Fraülein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd
Fraülein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd (mah-TIHL-deh fon tsahnt), the founder and psychiatrist of a Swiss sanatorium. Dr. von Zahnd, about fifty-five years old, is the last member of a prestigious family that boasted powerful figures in finance, politics, and the military. Her own love of power, masked initially by the appearance of compassion and philanthropy, emerges as the dominant force in the play. Dr. von Zahnd is “an old hunchbacked spinster” who masterminds the entrapment of a genius physicist and the exploitation of his knowledge. She heads a huge cartel that aspires to world, even universal, domination.
Johann Wilhelm Möbius
Johann Wilhelm Möbius (YOH-hahn VIHL-helm MEH-bee-uhs), a physicist, solver of “the problem of gravitation,” discoverer of the “Unitary Theory of Elementary Particles” and the “Principle of Universal Discovery,” and a patient at the sanatorium. Möbius, forty years old, has feigned madness, claiming to have visions of King Solomon, so that he would be committed to the sanatorium, where he presumes that his revolutionary findings are safe from discovery and potentially devastating misuse. When a nurse, in love with him and believing him sane, makes plans for his release, Möbius strangles her, and when two foreign agents attempt to lure him out of the sanatorium, he convinces them that it is their duty to humanity to remain with him. Möbius’ passion for knowledge leads him to write up his theories in the supposed privacy of his room, where the manuscripts are discovered by Dr. von Zahnd. Möbius realizes that his sacrifices of family, career, and freedom have been for naught. A prisoner forever in the sanatorium, he assumes the identity of King Solomon.
Herbert Georg Beutler
Herbert Georg Beutler (BOYT-lehr), alias Isaac Newton, a physicist and patient who feigns madness, claiming to be Sir Isaac Newton. As an agent of a Western democracy, presumably the United States, he attempts to persuade Möbius to join the research team of his nation, promising “freedom of scientific knowledge.” To preserve the secret of his identity and his mission, Beutler strangles a nurse. He, too, is thwarted by Dr. von Zahnd.
Ernest Heinrich Ernesti
Ernest Heinrich Ernesti, alias Albert Einstein, a physicist and patient who feigns madness, claiming to be Albert Einstein. As an agent, presumably of the Soviet Union, he urges Möbius to join the research team of his nation, calling on physicists to “become power politicians.” Ernesti also strangles a nurse to protect his mission; when that fails, both he and Beutler must remain with Möbius, trapped for life in the sanatorium.
Richard Voss, a police inspector who investigates each murder at the sanatorium. After the third killing, Voss accepts Dr. von Zahnd’s contention that the mad physicists are not responsible for their actions. In withdrawing from the case, he unwittingly abandons them to their fate at the hands of Dr. von Zahnd and the newly installed male attendants.
Frau Lina Rose
Frau Lina Rose, Möbius’ former wife, who for years had supported his stay in the sanatorium. She has remarried and, after paying Möbius a final visit with her three sons, will never see him again.
Oskar Rose, a missionary. He has married Möbius’ wife and is taking her, her sons, and his own six children to a mission outpost on the Mariana Islands.
Monika Stettler, a nurse who loves Möbius and believes in his sanity. When she takes steps to have him released from the sanatorium, Möbius strangles her.
Sister Marta Boll
Sister Marta Boll, the head nurse. She jealously defends the physicists, “my most interesting cases,” from possible prosecution by Inspector Voss. When the male attendants take over, Sister Boll is dismissed.