Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518
Lazarus of Bethany
Lazarus of Bethany (LA-zuh-ruhs), a man raised from the dead by Jesus. Tall and powerful, Lazarus is about fifty years of age, with graying hair and a heavy beard, as the play begins. Having been freed from the fear of death by the power of the miracle, Lazarus shows this higher awareness by being the only character who wears no mask. He has a broad, noble forehead and deep, black eyes, and he radiates a mystic light. He is also rejuvenated as the play proceeds: When he is taken as a prisoner to Athens some months after the miracle of his resurrection, he appears to be less than thirty-five years old; months later, in Rome, he appears twenty-five. Encountering Caligula and Tiberius Caesar, Lazarus tries in vain to convey to them and to others the message that there is no death. He has a hypnotic, triumphant, infectious laugh that can be seen in his eyes as much as it can be heard in his voice. When he is burned alive at the stake at the end of the play, he is gagged so as to stop the sound of his all-knowing laugh.
Miriam, Lazarus’ wife. She is slender and delicate, and she ages as the play proceeds. Her mask is pale, marblelike, and suggestive of all women. She recognizes the evil in the Roman world and asks Lazarus to take her home to Bethany. Sensing the eventual death of Lazarus in Rome, Miriam begins to mourn the passing of his laughter, which she feels is like a son to her. She dies after eating a poisoned peach given to her by Pompeia. Lazarus, momentarily lonely after Miriam’s death, is nevertheless able to laugh his triumphant laugh.
Tiberius Caesar (ti-BEE-ree-uhs SEE-zuhr), the emperor of Rome. Although he is seventy-six years old and corpulent, Tiberius is tall and still possesses muscular strength. His mask is blotchy and purple, suggesting both his imperial standing and his sickness resulting from age and debauchery. Terrified of death, he seeks from Lazarus the secret of youth. Eventually, he partly resigns himself to death and is ready to die laughing with Lazarus. Soon after, Tiberius is strangled by Caligula.
Gaius Caligula (GAY-uhs kuh-LIHG-yuh-luh), the future emperor of Rome. Twenty-one years old at the time of the play, Caligula is bony and nearly malformed with his incongruous wide shoulders and apelike, wiry legs. His mask emphasizes his wrinkled forehead, troubled eyes, and hollow temples. A power seeker, he accompanies Lazarus from Athens to Rome and is obsessed with his laughter and his message of triumph over death. Caligula strangles Tiberius in a fit of jealous rage and permits the final death of Lazarus to emphasize the power of Caesar over death.
Pompeia (pom-PEE-uh), a Roman noblewoman and the favorite mistress of Tiberius. Her mask shows blood, lust, dissipation, and evil beauty. Thinking Lazarus to be a strange sort of magician, she bets Caligula a night of passion against a string of pearls that Lazarus will not laugh at her, then kills Miriam to induce Lazarus’ grief.
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