Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Saul (SAWL), the aging king of Israel who, influenced by his cousin Abner and the priests of Nob, becomes paranoid and turns against David, hero of the battles with the Philistines following David’s defeat of the giant, Goliath. Saul’s mental faculties are rapidly deteriorating, so his feelings regarding David fluctuate from moment to moment. Saul exiles David from his kingdom under threat of execution should he return. When David finally does return to Gilboa to humble himself before the deranged king and beg his forgiveness, Saul’s cousin, Abner, urges Saul to kill David, insisting that he was the cause of various misfortunes that had befallen Saul. Yet, in a dream, David’s loyalty to Saul is revealed, and the ambivalent relationship between Saul and David becomes more solid although no more stable. Ultimately, however, Saul’s kingdom is defiled by the king’s irrationality and violence. The Israelites are defeated in the battle against the Philistines in which Saul’s son Jonathan also dies. Saul, wholly defeated, falls on his sword, a suicide.


David, the play’s protagonist. Small of stature, he has defeated the mighty giant Goliath and afterward has won a victory over the Philistines. Saul honors and values him. He is the closest friend of Jonathan, Saul’s son, and eventually marries Saul’s daughter, Michal. Influenced by evil priests and by a conniving...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Betti, Franco. Vittorio Alfieri. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Major portion of a chapter reflects on Saul’s nobility gained through struggle, on the “touching figure of Michal,” and on the theme of the past (Saul’s age versus David’s youth). Notes that in his suicide, Saul demonstrates the power of his will as a hero—neither the Philistines nor God can take credit for striking him down.

Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Conaway, eds. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Giancarlo Maiorino’s brief entry on Alfieri is useful. Concludes with comments on Saul, whom he sees as “the only character capable of expressing the superhuman passions of Alfieri himself.”

Hallock, Ann H. “The Religious Aspects of Alfieri’s Saul.” Forum Italicum 18 (Spring, 1984): 43-64. Most thorough commentary on the play in English. Summarizes previous criticism from autobiographical, politico-philosophical, and psychological perspectives, but argues that the fundamental question of the play is “the nature of man without God.”

Hillary, Richard B. “Biblical Exegesis in Alfieri’s Saul.” South Atlantic Bulletin 38 (March, 1973): 3-7. Focuses on Old Testament concept of sin as it relates to Saul’s insanity.

Wilkins, Ernest Hatch. A History of Italian Literature. Revised by Thomas G. Bergin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Chapter on Alfieri sets him and his work in the context of Italian literature and includes comments on Saul.