A LOOKING GLASS FOR LONDON AND ENGLAND
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
Both the Smith and the Smith's Wife refer to the Clown as Adam.
A poor man married to Samia, Alcon is the father of Radagon and Clesiphon. When he misses the deadline for a loan repayment to the Usurer and cannot redeem the family cow, Alcon joins with the similarly served young gentleman Thrasibulus in suing for justice, but they are thwarted by the corrupt Judge and Lawyer. Alcon later begs his older son Radagon for some relief, but the proud young man rejects him. Reduced to becoming a cutpurse to support himself and his family, Alcon receives restitution from the Usurer after the preaching of Jonas leads to the latter's conversion.
Aluida is the wife of the King of Paphlagonia. After the death of Remilia, Radagon encourages Rasni to take Aluida as his mistress. When the King of Paphlagonia makes Rasni temporarily ashamed of what he has done and Rasni orders Aluida to return to her husband, the woman agrees on the condition that her husband promise publicly to forgive and forget, and that he signify his good intentions by drinking a toast with special Greek wine. Aluida uses this occasion to hand him a poisoned goblet, and when her husband dies on the spot, she and Rasni cheerfully resume their affair. Later, she attempts to seduce the King of Cilicia, telling him that she loves Rasni for the social status he provides but that she loves the King of Cilicia for physical reasons. Her pursuit of him is broken off by the increasing number of portents indicating that God intends to punish Nineveh for its sinfulness. She, like the rest of the court, comes to regret the sins she has committed, and she leads her ladies-in-waiting in prayer and fasting. At the end of the play, Jonas certifies the genuineness of the conversions and approves Rasni's intention to marry Aluida.
As regret for sinful behavior sweeps through the court at Nineveh, Aluida calls upon her ladies-in-waiting to follow her in fasting and prayer. In unison, the ladies agree that it is right for them to do so.
A "ghost character". When the Angel first informs Jonas of God's order that he should go to Nineveh and preach, he addresses the prophet as the son of Amithais.
The Angel first appears on stage to escort the prophet Oseas to Nineveh so that he might observe the sins of its king and people. The Angel informs Oseas that later he will be returned to Jerusalem to denounce the sins he sees among the Hebrews. The Angel next appears to Jonas with God's command that he go to Nineveh and preach to its inhabitants, and when the prophet is cast out of the whale's mouth, the Angel is there to chastise him for neglecting God's work. He later escorts Oseas back to Jerusalem so that he may warn the Hebrews to change their ways, and when Jonas sees how many residents of Nineveh are seeking pardon for their sins and worries that sparing so many will make his predictions of mass destruction seem only fables, the Angel assures him that what has happened is God's will.
The younger son of Alcon and Samia, Clesiphon is the first to suffer pangs of hunger after the family cow is taken by the Usurer. His need for food is the occasion of his parents' visit to Radagon at court. When the haughty Radagon turns his back on his family because of their humble birth and refuses to recognize them, Clesiphon remarks that getting a kingdom (as Radagon has from Rasni) can be the cause of losing one's wits.
The Clown is an indentured servant or apprentice to the Smith. Called Adam by the Smith and his wife, the Clown is much given to disorderly behavior. Early in the play, he leads his group of friends in a night of drunken revelry that ends with the stabbing death of the First Ruffian (Peter). He later seduces the Smith's Wife, and when the Smith discovers them together, the Clown beats him until he agrees to become a willing cuckold. After his encounter with the Man in Devil's Attire, the Clown wins some favor (and many rounds of drinks) at court by retelling how he handled that attempt to play a practical joke on him. Unable or unwilling to participate in the movement towards repentance that sweeps through Nineveh, he violates Rasni's orders that everyone fast, and instead he hides food and drink in his clothing. His violation of the king's command is discovered by the two Searchers just five days before the end of the fasting period, and he is taken off by the officials, presumably to be hanged.
