Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 821
Edmund Tressilian, an impoverished young gentleman, a friend of the earl of Sussex and an unsuccessful suitor for Amy Robsart’s hand. Generous, intelligent and honorable, he seeks to free Amy from Richard Varney, whom he believes to be her paramour. When Amy, secretly the wife of the earl of Leicester, refuses to leave Cumnor Place, he tries to put his case before Queen Elizabeth. Supported by Amy’s father and Sussex, he nonetheless makes a poor showing because of Varney’s cleverness and his own desire to protect Amy. Accused later of cuckolding the earl of Leicester, Tressilian is forced to duel with the earl but is saved by the timely intervention of two friends. He clears himself before the queen, though too late to save Amy from Varney’s treachery.
Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester and master of Kenilworth Castle. Rivaled only by Sussex in Elizabeth’s esteem, he has the advantage of appealing to her femininity. Knowing his marriage to Amy would spoil his chance for advancement, he keeps her at Cumnor Place under Varney’s supervision. Basically noble, he is also quite gullible. When he tries to tell Elizabeth of his marriage, Varney convinces him Amy has been unfaithful. In a rage, he orders Varney to kill her and fights a duel with Tressilian. On learning the truth, he reveals his marriage and tries in vain to save Amy. He suffers the loss of his wife and temporary court disfavor.
Amy Robsart, Leicester’s unfortunate wife. Deeply in love with him, she wants recognition as his lawful wife but hesitates to ruin his life at court. Imprisoned at Cumnor Place, she escapes with Tressilian’s servant, Wayland Smith, to Kenilworth after Varney gives her a mild dose of poison. There, she tries to see her husband and reveal her true identity, but she is deemed insane by Queen Elizabeth. Through Varney’s scheme, she is sent back to Cumnor Place and tricked into falling to her death. Lovely and honorable, she is also willful and tragic.
Richard Varney, Leicester’s courtier and right-hand man, a cautious, charming, clever, imaginative person who is also ambitious and unscrupulous. He is instrumental in poisoning Sussex. Facing failure in his plans to keep Amy from interfering with Leicester’s advance in royal favor, he persuades his master of her infidelity. He is captured after Amy’s death and commits suicide in prison.
Michael Lambourne, a swashbuckling, unprincipled man of action in Varney’s service and a participant in the plans to dispose of Amy. Varney’s pupil in rascality, he tries to surpass his master and is killed for his efforts.
Queen Elizabeth, an extremely shrewd and skillful ruler, adept at playing court factions against one another but still capricious and feminine. Hot-tempered, vain, and jealous, she loses her self-control when Leicester reveals his marriage, and she threatens him with execution. She eventually forgives him and restores him to royal favor.
Wayland Smith, Tressilian’s hardy friend and servant. A skilled smith and alchemist, he saves Sussex from poison, helps Amy to go to Kenilworth, and prevents Leicester from killing Tressilian in a duel.
Dickie Sludge (Flibbertigibbet)
Dickie Sludge (Flibbertigibbet), Wayland’s swift, ugly, clever, elfish friend. He almost causes Tressilian’s death by mischievously withholding Amy’s letter to Leicester, but he redeems himself by delivering it in time.
Thomas Ratcliffe, the earl of Sussex, the soldierly court opponent of Leicester. Poisoned under Varney’s direction, he recovers and supports Tressilian.
Walter Raleigh, a Sussex courtier who wins Elizabeth’s favor and is knighted. A friend of Tressilian, he assists at Varney’s arrest.
Nicholas Blount, a soldierly, middle-aged courtier who becomes a court fool when knighted.
Dr. Demetrius Doboobie (Alasco)
Dr. Demetrius Doboobie (Alasco), , a villainous alchemist and astrologer serving Leicester. Used by Varney as a poisoner, he also dies accidentally of his own poison.
Anthony Foster, the keeper of Cumnor Place, a vulgar, ugly, puritanical and miserly person who serves as Amy’s jailer. After her death, he dies hiding in his gold room, unable to get out.
Janet Foster, his good-hearted daughter and Amy’s maid. She aids Amy in her escape.
Sir Hugh Robsart
Sir Hugh Robsart, Amy’s poor, senile father, who encourages Tressilian to free her.
Master Michael Mumblazen
Master Michael Mumblazen, Sir Hugh’s overseer, a rustic, generous person who supplies Tressilian with money for the purpose of thwarting Varney.
Giles Gosling, the Cumnor innkeeper, who suggests that Tressilian put his case before Queen Elizabeth but then refuses to help Wayland.
Laurence Goldthred, a customer at Gosling’s inn who wagers with Lambourne and later has his horse “borrowed” by Wayland.
Erasmus Holiday, a pretentious, pedantic schoolmaster who directs Tressilian to Wayland.