Full title: POMPEY THE GREAT, HIS FAIRE CORNELIA'S TRAGEDY. Originally Robert Garnier's French tragedy CornÚlie (1574), translated by Thomas Kyd and published in 1594. Although Garnier's play appears to have been acted, Kyd's translation was likely never performed; rather, as a closet drama, it was meant to be delivered in recitation. Narrative, for the most part, replaces stage action. Kyd dedicates the play to the Countess of Sussex. It is included in this listing because of the slight possibility that, because Garnier's play had come from the popular stage, Kyd's might have been performed, though this is far from certain.
1594 (publication date)
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
A Roman soldier, allied with Caesar. Along with Septimius, he assassinates Pompey. Because he has broken the Code of War, Caesar orders him beheaded for the crime along with a fellow assassin, Photis.
A "ghost character." Cassius lists him as only one of the valued Romans who have died because of Caesar.
A Roman Senator, Cassius is eager to rid Rome of Julius Caesar because he believes Caesar to be overly ambitious and a threat to the Republic. Cassius is Caesar's chief opponent. He plots against Caesar but his determination to kill Caesar is tempered by Decimus Brutus who advises patience. Unlike Cicero, Cassius does not believe in the gods. As far as he's concerned, there is only "Fortune" and men's desires. Caesar is proof of that. If there were gods, they would have stopped a man who acts as though he were a god. Cassius declares that Caesar's ambition is boundless and will destroy the Republic. Because of his thirst for power, countless men lay dead and still Caesar is not satisfied. He will not rule a free Rome, but enslave all the people to his own ends. Cassius calls Caesar a Dictator.
A "ghost character." Brutus tells Cassius that Cato tore out Scipio's entrails. Cato, too, is slain.
CHORUS of CAESAR'S FRIENDS
When Mark Anthony warns Caesar that there is a conspiracy against his life, Caesar dismisses the threat by saying that his fate is in the hands of the gods. The Chorus of Friends praises, in rhymed couplets, the deeds of Caesar and his greatness as well as the benefits he has brought to Rome. The Chorus of Friends sadly condemns those who would allow envy and spite to destroy what is good for all of Rome.
The Chorus carries the action of the play from scene to scene. In the beginning of the play, the Chorus objects to Cicero's argument that the fall of Rome is due to internal strife and corruption that led to the present civil war. The gods are punishing Rome, the Chorus sings, for the crimes and wrongdoings of her ancestors. In addition, if Rome does not "seek to calm" Jupiter, even worse things will happen to Rome; the people will be punished with plague, famine, and more bloody and senseless wars. Even more fine Roman's will die. Without peace, the crops will not be tended, there will be no harvest, no livestock, no fishing, nothing to sustain the nation. Without peace, Rome will ultimately fall. When Cornelia believes that she has seen the Ghost of her husband, Pompey, the Chorus tells her that she has been tricked and is mistaken; a false demon has appeared to her disguised as her dead husband, Pompey. In Act IV.i, the Chorus replies to the argument between Cassius and Brutus concerning the possibility of assassinating Caesar, by praising all those who would free people from tyrants. When the Messenger reports the details of Scipio's death to Cornelia, the Chorus provides a voice of wisdom to Cornelia, who might otherwise have decided to commit suicide. It is the Chorus who convinces her that her father died bravely, just as she must bravely live.
A great Roman orator and a seer of sorts, who predicts the fall of Rome. He recognizes that the factions within the government and the resultant civil war, itself caused by the tyranny and ambitions of Caesar, will lead to the ultimate destruction of Rome and the overthrow of Caesar. He appeals to the god, Jupiter as the sole protector of Rome, to spare those Romans who have remained faithful to Rome's ideals and to the gods. Some Romans are honorable in spite of the prevailing atmosphere in the Capitol. Cicero mourns the deaths of Crassus and the other Roman soldiers who have been killed in Pharsalia, leaving Rome divided and weakened. He berates the Roman citizens for allowing greedy and ambitious men to destroy what was once a powerful and unified state. Rome could rule the entire world with the gods' blessings, but because of personal ambitions and envy, the gods are turning against this once blessed city. Rome alone can destroy Rome, and Cicero predicts that Rome will fall. After the brutal assassination of her second husband, Pompey, Cornelia considers suicide as preferable to enduring a cursed and miserable existence. Cicero convinces her that death is appointed by the gods and is not determined by the individual. Suicide would be dishonorable in her case, even though later on in the play, Cornelia's father, Scipio, kills himself rather than allow his enemies to capture him. Only a warrior can commit suicide and retain his honor.
