Begun by John Marston
Completed by William Barksted
The Insatiate Countess
Note to user: This play's unusual process of revision resulted in some confusion about the names of characters. Melchiori's Revels edition gives the characters different names than does Wiggins's Jacobean Sex Tragedies. The following list was compiled with reference to volume III of the 1970 reprint of the 1887 Bullen edition published by Georg Olms (Hildesheim and New York).
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
Married to Claridiana and close friend of Thais, the wife of her husband's longtime foe Rogero. Together, the two women devise a scheme to teach their ever-clashing spouses a lesson, by leading them to believe that they have committed adultery with their rival's wife. Their plan is complicated by Mendoza Foscari's accident following his failed seduction of Lady Lentulus, for which Claridiana and Rogero are mistakenly arrested and condemned to death. On the day of their husbands' execution, the two women triumphantly resolve the confusion by explaining the situation to the Duke of Venice.
The Duke of Venice and also Mendoza Foscari's uncle. The embodiment of political authority and the law. Attempts to extract the truth from Claridiana, Rogero and his nephew, who all adamantly claim to be guilty of crimes they did not commit. He condemns them to death and thus ultimately co-ordinates reconciliation.
Isabella's maid, confidante and go-between in the various stages of the relationship between her mistress and Count Massino. Anna sets up Isabella's house in Pavia in preparation for her rendezvous with the Count and subsequently wards him off once Isabella is smitten with Gniaca. Brings Isabella the news that Gniaca has not murdered Massino but that instead the men have parted as friends. She then bears the brunt of Isabella's rage.
Represents law and order and sees himself as the guarantor of Venetian security. He discovers Mendoza Foscari, injured in the process of seducing Lady Lentulus, and arrests Claridiana and Rogero as suspects.
Having first performed Isabella's and Roberto's wedding ceremony, he later offers Isabella moral support on her way to the scaffold.
Abigail's husband. He is engaged in a hereditary feud with Rogero and even begins a fight with him on the day of both of their weddings. Following the interception of Guido and Mizaldus, Claridiana makes an insincere promise to keep the peace, but immediately vows revenge. He falls for the ploy set up by Abigail and Thais against him and Rogero, is discovered in Rogero's house and is imprisoned for the attempted murder of Mendoza Foscari. Not wanting to be taken for a cuckold, he insists that he attempted Mendoza's murder and demands to be executed. He is finally released when Abigail and Thais reveal the truth to the Duke of Venice.
Participates in a wedding masque staged in honour of Isabella and her husband, Count Roberto. He yields to Isabella's advances when she falls in love with him, and at her behest meets her in her house at Pavia. There Isabella, who is smitten by his friend Gniaca, immediately jilts him. In response, Massino pens satiric verses on the insatiate countess, thereby infuriating Isabella, who talks Gniaca into killing Massino. When they meet, the two men affirm their friendship, thus foiling her ploy. Massino is eventually shot and killed by Don Sago.
A Spanish general, hired by Isabella to kill Massino. Enthralled by her, as most other men in Venice, he is eager to satisfy her demand and so shoots Massino. But he is discovered. His emotional confession, which leads to the arrest of Isabella, so moves the otherwise harsh Duke of Medina that he pardons Sago and makes him a "colonel of his horse."
DUKE OF MEDINA
Embodies order and harsh justice. While he pardons Don Sago, who murdered Massino at Isabella's behest, he condemns Isabella to death.
Prepares Isabella for her execution. His explicit descriptions of her body serve to highlight her beauty and add an indubitable erotic frisson to the scaffold scene.
Count Roberto's alter ego after he has taken holy orders.
GUIDO, COUNT OF ARSENA
Count Roberto's friend. He embodies the principle of forethought and moderation and provides a rational commentary on the action both in the main plot and subplot. On hearing that Isabella has accepted Roberto's proposal, he voices doubts about her chastity, and thus anticipates her later disgrace. He steps between the quarrelling Claridiana and Rogero during their wedding day animosities and comments on Roberto's decision to become a monk.
GNIACA, COUNT OF GAZIA
Massino's friend, with whom Isabella falls madly in love when she meets him in Pavia. Passionately enamoured of Isabella, he vows to kill Massino when she is enraged by her former lover's satirical poems about her. However, Gniaca finds himself unable to murder his friend and the two men reconcile.
A "ghost character." He is Isabella's deceased husband.
The insatiate countess. A widow, she is successfully wooed by Count Roberto, who breaks through her melancholy front and persuades her to marry him. During the festivities for their wedding she is so smitten by one of the dancers, Count Massino, that she immediately decides to leave her new husband. She has her maid Anna prepare her house in Pavia for their tryst. She then falls madly in love with Massino's friend Gniaca upon their arrival. Claiming chastity, she rebuffs her former lover and begins an affair with Gniaca. After Massino writes a raft of angry verses concerning her insatiability, she importunes Gniaca to kill him. But the two friends foil her plan and reconcile. She next uses her wiles to hire Don Sago to shoot Massino, but he is caught. After Don Sago's confession implicating Isabella, she is condemned to death. When her husband Roberto, now a friar, meets her on the scaffold, she remorsefully realizes what she has done and begs his forgiveness, which he gives.
A widow who takes great pride in her virtue and successfully fights off Mendoza Foscari, who pursues her relentlessly. She urges Abigail and Thais to reveal the truth to the Duke of Venice and rescue their husbands, who are waiting to be executed for a crime they did not commit.
Nephew to Amago, the Duke of Venice, he seeks to seduce the virtuous widow Lady Lentulus. He falls from the rope ladder on which he attempts to climb into her bedchamber and is discovered, but pretends to have attempted to burgle Lady Lentulus in order to preserve her virtue. In order to extract the truth from him, his uncle has him arrested for the crime he did not commit.
Friend of Count Roberto's. Together with Guido he represents a rational outsider's perspective on the happenings in Venice.
Isabella's messenger. He delivers the letter with which she summons Massino to her, he also serves as a foil to illuminate her moodiness.
ROBERTO, COUNT OF CYPRUS
Woos and marries the widowed Isabella, who, on their wedding day, falls in love with Count Massino. First enraged by her unfaithfulness, he decides to turn his back on his worldly life and retires to a monastery. He returns on the day of Isabella's execution to forgive her.
Claridiana's long-standing foe and husband of Thais. Like Claridiana, he falls victim to the plot devised by his wife and her friend Abigail and is arrested as a suspect for the attempted murder of Mendoza. To avoid being seen as a cuckold, he also claims to be guilty and is condemned to death, but he is freed after his wife and Abigail resolve the confusion.