DAMON and PITHIAS
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
A "ghost character." Alison is the wife of Grimme the collier. When Grimme explains to Iacke and Wyll the advantages of being a collier over a courtier's life, he states that he is happy to come home every night and sit down in his chair by his wife Alison.
Aristippus is a courtier and an opportunist at King Dionisius' court in Syracuse. He practices "courtly philosophy." The cynical philosopher Diogenes once called him the King's Dog. Disdaining this derogatory description, Aristippus professes to serve his own ends and make the best of his education. Aristippus seems to accept Carisophus' offer of friendship, despite his allegations of flattery and arbitrary use of his learning, though later Aristippus confesses he never meant friendship to Carisophus, whom he considers a moron and liar. Aristippus encounters Carisophus, who boasts that he has caught an important spy named Damon. Eager for personal gain and to outshine Carisophus before the king, Aristippus offers to speak with the prisoner. Aristippus describes how Carisophus is not seen favorably at court for having falsely accused Damon before the king. He reports that Carisophus returned beaten up, complaining that one Onaphets had broken his head. Aristippus observes that Onaphets is Stephano spelled backwards and suspects foul play. Pitying Pithias' imminent death, Aristippus exits. Carisophus later asks Aristippus to find out the reason for the king's displeasure with him. Aristippus supposes it is the result of Carisophus' malice. Aristippus refuses to speak for Carisophus to the king, arguing that to swear for Carisophus' honesty would mean to lose his own. In the ensuing controversy over betrayed trust and dishonest friendship, both Aristippus and Carisophus accuse each other of false dealing. Aristippus admits he only pretended to be Carisophus' friend, knowing him to be dishonest and selfish. Aristippus admits that, by not speaking for him to the king, he shows his first act of sincerity and friendship towards Carisophus. Aristippus exits leaving Carisophus confused.
"Ghost characters." Gronno announces that he must sharpen his ax in order to deal with Pithias' head at one blow, or the Boyes will stone him to death in the street.
Carisophus, a parasite at King Dionisius' court, accuses Aristippus of having turned his philosophy into a means of achieving his selfish ends. Despite their rivalry, Carisophus falsely proposes friendship to Aristippus. He tells Aristippus his plan to deprive the rich citizens of Syracuse of their money, and Carisophus roams the streets in search of gullible persons to plunder. Seeking strangers for easy prey, Carisophus eavesdrops on Damon and his servant Stephano. After Stephano's departure, Carisophus entices Damon to speak ill of the king. Damon shows respect towards the institution of kingship, but Carisophus accuses Damon of being a spy because he has traveled abroad. Carisophus summons Snap, the sheriff's officer, and Damon is arrested and taken before the king, who sentences him to death. After Damon's departure to Greece, Carisophus rummages in Damon's baggage. Stephano discovers Carisophus hidden in Damon's trunk and gives him a good beating. Carisophus learns that his aggressor's name is Onaphets, and goes to the surgeon to have his wounds dressed. Carisophus asks Aristippus, the philosopher, to use his influence to discover the reason behind the king's displeasure with him. In Carisophus' view, he had done nothing wrong, apart from having exposed a dangerous spy in Damon, and having crossed Eubulus in his defense of Pithias. Carisophus appeals to Aristippus to plead with the king in his favor. When Aristippus refuses, Carisophus accuses him of false friendship. During the ensuing altercation, each accuses the other of falsity, and Carisophus concludes that friendship exists only between honest men, while evil people use friendship dishonestly to further their selfish ends. Left alone, Carisophus feels betrayed and used. He sees his situation as God's punishment for his dishonesty. He decides to leave things as they are, and exits with the hope of better fortune in the future.
Crowsphus is the variant spelling of Carisophus. When Iacke and Wyll pump Grimme the collier for hearsay information about the Damon and Pithias story, Grimme's slurred, intoxicated speech turns Carisophus into Crowsphus.
