George Moore, a professor of moral philosophy (ethics) at a British university. In a department dominated by logical positivism and linguistic analysis, George, though only in his forties, is an anachronism. This circumstance is emphasized by the fact that he bears the name of a famous philosopher of the early twentieth century, G. E. Moore. George is in many respects a caricature of the abstract thinker, deeply absorbed in conceptual hair-splitting and blind to what is going on under his nose. At the core of his ramblings, there is a worthy defense of morality as something more than mere convention, but he lacks the courage of his convictions.
Dorothy (Dotty) Moore
Dorothy (Dotty) Moore, George’s beautiful wife, ten to fifteen years his junior. Dotty, once a star of musical comedy, retired prematurely after suffering a nervous breakdown during a performance. She, too, is a caricature: the bored, disillusioned neurasthenic, at once vulnerable and dangerous. When a murder occurs at a party in her flat early in the play, she apparently believes that she is the killer, though it seems unlikely that she committed the crime.
Sir Archibald (Archie) Jumper
Sir Archibald (Archie) Jumper, the vice chancellor of George’s university, a protean and diabolical figure. As a philosopher who is also an expert gymnast, he embodies the empty cleverness of much contemporary philosophy. He is also a sympathizer with the Radical Liberal Party, which as the play begins has just staged a leftist coup under the guise of an election. As a psychiatrist, he ministers sexually to Dotty. In all of his roles, he enacts the conviction that values are ad hoc, to be taken up or discarded at will.
Inspector Bones, a police detective. A self-avowed fan of Dotty, he plays the no-nonsense common man to George’s educated impotence. When Archie tries to bribe him to rule the murder a suicide, he acts as the incorruptible arm of British justice, yet with some connivance on Dotty’s part, he leaves shamefaced, apparently blackmailed into dropping the investigation.
Crouch, the porter, a small, stooped old man. In a comic turn, he proves to be an amateur philosopher.
The Secretary, an attractive young woman who never speaks in the course of the play. She is chiefly seen taking dictation from George. In the opening scene, she performs a striptease on a swing for the benefit of Dotty’s guests.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Samuel Clegthorpe, formerly the Radical liberal spokesman for agriculture, appointed to his new post after the coup.
The Jumpers, a troupe of eight acrobats. As George explains, they are “a mixture of the more philosophical members of the university gymnastics team and the more gymnastic members of the Philosophy School.” One of them, Duncan McFee, a professor of logic, is murdered during a performance at Dotty’s party. His death sets the plot in motion.