Only mentioned. The soliloquy of Jonas that concludes the play (in effect, an epilogue) calls upon London and England to repent, noting that for too long the kingdom has relied upon Queen Elizabeth's favor with God to protect it from divine retribution, and the prophet prays that the queen will continue to be a bulwark against the "stormes of Romish Antichrist."
A mute character. When the Usurer is overcome by guilt for his evil acts and contemplates suicide, the Evil Angel encourages him by producing a rope and a knife.
RUFFIAN, FIRST and SECOND
Two Ruffians figure in the play:
- Called Peter by the Clown, the First Ruffian argues with his companion the Second Ruffian during a night of carousing and is stabbed by him.
- The Second is a companion to both the Clown and the First Ruffian, the Second Ruffian stabs the latter during a drunken argument.
SEARCHER, FIRST and SECOND
Two Searchers figure in the play:
- The First Searcher and his colleague the Second Searcher are employed by Rasni to ensure that the citizens of Nineveh are abiding by his orders that they fast and pray for forgiveness. The rigors of the fast, however, provoke the Clown to hide food and drink in his slops, and when the Searchers approach him, he pretends to be absorbed in prayer. When the First Searcher smells food, he insists upon looking for it on the Clown's person, thereby discovering the contraband. As they lead the Clown away, the First Searcher assures him that he will surely hang even though there are only five days remaining in the fasting period.
- Along with the First Searcher, the Second Searcher is responsible for enforcing Rasni's order that everyone in Nineveh fast for forty days. When the First Searcher smells food near the Clown, the Second Searcher agrees that the Clown must be searched carefully, and it is he who discovers the beer, bread, and beef that the Clown has hidden in his clothing.
Only mentioned. Discussing possible additives for ale, the Clown rejects using ginger, arguing that the ancient medical authority Galen had observed that ginger induces coughing, belching, and flatulence.
GOVERNOR of JOPPA
The Governor of Joppa greets the Merchant of Tharsus, the Ship's Captain, and the Sailor when they appear on his shore. From them, he learns of Jonas's action to save them from the storm and of their intention to follow the Hebrew God hereafter. The Governor then takes them all off to sacrifice in the temple.
Only mentioned. When the play opens, Rasni, the king of Nineveh, is celebrating a military victory over Jeroboam, the king of Jerusalem.
JOHN LACKLAND, SIR
When the Usurer confiscates all of Thrasibulus's land, Alcon jokingly refers to the youth as having been newly dubbed Sir John Lackland.
The Hebrew prophet Jonas (more commonly known as Jonah) is visited by the Angel and told that God has ordered him to preach in Nineveh so that the people there might turn from their evil ways before God destroys them all. Knowing the erring behavior of his fellow Hebrews, Jonas worries that, should God destroy the population of Nineveh (people who have not been informed of what God expects from humans), other people in the world will think less of the deity because they know the equally sinful Hebrew nation has not been punished. Troubled by these reflections, Jonas decides to hide in Joppa, hoping that God will have some second thoughts about destroying Nineveh, and he takes to sea on the vessel carrying the Merchant of Tharsus and his companions. When the ship is overwhelmed in a storm, Jonas has the Ship's Captain throw him overboard to placate God. He is gently taken into the mouth of a whale and eventually deposited on the shore near the river Lycus. This miraculous deliverance and the Angel's admonition that he heed God's orders spurs him to go to Nineveh and warn the people of the devastation God intends unless they repent quickly. His subsequent activities lead to the conversions of many of the lower class offenders (among them the Usurer, Thrasibulus, Alcon, and Samia) and eventually Rasni, Aluida, and the court. Jonas briefly worries that his massive successes will spare the whole city and lead others to think that his warnings of punishment were false, but the Angel assures him that God is most pleased with what has happened in Nineveh. Jonas goes to the court to certify the sincerity of the conversions and to approve of Rasni's plan to marry Aluida. His soliloquy after all have left serves as an epilogue for the play. In it, he urges the theater audience to see ("as in a looking glasse") Nineveh's narrow escape from God's wrath as a warning for London and England. He further warns the English that, although the great love which God has for their Queen Elizabeth has protected them heretofore, the virtuous queen will not save them indefinitely. Finally, he concludes with the wish that Elizabeth continue to be a bulwark against Roman Catholicism.
