Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599
Martin Luther, a brilliant university scholar, capable of considerable worldly success as a lawyer or political adviser to the powerful. He chooses instead to join the Roman Catholic order of the Eremites of St. Augustine. Physically unprepossessing, he is subject to severe attacks of constipation, which he attributes...
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Martin Luther, a brilliant university scholar, capable of considerable worldly success as a lawyer or political adviser to the powerful. He chooses instead to join the Roman Catholic order of the Eremites of St. Augustine. Physically unprepossessing, he is subject to severe attacks of constipation, which he attributes to his spiritual difficulties—also manifested in feverish nightmares—and deep depression. His spiritual excesses and complaints seem to other members of his order something of a joke, but he is deeply respected for his learning and his contribution to the reputation of the University of Wittenberg, where he teaches. He is not satisfied by scholarship and is constantly questioning his own spiritual worth and the public practices of the Catholic Church. He is also a dangerously persuasive orator.
Hans, Martin’s father, a miner, proud of his son’s gifts but outspoken in his disappointment in Luther’s choice of the church when so much could have been made of his gifts in the lay world. Although uneducated, he is not stupid, and he becomes a part owner of the mine in which he works. He is talkative, unawed by the clergy, and, though rather vulgar in argument, somewhat persuasive.
Brother Weinand, a monk friendly to Luther but determined to break him of his dramatic sense of sin. Educated in Latin and Greek but bearing his learning modestly, he recognizes the unusual intellectual gifts of Luther. He possesses a beautiful singing voice.
Lucas, Hans’s miner friend, who often accompanies him in visiting Luther at the monastery. A sensible man, he is somewhat disappointed in Luther, having hoped that Luther might marry his daughter; he is therefore able to understand Hans’s chagrin yet assuage Hans’s anger at his son’s folly.
John Tetzel, a Dominican famed for his persuasive oratory and his sale of indulgences to the public. He is in his late middle age, silver-haired, sophisticated, oratorically shrewd, and, on occasion, startlingly rude and witty. His success in taking enormous sums from an ignorant public precipitates Luther’s public attack, and Tetzel is not loath to do something about it. Despite his vows, he takes a handsome salary for his services and supports a woman and two children.
Johann von Staupitz
Johann von Staupitz, the vicar general of the Augustinian Order, a man who, in late middle age, is quiet, gentle-voiced, and thoughtful. He respects Luther’s gifts and understands his criticisms of the excesses of Roman Catholicism, but he knows the dangers of attacking the powers of the church. He advises, directs, and warns Luther in a straightforward and understanding manner.
Thomas de Vio
Thomas de Vio, known as Catejan, the cardinal of San Sisto and general of the Dominican Order, a theologian and papal legate in Germany. Fifty years old, shrewd, tough, and capable of considerable political guile, he is often charming, but when Luther proves stubborn, he is quick to reveal an ability to be threatening.
The Knight, a professional soldier, tired, depressed, filthy, and weary of the military repercussions of the revolution sparked by Luther. He is aware of the implications of Luther’s attack for the political world and scornful of Luther’s refusal to support the peasants in their attempt to throw off their oppressors.
Katherine von Bora
Katherine von Bora, a former nun, Luther’s wife. She is in her twenties, big-boned, pleasant-looking, a good cook, and a thrifty housekeeper. She is the mother of Luther’s child, Hans, and is a comfort to Luther in his times of travail.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 999
Cajetan, Cardinal of Don Sisto, General of the Dominican Order, is a distinguished Italian theologian and the pope’s highest representative in Germany. He is about fifty years old in 1518, when he meets with Martin Luther to try and persuade him to retract his 95 theses. In their discussion, Cajetan expresses his belief that Luther’s actions threaten to destroy the unity of Christendom, and he accuses Luther of being led by self-doubt. When Luther refuses to retract, Cajetan releases Luther from his order and declares his intention of referring the matter to the pope.
Thomas de Vio
The Knight is a choral figure announcing the time and setting of each scene. The Knight also appears in scene 2 of act 3, representing the peasants who rebelled in the Peasants’ War. He was inspired by Martin Luther’s spirit of independence in speaking up against church leaders. Now, like his compatriots, the Knight feels betrayed by Luther; he verbally attacks Luther, angrily telling him that had Luther supported the peasants’ cause, instead of opposing it, he could have brought greater freedoms and less violence.