Damon is a gentleman of Greece and Pithias' friend. After many years of travel, Damon, Pithias, and their servant Stephano come to Syracuse to see the Roman monuments. Stephano reports that the two friends were students of the Pythagorean philosophy. On reports of King Dionisius' perfunctory executions, Damon declares these are the common practice of tyrants, who think their rule is safer if based on fear and suspicion. Damon disregards Stephano's warning to be circumspect regarding the city and its people and announces that the purpose of their visit is to see the variety of all nations. He concludes that a wise man can live anywhere. Unaware that Carisophus was eavesdropping, Damon meditates on the city's pleasant climate, inferring that such a region should not harbor treason and cruelty. Carisophus intervenes and tries to trap Damon into deprecatory remarks concerning King Dionisius. Damon, however, states that it is a sin to raise the sword against a king, who is God's deputy on earth. Damon tells Carisophus he is a philosopher who seeks to increase his experience by observing the state of various countries. In Carisophus' perverted interpretation, this affirmation is taken to mean that Damon is a spy. Damon is arrested and taken before the king. Without judging the case properly, Dionisius sentences Damon to death. Before the king, Damon pleads for a deferral of his sentence in order to settle his affairs in Greece and is granted a two months' respite. Having offered to vouch for him, Pithias is held as a hostage. On the allotted deadline, Damon returns within the hour of his time and claims his place on the scaffold, redeeming his friend. In his turn, Pithias maintains that Damon's deadline is past, and that he must die instead of Damon. Impressed with Damon and Pithias' devotion to each other, King Dionisius announces that he is willing to give up his kingdom in Damon's favor for the sake of his friendship. Damon replies that true friendship relies on equality, not on the imbalance of power between king and subject. Damon offers his friendship to the king selflessly, and it is received as such. Both Damon and Pithias are honored as King Dionisius' friends.
DAUGHTERS of DIONISIUS
King Dionisius' unnamed daughters are "ghost characters." Aristippus reports that King Dionisius trusts no one around him, including his own daughters. Grimme reports the gossip that the king turned his daughters into fine barbers for fear of being killed by strangers. Grimme lewdly remarks that he would gladly be washed and trimmed by the king's daughters, in the hope of stealing a kiss.
A "ghost character." Diogenes was a Greek philosopher, founder of the Cynical School, who lived in a tub. Aristippus maliciously reports that Diogenes called him Regius Canis, the King's Dog, alluding to the courtier's servility to the king.
Dionisius is the king of Syracuse. Stephano reports that he reigns with a bloody hand and the entire city bears the signs of his tyranny. Dionisius condemned a man, Marcia, to execution on the mere report of his having dreamt of killing the king. On Carisophus' false report that Damon is a spy, Dionisius condemns the stranger to death in absentia. Despite Eubulus' rational arguments in Damon's favor, Dionisius is inflexible in his decision of having Damon executed. The king becomes obsessed with Damon. When Damon pleads for a deferral of his sentence in order to settle his affairs in Greece, Dionisius asks for a guarantee of his return. Pithias offers himself as a hostage, and Dionisius grants Damon two months' reprieve. Dionisius is impressed with the selflessness of Damon and Pithias' friendship, but he trusts no one, not even his daughters. According to Aristippus, the king forbade his barbers to shave him with a knife and razor, commanding them to use burning coals instead. Grimme the collier reports from hearsay that the king turned his daughters into fine barbers, fearing the conspiracy of strangers. On the day of Damon's deadline, Pithias is sentenced to die for his friend. Dionisius orders Eubulus to have the scaffold ready for the execution. In the last hour of his time, Damon arrives and the two friends argue over which of them should die for the other's sake. Seeing the devotion of Damon and Pithias for each other, Dionisius is deeply moved and pardons them both. King Dionisius repents his bloody actions and understands that power cannot be maintained by terror, but with the help of faithful friends. Dionisius offers his kingdom to Damon, claiming that he has come to appreciate friendship beyond any form of authority. When Damon and Pithias declare they would take the king's friendship without the power, Dionisius orders Eubulus to prepare suitable garments for his new friends and give them due honors.
Dionysius is a variant spelling for Dionisius, king of Syracuse.
A "ghost character." Probably envisioned as an audience member. At the end of the play, Eubulus prays the Lord that he should grant the noble Queen Elizabeth the best of friends. All characters join in a final praise of the Queen and her friends.