An example of the social, political, and moral corruption in Nineveh, the Judge happily accepts a bribe from the Usurer to decide against Alcon and Thrasibulus. When the rigged proceedings are over, he invites the Usurer and the equally corrupt Lawyer to dine with him.
KING of CILICIA
One of the kings subservient to Rasni, the King of Cilicia encourages Rasni to marry his own sister Remilia, and he is present when Aluida poisons her husband the King of Paphlagonia in order to continue her affair with Rasni. Later, he becomes the focus of Aluida's attention and is desperate to avoid her. When the Hand from the Clouds appears, he is able to distract the king by calling attention to this extraordinary event, one of the portents that Nineveh is headed for destruction. When Rasni finally begins to lament the life he has led and the evil into which he has taken his people, the King of Cilicia joins in the royal court's prayers for pardon.
KING of CRETE
One of Rasni's subordinate rulers, the King of Crete objects to the proposed incestuous marriage between Rasni and his sister Remilia. This opposition costs the king his position, and Rasni bestows the crown of Crete upon the flattering Radagon.
KING of PAPHLAGONIA
One of Rasni's subordinate monarchs, the King of Paphlagonia is the husband of the beautiful Aluida. When Rasni's sister Remilia is killed before he can enter into an incestuous union with her, Radagon suggests that Rasni take Aluida as his mistress. When the King of Paphlagonia confronts Rasni with his dishonorable behavior and the latter orders Aluida to return to her husband, the woman demands a public assurance from him that he will forgive and forget. The King of Paphlagonia agrees to take a public oath, and at Aluida's prompting, to seal it by drinking a toast with special Greek wine. The lady then supplies a poisoned goblet, and her husband's death allows her to resume her dalliance with Rasni.
A "ghost character". When the Clown describes how frightened he was at the time the Man in Devil's Attire approached him, he tells the court that his "landresse" (laundress) called him "slovenly" the next day, an apparent reference to his having lost control of his bodily functions.
Like the Judge, the Lawyer (called Master or Signor Mizaldo during the court session) exemplifies the widespread corruption in Nineveh. He accepts the case of Alcon and Thrasibulus against the Usurer, but he takes the latter's bribe to throw the case. When he is called upon to make statements on behalf of his clients, he pretends to be distracted and unable to focus on their case, and the Judge then finds for the Usurer. As the session ends, the Lawyer accepts the Judge's invitation to dine with him and the Usurer.
The unnamed Lord attends upon Rasni. It is he who discovers the corpse of the First Ruffian, and at the king's order, he tries to make the drunken Clown explain how the man died.
All but one of the Magi are mute characters. In service to Rasni, the group of allegedly wise and magically gifted men is called upon to build the pleasure bower in which Remilia is later killed by lightning.
The unnamed Magus serves as spokesman for his fellow Magi. After Radagon is consumed by a pillar of flame, the Magus assures Rasni that the phenomenon is natural and then encourages the king to enjoy himself with Aluida. When the Priest of the Sun describes for Rasni the evil portents he and his colleagues have observed, the Magus again soothes the king by labeling the events merely natural occurrences which, if they have any significance at all, might be interpreted as warnings for Rasni's enemies.
MAN in DEVIL'S ATTIRE
Recognizing that all of Nineveh is on edge over the evil portents that have followed Jonas's preaching and wishing to play a practical joke on the Clown, the Man in Devil's Attire attempts to frighten the Clown as he accompanies the Smith's Wife through the darkened streets. After the Clown fails to drive the apparition away by mumbling snatches of church Latin, the Man tells the Clown he has come to carry him to hell and orders him to climb upon his back. The Clown insists on seeing if the Man is well-shod, and while examining his shoes, notices there are no cloven hooves. He then beats the practical joker with his cudgel.