A young Roman woman, daughter of Metellus Scipio, she is married first to Crassus, but after his death in the war against the Parthians, she marries Pompey the Great, who is murdered by Achillus and Septimus in front of Cornelia and his young son, Sextus. The action in the play is seen only through the reactions of Cornelia, as she is widowed twice and loses all she loves, including her father, Scipio, to the ravages of war and the tyranny of ambitious and unscrupulous leaders. She believes that she bears a curse, inflicted on her at birth that has determined that anyone she loves will die. She considers suicide, but Cicero stops her, telling her that even though Pompey died, he died honorably and bravely for his country, and no man could want a better death. To kill herself would be cowardly and unworthy of Pompey's memory; the gods are the only arbiters of death. Cornelia blames herself for Pompey's death because even though she was a widow, she broke her marriage vows by falling in love with, and marrying, Pompey. For that both she and Pompey are punished: he with death, and she with a life of grief. Cornelia believes that she sees the ghost of Pompey near her bed one night. He is dressed in his tattered uniform, covered with blood and sweat. He asks her how she can sleep and then tells her to send his son, Sextus to a foreign land where he may be safe. She tries to embrace Pompey, but he disappears and she awakes, feeling bereft. She desires death so that she can join him in Elysium. The Chorus warns her that what appears to be Pompey's Ghost is, in reality, a false demon. Pompey's servant, Phillip, later brings Pompey's ashes to Cornelia who curses Pompey's murderers, claiming that they have broken the code of War by killing a man who had surrendered. She cries for vengeance, but Phillip tells her that vengeance belongs to the gods. In any case, Phillip tells her that Caesar has executed Pompey's murderers. This is little comfort to Cornelia. She tells Phillip that Caesar is a tyrant and that he cannot be trusted. She will never stop grieving unless Caesar himself dies. When later on she hears of yet another victory by Caesar's legions and her father's subsequent suicide, she laments but proclaims that instead of killing herself, she must bear her sorrow so that she can bury the dead and mourn them. Cornelia is, as Kyd calls her, a "remembrancer" (III.i.13).
A Roman commander who wants to support Caesar, but is persuaded by Cassius that Caesar may be getting too powerful. Although Cassius is anxious to destroy Caesar, Brutus advises restraint. Brutus declares that he loves Caesar and that he took up arms and followed Caesar into battle willingly. He thinks Caesar is a good leader, but may be overly ambitious, as Cassius claims. Still, Brutus asks Cassius to wait and see what Caesar does once the wars are ended. Perhaps the factions and the dissent in the government can be resolved. But Cassius is convinced that Caesar wants to become an absolute monarch; Brutus wants to believe that Caesar will hand power back to the Senate and to the people.
A "ghost character." Another brave Roman referred to by Cassius who was killed because of Caesar's ambitious wars.
GHOST of POMPEY
A "ghost character." The Ghost of Pompey appears to Cornelia one night as if in a dream, but she is convinced that it is really her husband's spirit. He asks her to take Sextus away from Rome and then, when she tries to embrace him, he disappears. The Chorus warns Cornelia that the apparition was not Pompey's spirit, but rather, a false demon. The dead are locked in "fiery gates," the Chorus tells her, and are not able to walk the earth.
Only mentioned. Cornelia mentions him as another great general who was killed by a Roman sword.
Only mentioned. Calling her "Queene and Goddesse," Cornelia asks Heccat to help her die. Heccat is an Egyptian figure of magic with a heart of wax.