Eubulus is counselor to King Dionisius of Syracuse. When Carisophus falsely accuses Damon of spying, Eubulus observes that the accuser cannot prove his allegations. Eubulus pleads Damon's cause. He argues for the idea of the enlightened king, who rules through justice and mercy, as against the merciless tyrant, who is ultimately doomed to destruction. Eubulus warns the king against parasites and flatterers. He sympathizes with Pithias' case as well. Announcing that the day has come when Pithias must die in the place of Damon, Eubulus' supplications for Pithias reprieve have failed. Eubulus thinks Pithias' name will become immortal, engraved in the book of fame as a symbol of true friendship. While Eubulus laments Pithias' imminent death and admires his virtues, the Muses sing a funeral refrain. Eubulus thanks the Muses for their compassion with human grief. When Damon arrives at the last hour, and the two friends debate over which of them should be executed, Eubulus wonders at the power of true friendship. After King Dionisius' repentance, when he orders his new friends Damon and Pithias to be given due honors, Eubulus follows the king's instructions gladly. Eubulus beats Carisophus and calls him a plague of the court and a parasite. Eubulus states that the virtue of amity is the greatest gift of God to kings. In a closing speech, Eubulus prays the Lord that he should grant the noble Queen Elizabeth the best of friends. All characters join in a final praise of the Queen and her friends.
Only mentioned. Aristippus parallels the impossibility of his friendship to the stupid Carisophus with the impossibility of friendship between Jacke Fletcher and his Bowlt (the arrow-maker and his arrow).
Only mentioned. Trying to justify the fact that he is ruling with an iron hand, King Dionisius explains to Eubulus that Fortune, the Greek goddess of chance and prosperity, helps the tyrants gain absolute power. The counselor Eubulus reasons that this goddess is renowned for her inconstancy.
Only mentioned. Pithias invokes the Greek goddesses who punish crime in his sad song on Damon's imminent death. Unable to live without his good friend, Pithias implores the Furies to torment and bury him alive because he cannot stand the sorrow of hearing about his friend's death sentence.
Grimme is a collier who brings coals to King Dionisius' court. Unaware that Wyll and Iacke are eavesdropping, Grimme complains that the porters seem to be drunk because they have not yet opened the gates. Pretending to be the porters, Iacke and Wyll mock Grimme's homespun philosophy and education. When Iacke brings in wine, Grimme's tongue begins to loosen up, and his foggy logic takes him to the subject of better days at court, when there were not so many prisoners as there are now. He tells the story of one Damon, who was accused of being a spy and condemned to death. He justifies his choice of work by saying that colliers always get cash money in their pockets, while courtiers have only caps and bells. The collier comes home content at night to sit with his wife Alison, while the courtiers have no friends and are ruled by hypocrisy. Grimme inquires about the veracity of the reports regarding the fact that King Dionisius turned his daughters into his personal barbers, adding lewdly that he would give one sack of coals to be washed by their hands and be able to steal them a kiss. Grimme falls into the trap laid out for him by Iacke and Wyll, who intend to rob him, and agrees to be shaved by them. While Iacke and Wyll pretend to shave Grimme, they take the collier's money. Satisfied with his shave, Grimme promises to repay his would-be barbers at the tavern and leaves to sell his coal. After Iacke and Wyll leave to share the spoil, Grimme re-enters and bemoans the loss of his money. Snap the officer, on hearing Grimme's complaint, inquires whether he could recognize his assailants. Grimme describes them as "porters" who shaved him, but Snap concludes from his description that they are foxy lackeys. Grimme exits with Snap, going to the court in the hope of finding the two knaves.
Gronno is the hangman in Syracuse. King Dionisius orders him to execute Damon. When Damon is granted a two months' respite and Pithias becomes a hostage in his place, Gronno must guard Pithias carefully. Admitting to be impressed with their friendship, the hangman confesses that he has a wife whom he loves well but not enough to die for her. Taking Pithias to prison, Gronno declares that he fears the young man will repent his trust in his friend. When the unwilling Eubulus comes, at the king's command, to see that everything is prepared for Pithias' execution, Gronno shows him the scaffold and his sword and tells Eubulus to report to the king that all is ready. Gronno muses on the executioners' fate, hated and despised by all. The hangman lives in the worst part of the city and is never popular. Gronno argues that someone must do this unpleasant job in order to enforce the law, and feels he is hated without just cause. He intens to deal with Pithias' head mercifully, with one blow.
Only mentioned. The Prologue states that, should the audience be offended at the presentation of characters on stage, they should blame Horace, who is the Author's model.