MERCHANT of THARSUS
The Merchant of Tharsus, along with his companions, books passage home with the Ship's Captain, and he promises the latter that he will provide a feast for him and his crew when they arrive safely. After the storm at sea nearly costs him his life, the Merchant follows the Ship's Captain and the crew in accepting the Hebrew God.
The Judge refers to the Lawyer variously as Signor or Master Mizaldo.
Oseas is the Hebrew prophet more commonly known as Hosea. Early in the play, the Angel leads him to a throne overlooking Nineveh and tells him that God wishes him to observe the sins of Nineveh in preparation for his return to Jerusalem to rail against the sinful practices of the Hebrews. From this point on, the prophet views each of the scenes and then briefly comments upon the lesson to be learned, especially by the English who need to recognize and reject similar bad behavior among themselves. Thus, when the Clown and the two Ruffians go off for a night of drinking and revelry, Oseas observes that London should leave its pride and drunken excesses to concentrate on acts of corporal mercy (aiding the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, supporting widows and orphans, etc.), so that God might be lenient when the time comes for judgment. When the Usurer attaches the property of Thrasibulus and Alcon for a small technical violation of repayment deadlines and then bribes the Judge and the Lawyer so that he wins in court, Oseas condemns all abuse of the poor by the rich and the corruption of the legal system. Figuratively, Oseas holds the "looking glasse" up for London and the English to see their own shortcomings.
The Clown refers to the First Ruffian as Peter.
PRIEST of the SUN
Late in the play, the Priest of the Sun informs Rasni of recent extraordinary phenomena (ghosts walking abroad, statues of the gods falling apart, blood befouling sacred altars) that may indicate bad times ahead, but the Magus assures the king that these signs of disaster are meant only for the enemies of Nineveh.
The ungrateful son of Alcon and Samia, Radagon gains favor at court by flattering Rasni and approving of the king's desire to enter into an incestuous marriage with his sister Remilia. The latter action wins him the tributary kingship of Crete. When Alcon, Samia, and his younger brother Clesiphon beg for aid, Radagon is cold and contemptuous, and he refuses even to recognize them as his family. When Rasni learns that Radagon has acted in this way because he would not want anyone to know that the king's favorite had ties to such base-born people, the proud king approves of Radagon's attitude, thus leaving the poor family with no hope of relief. As Samia departs, she calls down a mother's curse on Radagon, and instantly the ungrateful son is swallowed up by a column of fire.
Rasni is the King of Nineveh and the brother of Remilia. Overcome by pride and flattered outrageously by those around him, he sees himself as a god on earth and even proposes to imitate Juno and Jove by marrying his sister Remilia. After she is killed by lightning, the new court favorite Radagon encourages him to take Aluida, the wife of the King of Paphlagonia, as his mistress, and although he briefly feels shame at his affair and attempts to send her back, when Aluida cleverly poisons her husband, Rasni is quick to renew their relationship. The first indication that he might be capable of change appears when Radagon is cursed by his mother Samia and instantly is consumed by fire. Rasni is frightened by this display of a power beyond his own, but the Magus and others assure him he has nothing about which to worry. Further portents of coming disaster are described for him by the Priest of the Sun, but it is not until Jonas appears at a royal banquet with the news that God has decided to destroy Nineveh in forty days that the wave of repentance the prophet has already effected among many of the common citizens begins to be felt at court. Worried and ashamed, Rasni dismisses the flattering Magi and orders a forty-day period of fasting and prayer as a sign of the sincerity of his conversion, and at the end of the fasting period, almost everyone in Nineveh has reformed. Jonas then reappears at court to confirm God's pleasure at the changes and to endorse Rasni's intention to marry the newly converted Aluida.
