister’s baby to the infant’s baptism when she comes upon the woodcutter. She believes the corpse is bad luck. Still, she places a flower on the makeshift grave the woodcutter arranges for the deceased tramp.
See A Woodcutter
The woodcutter appears only in the epilogue. He is the one who finds the corpse of the dead tramp and covers it up so the school children will not see it.