Iacke is servant to Carisophus and deplores Aristippus' rapid rise to the king's favor. Iacke does not intervene to help his master when Stephano catches Carisophus rummaging in Damon's trunk. When Carisophus gets a good beating, Iacke justifies his non-interference as a form of help, since the aggression would have been deadly had he brought in a sword. Ironically, Iacke advises Carisophus to explain his head injuries to the doctor as "a knave's blessing." Before the palace gate, while waiting for their masters, Wyll threatens Iacke for dispraising Aristippus, and the two lackeys argue over which of them insulted their respective masters most. Eventually they make peace, on condition that none of them should speak ill of the other's master. The two servants eavesdrop and make sport of Grimme the collier's education. Iacke and Wyll pretend to be the porters at the court gate, and set about to rob the collier of his well-lined purse. They bring in wine and pump the increasingly drunken Grimme for hearsay information regarding the Damon and Pithias story. The two lackeys devise a trick to pinch the collier's purse. While pretending to wash and shave him, Iacke and Wyll sing to Grimme and steal his purse. Both rascals exit to share the spoil.
Only mentioned. Aristippus parallels the impossibility of his friendship to the stupid Carisophus with the impossibility of friendship between Jacke Fletcher and his Bowlt (the arrow-maker and his arrow).
A "ghost character." Grimme explains to Jacke and Wyll the advantages of a collier's life over a courtier's changing fortune. Grimme declares that, when coming home content every night to sit down with his wife, he feels as merry as ever Pope John was in his papal seat. When Jacke enlarges on the subject, saying that Pope John is said to be a jovial fellow, Grimme replies the pope can certainly be joyful with so much gold in his purse.
Only mentioned. Stephano invokes Jupiter, the father of gods, protector of law and order, and god of Revenge. Revolted at the injustice of Damon's sentence, Stephano asks Jupiter the Revenger to send down his consuming fire and destroy all tyrants.
A "mute character." Marcia is a citizen of Syracuse. Stephano sees him conducted to execution and reports that the allegation against him was based on the suspicion of having dreamt to kill the king.
Only mentioned. Mummers are the actors in a dumb show. Expressing his mistrust in the silent and conspiratorial-looking citizens of Syracuse, Stephano compares them to the mummers in a dumb show.
- The Prologue states that the Muse has frozen the Author's pen against writing frivolous comedies, inviting him to turn to serious matters. Seeking to please his audience and his Muse, the Author apologizes for not writing light plays and for turning to graver subjects.
- Later, the nine goddesses regarded as patrons of the arts and sciences sing a sad refrain for Pithias' imminent death. Eubulus hears their song and, at the end of the alternate musical exchange, the counselor is grateful to the goddesses for having descended from their heavenly bowers to take part in human misery.
Only mentioned. Neptune is the god of the sea in Roman mythology. On their arrival in Syracuse, Damon and Pithias thank Neptune for their safe passage.
Onaphets is a disguise name. "Onaphets" is the anagram of "Stephano" and is the false name Stephano gives to Carisophus. As "Onaphets," Stephano beats Carisophus for having searched through Damon's chest. Aristippus notices the anagram and is amused by the trick played on Carisophus.
Pithias is a gentleman of Greece and Damon's friend. Accompanied by their servant Stephano, they arrive at Syracuse to see the Roman monuments. Stephano reports that Pithias is a noble young man, Damon's friend in school, who embraces the Pythagorean teachings and leads a virtuous life. On hearing of the cruel practices of the tyrant King Dionisius, Pithias wishes they had never come to such a place. Emphasizing the privilege of their true friendship, Pithias notes that, at times, they are in such total accord that they apparently lose their identity. When Damon is arrested on suspicion of espionage, Pithias is devastated. Overwhelmed with grief and melancholy, Pithias sings a sad song, but soon he recovers and decides to help his friend. When Damon is granted a two months' deferral of the sentence, Pithias offers himself as a hostage. On the day that Damon is supposed to return, Pithias marches to the scaffold to fulfill his promise to die for his friend. Pithias considers it an honor to die for his friend's sake, and his name will remain for eternity as a symbol of true friendship. Damon returns before the hour, and Pithias regrets not being given the occasion to die for his friend, insisting that the term set for Damon's arrival has passed. When King Dionisius, impressed with their devotion to each other, offers Damon his kingdom in exchange for his friendship, Pithias and Damon accept the king's sincere offer of amity.
