Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1057
Sir Benjamin Backbite
Backbite is a suitor to Marie. He is a gossip who will slander anyone, even those he does not know. Lady Sneerwell admires Backbite's wit and poetry. Backbite is an especially malicious character, whose rude behavior is encouraged in the company of his uncle, Lady Sneerwell, and Mrs. Candour.
Sir Harry Bumper
Toby is one of Charles' s friends who spends his time drinking, gambling, and singing.
Mrs. Candour is a good-natured and friendly gossip, whose talkative nature makes her dangerous, since she spreads slander more effectively than Backbite or Crabtree.
Careless is one of Charles's friends. He plays auctioneer when the family pictures are sold to Mr. Premium.
Crabtree is Backbite's uncle and as big a gossip as his nephew.
Maria is Sir Peter's wealthy ward. She is in love with Charles and he is in love with her. Her nature is sweet, and she is very disturbed at the vicious gossip she encounters at social functions. Although Maria is considered a principle character, she has only a small role in the play.
Moses is the moneylender who has been lending money to Charles. He has tried to help Charles with his money problems and bring his spending under control. Moses is honest and helps Sir Oliver in his pretense as a moneylender.
See Sir Oliver Surface
See Sir Oliver Surface
Rowley is Sir Peter's servant and was formally a steward to Joseph and Charles's father. He recognizes that Charles is kind-hearted and good in spite of his problems managing money. Rowley has caught Snake at forgery and uses the information to force Snake to betray Mrs. Sneerwell. Rowley serves as go-between for Sir Oliver when he disguises himself to visit his nephews.
Snake works for Lady Sneerwell; he undertakes the actions that destroy reputations. He is indeed a snake, since his job is to slither around gaining and dispensing gossip. Snake willingly goes to the highest bidder and in the final scene admits that Rowley has paid him a greater fee to betray Lady Sneerwell.
Lady Sneerwell was the target of slander in her youth. She now directs her efforts at ruining the reputations of other women. She prides herself on her delicacy of scandal, which she manages with only a hint of a sneer (she "sneers well"). Slander is her primary source of pleasure. Lady Sneerwell is secretly infatuated with Charles, and that is the real reason she wants to break up his relationship with Maria. Lady Sneerwell plots with Joseph to secure Charles for herself and Maria for Joseph, but the plot blows up when Joseph is exposed to Sir Peter and when Maria refuses to consider Joseph as a suitor. She forges letters in a final attempt to further her plot but is revealed when her partner, Snake, sells his loyalty to a higher bidder.
Charles is the protagonist of the play and the younger Surface brother. He is extravagant but good-natured. He is in love with Maria and wishes to marry her. Mrs. Sneerwell, however, wants him for herself. Charles sells his uncle, who is in disguise, the family portraits, since he, as usual, needs money. He wins his old uncle's heart when he refuses to sell his beloved uncle's portrait. Sir Oliver finds that Charles is honest and generous. In the final scene, Charles and Maria receive the endorsement and good wishes of her guardian, Sir Peter, and that of Sir Oliver.
The elder Surface brother, Joseph is amiable and well regarded. But he is a hypocrite, since he is courting the wealthy Maria behind his brother's back while also flirting with Lady Sneerwell and trying to seduce Mrs. Teazle. When Joseph refuses to help his disguised uncle, his true nature is revealed. He is artful, selfish, and malicious, but he has Sir Peter completely convinced of his merit and good name until Lady Teazle tells her husband that Joseph has attempted to seduce her. Joseph lacks the qualities of truth, gratitude, and charity.
Sir Oliver Surface
Sir Oliver is Charles and Joseph's rich uncle. He returns to England and attempts to test his nephews' character without revealing his identity. Sir Oliver assumes the identity of a moneylender, Mr. Premium, to test Charles's loyalty. Later, he assumes the identity of Old Stanley, a poor relation, to test Joseph. In the final scene he reveals his true identity to both brothers, and Joseph is disinherited while Charles is rewarded by his uncle for his honesty and generosity.
Lady Teazle is young and was educated in the country. But since her marriage and move to London, she has learned to dress well and to spend lavishly. She counts Lady Sneerwell among her friends and engages in flirtations with young men. She fights frequently with her husband, contradicts him, and flaunts his authority, but he continues to love her. When Lady Teazle engages in gossip with her friends, there is a noticeable meanness in her words. Yet her country upbringing makes her hesitate when she considers engaging in an affair with Joseph. When Lady Teazle overhears her husband's plan to settle an income on her, she realizes that he does love her, and she quickly comes to her senses. She reveals to Sir Peter Joseph's attempts to seduce her. In the final scene, she resigns from the company of gossips and reaffirms her devotion to her husband.
Sir Peter Teazle
A neighbor of Lady Sneerwell, Sir Peter is also the guardian of Joseph and Charles Surface. Sir Peter was an older bachelor when he married his much younger wife six months before the start of the play. She is making his life miserable with her extravagances and her friends. But he loves his wife, although his friends sneer at him for letting her take advantage of him. Although Sir Peter has always favored Joseph (he even suspects Charles of trying to seduce Lady Teazle), Joseph's hypocritical nature is revealed when Lady Teazle confesses to her husband that Joseph was attempting to seduce her. Eventually, Sir Peter approves of the marriage of his ward, Maria, to Charles.
See Sir Harry Bumper
Trip is Charles's footman. He also needs to borrow money and seeks out the moneylenders when they come to see Charles.