Early in the play, Rasni becomes infatuated with his proud and beautiful sister Remilia and expresses a desire to marry her (in emulation of the brother-sister union of Jove and Juno). Although the King of Crete expresses dismay at this incestuous marriage, Rasni goes forward, in large measure prompted by the sycophantic Radagon. After Remilia enters the bower created for her by the Magi, she is struck by a lightning bolt and dies. When Rasni discovers what has happened, he orders a royal tomb to be built for her.
When the Ship's Captain assures the Merchant of Tharsus that his crewmen are skilled mariners, the Sailor expresses his pleasure that the captain would say so, and he adds that, although he and his fellows may not have much book learning, one would be glad to have them aboard once the vessel leaves port. After Jonas's sacrifice quells the storm, the Sailor joins the Merchant and the Ship's Captain in accepting the Hebrew God.
Samia is Alcon's wife and the mother of Radagon and Clesiphon. Early in the play, her husband makes jokes about her three "faults": her sharp tongue, her propensity to strike him, and her seemingly uncontrollable flatulence. After the loss of the family cow to the Usurer, she accompanies her husband to seek relief from their older son Radagon, and when the proud and ungrateful young man rejects them because they are base-born, Samia leaves cursing him. Within seconds of her departure, Radagon is engulfed in a pillar of flames and dies.
The Ship's Captain commands the vessel which carries the Merchant of Tharsus and his companions home. Although he praises the maritime skills of his crew, he and they are powerless in the face of the storm that arises, and it is only when Jonas volunteers to be thrown overboard that the tempest subsides. The action of Jonas causes the Ship's Captain to declare his intention to embrace the Hebrew God.
The unnamed Smith rescues the Clown, his apprentice, after the drunken spree on the night the First Ruffian is murdered. Later, he catches the Clown seducing his wife, but the Clown gives him such a beating that the Smith agrees to become a willing cuckold. After the preaching of Jonas begins to stir the people of Nineveh, the Smith and his wife repent their sins, close up the shop, release the Clown from his indentures, and devote themselves to fasting and prayer.
Thrasibulus is a wealthy but profligate young gentleman who puts his lands in pawn to the Usurer. When he is minutes late in offering repayment, the Usurer takes the property and refuses to accept the money. Thrasibulus engages the corrupt Lawyer to represent him and Alcon in an attempt to get their property back, but like the Judge, the Lawyer accepts a bribe to throw the case, and no justice is done. After engaging in burglary and theft to support himself, Thrasibulus has his lands restored after the Usurer reforms, and prompted by this, he pledges that he will make restitution to all from whom he has stolen.
The unnamed Usurer rigorously insists that the deadlines for loan repayment be kept so that he may keep the lands of Thrasibulus and the cow owned by Alcon when the debtors are slightly late. His two victims take him to court seeking some understanding, but the Usurer bribes both the Judge and the plaintiffs' Lawyer to ensure he is found in the right. When Alcon and Thrasibulus are then reduced to thievery to support themselves, the Usurer encourages them to send him their stolen items. As the preaching of Jonas begins to move a large part of Nineveh's population to repentance, the Usurer becomes guilt-ridden and contemplates suicide. Deterred from taking his own life by the timely intervention of the Voice from Heaven, he seeks divine forgiveness, and in a gesture of true remorse, restores what he has gotten from Alcon and Thrasibulus.
VOICE from HEAVEN
When the Usurer is overcome by guilt for his evil acts, he contemplates suicide, and the Evil Angel encourages him by producing a rope and a knife. When the Voice from Heaven then bids the Usurer to repent sincerely and assures him that forgiveness will be forthcoming, he decides not to kill himself.
Approached by the Clown for an affair, the Smith's Wife readily agrees, and when the Smith attempts to break up the relationship, she encourages the Clown as he beats her husband. With the Smith, she heeds Jonas's warnings about the impending divine punishment for sin, and with him, turns to fasting and prayer.
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