The Porters are "ghost characters." Grimme expects they are drunk when they fail to open the gates. When Iacke and Wyll intend to cheat and rob Grimme the collier of his gold, they pretend to be the porters at the court gate.
The Prologue complains that the Muse has frozen the author's pen because some playwrights offend instead of pleasing the audience. Asserting that the purpose of comedy is to amend by satire and show people's nature by their speech and behavior, the Prologue notes that each character type should speak and act according to his kind. While apologizing for any displeasure to the audience, the Prologue announces that the Author has been taught at the school of Horace to observe decorum and to suit the speech to the action. The Prologue introduces Damon and Pithias, and their exemplary friendship, stating that the story is not a dubious legend, but a true attestation of history. The setting is presented as being King Dionisius' court in Syracuse, and the Prologue describes the play as a "Tragicall Comedie," emphasizing that it respects the unities of time, place, and action. For fear of being disparaged by others, the Prologue invites the audience to take things as they are meant and to apply their judgment of cause and effect to the events in the play.
Only mentioned. The ancient Greek philosopher is the founder of the Pythagorean School at Crotona, a Greek colony in southern Italy. Stephano reports that both Damon and Pithias embraced the Pythagorean philosophy. Damon quotes Pythagoras, who said that the whole world was a stage and the philosophers were the spectators to the performance. Their only role was to learn about the diversity of nations and to discern between good and bad.
Snap is a porter and a sheriff's officer in Syracuse. When Carisophus summons him to arrest Damon under the false accusation of espionage, Snap takes the prisoner before King Dionisius. Following Grimme's cozening by Iacke and Wyll, Snap hears Grimme's description of his assailants. He concludes that the rascals appear to be lackeys, not porters as they pretended to be. Snap accompanies Grimme to court in the hope that the collier might recognize the two tricksters.
Stephano is Damon's slave and servant to both Damon and Pithias. He accompanies his masters on their voyage to Syracuse. Stephano complains of the city's conspiratorial atmosphere and intends to warn his masters about the potential dangers. The practical Stephano announces that he would never lose his identity in friendship and he will always remember to be Stephano. Without being aware of Carisophus eavesdropping on his conversation with Damon, Stephano restates his pragmatic view according to which friendship and nice words are not enough to feed a hungry belly. Later, Stephano reports to Pithias that he heard the king himself pronounce the sentence against Damon. When Damon is given a two months' respite to attend to his affairs at home, Stephano stays behind to serve Pithias in prison. After parting with his master, Stephano finds Carisophus hidden in Damon's trunk and gives him a good beating. In the ensuing conflict, Stephano pretends his name is Onaphets (an anagram of his name). After the general pardon and the declaration of amiable relationship between King Dionisius and the two friends, Damon grants Stephano his freedom. Stephano leaves praising the value of friendship and liberality.
Stippus is the variant spelling for Aristippus. When Iacke and Wyll pump Grimme the collier for hearsay information regarding the Damon and Pithias story, Grimme's slurred speech makes the name Aristippus sound like Stippus.
A "ghost character," Gronno's unnamed wife. When he expresses his opinion regarding Pithias' self-sacrifice, Gronno says he has a wife whom he loves well, but would never die for her.
Wyll is servant to Aristippus. Wyll disapproves of his master's having turned away from the satisfaction of philosophy to become a vain courtier. Dismissing Iacke's suspicions that Aristippus outshines Carisophus in the king's favors, Wyll considers that their masters are very good friends. At the court gate, Wyll and Iacke start an argument concerning their respective masters and Snap, the sheriff's officer, intervenes to part them. Shortly after, Wyll and Iacke eavesdrop on Grimme. The two lackeys mock the collier's education, but cannot grasp the full nuances of his sophistry and equivocation. During Grimme's moralizing speech, Wyll ironically plays upon the theme of the youth's folly and the old age's wit, and the two servants get Grimme drunk in order to steal his purse. The two lackeys pump Grimme for hearsay information regarding the Damon and Pithias story. When Grimme states his opinion that Damon had better never return again, Wyll retorts that nobody should speak for the two protagonists in this sad story. While pretending to shave and perfume Grimme, the rascals Wyll and Iacke snatch his gold and exit to share their spoil.