Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Agilulf, a knight in Charlemagne’s army. Agilulf’s appearance is the most important thing about him because, in a sense, he is only appearance. He exists only as his armor (white except for a thin black line running along the seams), his shield (on which is a coat of arms showing a shield sporting a coat of arms with a shield, ad infinitum), and his voice. He is a hollow man who has given himself up to forms of life—the code of chivalry and military conduct—so completely that he is divorced from life in its human, corporeal aspects. He is at once absurdly comic and tragic, not a shallow but an engagingly complex character. He is the greatest warrior in this novel of warfare. He is virtuous. He is desired by many women and pursued by one, Bradamante, throughout the book. Ultimately, though, he can enjoy none of the fruits of his many excellent qualities, and the end finds him to be simply inanimate armor.


Bradamante, a female soldier. Bradamante is a beautiful young woman, but she wears armor and passes for a man throughout much of the action. In a sense, then, she is like Agilulf in that her armor represents what she desires to be: a great warrior. Whereas Agilulf is only his desires, however, Bradamante is also a woman and cannot deny that facet of her personality. She falls in love with Agilulf because of his knightly perfection and spends much of the novel pursuing the...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

It should hardly come as a surprise that in a work in which the plots are so numerous and so bizarre, characterization and, indeed, individual characters should play a decidedly secondary role. Moreover, because The Non-Existent Knight is so clearly a work of fabulation rather than realism, its minimally drawn characters are necessarily sketched along allegorical lines. Agilulf,for example, is quite simply “the non-existent knight,” the proof that “in Charlemagne’s army one can be a knight with lots of names and titles and what’s more a bold warrior and zealous officer, without needing to exist!” Lacking a sense of irony, he is chained to the letter of the law and to whatever is literally true, or, rather, to whatever is believed to be literally true. He is, in short, the complete realist, and, paradoxically, the character in the novella who is least touched by physical reality.

Although “a model soldier,” Agilulf is understandably “disliked by all.” Although it is true that “he exists without existing,” he is nevertheless the story’s most memorable character and thus the proof of Calvino’s, and Sister Theodora’s, powerful imagination. As something of a joke, Charlemagne assigns Agilulf a squire who is his complete opposite, “a man without a name and with every possible name,” Gurduloo, to choose but one of his appellations. He is a figure whose name and being change according to whatever his immediate...

(The entire section is 554 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Andrews, Richard. “Italo Calvino,” in Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy: A Collection of Essays, 1984. Edited by Michael Caesar and Peter Hainsworth.

Cannon, JoAnn. Italo Calvino: Writer and Critic, 1981.

Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.

Olken, I.T. With Pleated Eye and Garnet Wing: Symmetries of Italo Calvino, 1984.