The Ring and the Book

by Robert Browning
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646

Count Guido Franceschini

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Count Guido Franceschini (GWEE-doh frahn-chehs-KEE-nee), the oldest male member of a destitute noble family of Arezzo. Knowing that he is the last hope for continuing the family name, because his two brothers are priests, Guido seeks a wife to bear him a son. Impoverished, he needs a woman with an attractive dowry. His brother finds a likely prospect, and Guido’s family name attracts the girl’s mother. Inept as a husband and angered by denial of the dowry after the wedding, Guido abuses his wife. To retain the last vestige of honor as a husband, after he has driven her to extramarital affections, Guido, with four men from his village, kills his parents-in-law and fatally wounds his wife. The court hearings and the gossip relating to the affair, presented from various viewpoints, point to Guido’s instability, he representing an old family without means of sustenance or continuation—no wealth, no prestige, no progeny. He is sentenced to be hanged, by rulings of both church and state.

Pompilia Comparini

Pompilia Comparini (pohm-PEE-lee-ah kohm-pah-REE-nee), his seventeen-year-old wife. Bought as a newborn infant from a prostitute, Pompilia was brought up by aged foster parents. Trapped in an incompatible marriage not of her choice, she flees to Rome with Caponsacchi, a priest. Overtaken, she and the priest disavow that they are lovers. After hearing that Pompilia, who has returned to her foster parents, has given birth to a son, Guido returns to Rome with four ruffians and attacks the Comparinis. Pompilia, mortally wounded, lingers for four days, time enough for her to identify her attacker.

Violante Comparini

Violante Comparini (vee-oh-LAHN-teh), her foster mother. Violante’s warped sense of values leads to bizarre behavior. She feigns pregnancy, presents Pompilia to her husband as his child, negotiates Pompilia’s marriage, and convinces her husband, who has objected to the marriage, that the status achieved by the union will be worth the promised dowry. Realizing her bad bargain and attempting to keep Guido from profiting by the marriage, Violante divulges Pompilia’s parentage and disqualifies her from inheriting Comparini’s money.

Pietro Comparini

Pietro Comparini (PEE-eh-troh), Violante’s husband. Naïve and browbeaten, he is governed by his wife’s whims and desires.

Giuseppe Caponsacchi

Giuseppe Caponsacchi (jee-ew-SEHP-peh kah-pohn-SAHK-kee), a handsome priest, Pompilia’s gallant lover. Excommunicated for his part in the affair, Giuseppe wishes himself dead but looks forward to the day when he will be returned to the grace of the church.

Margherita

Margherita (mahr-geh-REE-tah), Pompilia’s maid, who advises and encourages Pompilia to throw off the drudgery of her life with Guido by responding to Giuseppe’s attentions.

Paolo

Paolo (PAH-oh-loh), Count Guido’s brother, a priest in Rome, who makes the initial contact with Violante for the marriage of Guido and Pompilia. His description of his brother makes Guido sound more attractive than the Comparinis find him.

Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius

Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius (yoh-HAHN-ehs-bahp-TEES-tah boht-TEHN-yuhs), familiarly called Giovambittista o’ the Bottini, who defends Pompilia at the hearings and for her behavior in the affair and persecutes her, as the gossips of Rome cried, by ordering her money given to a sisterhood rather than to her child.

Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis

Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis (DOHM-ih-nuhs HI-ah-SIHN-thuhs day ahr-KAN-jee-lihs), familiarly called Don Giacinto of the Archangeli, the procurator of the poor in Rome. He defends Guido and his hired companions at the hearings.

Pope Innocent XII

Pope Innocent XII, who condemns Count Guido to die in the presence of the populace; however, before his death, he prays that the condemned man may be forgiven his sin.

Gaetano

Gaetano (gah-eh-TAH-noh), Pompilia’s two-week-old son, who, she says in her dying moments, “nor was, nor is, nor yet shall be/ Count Guido Franceschini’s child at all—/ Only his mother’s born of love not hate!”

Tommati

Tommati (tohm-MAH-tee) and

Venturini

Venturini (vehn-tew-REE-nee), judges at the hearings.

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