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X is a ‘‘cultured, intelligent,’’ seemingly worldly man. Angry at Martin Luther’s failure to recant and insistence on placing himself above the highest religious authority, the pope excommunicates Luther and orders him cast out of Germany.
Hans Luther is Martin Luther’s father. He is a prosperous miner who once had great dreams for his son. He saw that his son was well educated, hoping that he would become a lawyer or some other wellrespected professional. He is very disappointed in Luther’s decision to enter the monastery and believes that Luther only did so out of fear of the real world. After Luther’s ordination and his first mass, Hans ridicules certain religious beliefs, both to his son and the other members of the order. While he openly criticizes and questions his son, at the same time, Hans is proud of him and his intelligence. He also loves his son, although he does not readily show this emotion.
Martin Luther is the main character of the play. He is the monk who began the Protestant Reformation with his open questioning of church practices and beliefs. The Martin Luther that Osborne portrays is the private man wracked with self-doubt and uncertainty but who feels compelled to act nonetheless.
From his first days in the monastery, Luther is different from the other monks; his sins are greater, as are his self-degradations. He also is unsure if he has made the correct decision in fulfilling his vow to join the order. Throughout Luther’s years in the monastery, he becomes more convinced that beliefs and practices of the church are wrong, and eventually, he posts his 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, publicly proclaiming his belief that salvation is based on faith and faith alone, a belief strongly at odds with the church. Despite this public event and his ensuing refusal to recant his views, both of which must have required great courage and fortitude, Luther is never certain of his actions. As he tells Von Staupitz twenty-four years later, about his hesitation in answering the questions put to him at the Diet of Worms, ‘‘I listened for God’s voice, but all I could hear was my own.’’ In his later years, Luther becomes increasingly conservative, turning against the peasants and their rebellion, although his protest against the church was their inspiration.
Luther’s actions bring about great personal change—he is excommunicated, forced into hiding for a period, and even marries—as well as change to his people and country. In the words of Von Staupitz, ‘‘[Y]ou’ve made a thing called Germany; you’ve unlaced a language and taught it to the Germans, . . . You’ve taken Christ . . . and put Him back where He belongs. In each man’s soul.’’
Tetzel is a Dominican priest and, as the play’s notes read, the ‘‘most famed and successful indulgence vendor of his day.’’ His speech to encourage people to buy indulgences at Jûterbog more closely resembles the words of a carnival huckster than a man of God. Tetzel is also present at Cajetan’s confrontation with Martin Luther.
Katherine Von Bora
Katherine, or Katie, is the former nun who marries Martin Luther in 1525. They raise six children together.
Johan Von Eck
Von Eck is the secretary of the archbishop of Trier. He conducts the business at the Diet of Worms of asking if Martin Luther will retract his books about faith. He upholds the sanctity of the church, its laws, and its councils. He tells Luther that the church does not have to prove why it is right and Martin is wrong. He also asks Luther not to throw doubt on the church.
Johann Von Staupitz
Von Staupitz is the Vicar General of the Augustinian Order. In his late middle age, Von Staupitz serves as a mentor for Martin Luther; Von Staupitz recognizes the younger priest’s superior insight and sensitivity. Von Staupitz councils Luther to stop demanding perfection from himself. He serves as a voice of conscience for Luther in both practical and personal matters; he warns Luther that his sermons against the selling of indulgences are making powerful church and political leaders unhappy, but he also has lengthy discussions with the younger man about his anger toward God and the church. Von Staupitz also reminds Luther to have humility: ‘‘In spite of everything,’’ he says, ‘‘everything you’ve said and shown us, there were men, some men who did live holy lives here once. Don’t— don’t believe you, only you are right.’’
Brother Weinand is a member of Martin Luther’s order. He encourages Luther to overcome his doubts and stop being obsessed with all the world’s evils, but he is unsuccessful. Luther reveals to him that all he feels is ‘‘God’s hatred.’’