Vendice (vehn-DEE-chay), a young Italian who broods over the skull of his dead sweetheart while plotting revenge on the duke, her murderer. Well-versed in the corruptions of the court, he disguises himself as Piato, a crafty, lascivious old man, and offers his services to Lussurioso. After his diabolical murder of the duke, who is poisoned when he kisses the lips of the skull that Vendice has dressed as a masked lady, he appears in his own person, assuming a melancholy spirit to deceive his young prince again. Although he successfully dispatches his enemies and places the dukedom into the hands of just men, he is himself executed; he condemns himself out of his own mouth and receives justice from the man to whom he has given the right to dispense it.
Hippolito (ee-POHL-ee-toh), his brother, who supports him in his plots to purge the court of its corruption.
The duke, a despicable old lecher who governs more by personal desires than by any notion of right and wrong. The few honest men of his court deeply resent his staying of the sentence of his wife’s youngest son, who had raped the virtuous wife of one of his lords. There is a strong element of poetic justice in the manner of his death. Vendice’s lady was executed for refusing to yield to him; her lover traps her murderer by promising to procure a young woman for his pleasure.
The duchess, his second wife, a fitting mate for the duke. Enraged by her husband’s refusal to release her youngest son absolutely, she takes her vengeance by having an affair with Spurio, the duke’s bastard son.
Lussurioso (lews-sew-ee-OH-soh), the duke’s heir, whose character is aptly expressed in his name. He hires Vendice, disguised as Piato, to seduce Castiza for him, cynically suggesting that he try the mother first if the daughter is recalcitrant. He has some lingering remnants of honor with regard to the behavior of his stepmother and Spurio, and his first act as duke is to order her banishment and Spurio’s execution.
Ambitioso (ahm-BEE-tee-oh-soh) and
Supervacuo (sew-pehr-VAH-kew-oh), the duchess’ sons. Each is eager to destroy Lussurioso and seize the dukedom for himself; mutually ambitious, they are extremely envious of each other. Their treacherous plot to have the legal heir executed fails, and they succeed only in causing the death of their own brother.
Spurio (SPEW-ree-oh), the duke’s bastard son, ambitious, like his stepbrothers, for power. He resents his father and chooses a peculiarly damnable mode of revenge for his birth, that of becoming his stepmother’s lover. His greed brings him a fitting death: He and Ambitioso stab each other in a quarrel over the possession of the dead Lussurioso’s dukedom.
Gratiana (grah-tee-AH-nah), the mother of Vendice, a weak-spirited woman who is persuaded by her son, disguised as Piato, to encourage her daughter to submit to Lussurioso’s lust. She is won over chiefly by his offer of money. Confronted by Vendice with her betrayal of Castiza, she repents and once again recognizes the inestimable value of virtue.
Castiza (kahs-TEE-zah), Gratiana’s daughter and Vendice’s sister. She violently rejects her mother’s insistence that she submit to Lussurioso and boxes the ears of the ducal emissary, Piato, who rejoices at his sister’s lively virtue. She seems for a few moments to have given in to her mother’s arguments, but when she sees that Gratiana has been convinced again of the value of honor, she confesses that she was only testing her; her own allegiance to virtue is unchanging.
Antonio (ahn-TOH -nyoh), a just nobleman who becomes duke after the mass murder of the old ruler’s family. He, like Vendice, had just cause to...
(The entire section is 932 words.)