King of Numidia. Juba is befriended by Cornelia's father, Scipio who, with his troops, vainly attempts to defend Numidia against an invasion by Caesar's troops. Juba fights Petreus and they kill each other in the duel.
Undeclared, but clearly recognized as the Emperor, Julius Caesar clearly loves Rome, and is proud of what he has accomplished in the name of Rome. He has conquered Rome's enemies and is building a vast colonial empire. He knows that the people of Rome love him and he can easily be crowned Emperor, but Mark Anthony, who rides by his side, warns Caesar that because Caesar is so powerful, so successful in war, and so loved by the people, there are Senators who will not only oppose him on his return, but will want him dead; a few may act on their desires. Caesar objects that what he has done has only enriched the state and he decides to leave his fate in the hands of the gods. He tells Mark Anthony that an unexpected and unlooked for death, might be the best way to die. After Pompey's murder, Julius Caesar captures Photis and Achillas and beheads them for the crime of murder. Caesar calls Pompey "honorable," but Cornelia does not believe he is sincere. She is one of the characters who longs for Caesar's death.
The father of the gods, Jupiter is frequently called upon by Cicero who calls him the "Protector" of Rome and to whom the Romans sacrifice many oxen every year. It is Jupiter's displeasure with the hubris of the Romans that will lead to the destruction of Rome.
Only mentioned. The Chorus compares Rome's fall to the fate of Lucrece, "By shameless rape to be defiled."
A Roman commander; loyal to Caesar, Mark Anthony stands by his commander and warns him that there are men in the Senate who see him as a threat to Rome, who envy his military brilliance and his success with the people of Rome. He begs Caesar to set a guard and keep a vigilant watch about his person. Mark Anthony is convinced that the threats to Caesar are real and vicious and that the conspirators will eventually kill Caesar if Caesar is not more careful. Caesar leaves his life in the hands of the gods.
Only mentioned. Cornelia states that her fate is worse than that of Megera. In Roman mythology, Megera is married to Hercules but Juno causes him to murder Megera and their three children in a fit of madness.
Only mentioned. Cornelia compares Pompey to Mars, "whose haughty renowne / And noble deeds were greater than his fortunes."
Scipio's servant who has witnessed the deaths of many mighty men in battle, while he himself has managed to stay alive. The Messenger reports the battle between Caesar's army and Scipio's troops in a long, detailed and somewhat gruesome description. He tells Cornelia that Caesar led Scipio's army into a trap where Caesar's troops waited. The fighting was fierce and brutal but Scipio and his army fought valiantly, in spite of overwhelming odds. The dead and wounded lay everywhere, "No place was free from sorrow." Scipio thinks that he can get to his ships and sail to Spain to raise another army, but a storm at sea blows him back to Africa, where Caesar's Naval forces spot him and attack. After another bloody battle against overwhelming forces, Scipio, seeing that the day is lost, draws his sword, vowing that he will not die a slave, he stabs himself, and throws himself into the sea. The Messenger is helpless to stop him. On hearing this tale, Cornelia is driven to despair; she begs the gods to let her die. But in her lamentations, she realizes that Pompey's house and hard-won treasures will be taken away and her father will die unremembered and unlamented. She owes it to her husbands and her father to tell their story, to bury them, and to mourn them. One day she will die and join them, but for now, she will perform her duties. It is only through her that these dead men will be remembered.
Only mentioned. God of the sea; prayed to by Caesar as well as Cornelia.
A "ghost character." A Middle Eastern King of little importance, and yet Cassius judges him to be more worthy than Caesar.
Only mentioned; Petreus is a Roman soldier who fights Juba in the battle between Caesar's legions and Scipio's army. They are evenly matched and kill one another.
Pompey's faithful servant, he flees with Pompey into Egypt and witnesses Pompey's murder. He later retrieves Pompey's body, takes it to the riverbank, burns it and brings the ashes of Pompey back to Rome, delivering them to Cornelia with a poignant speech.
A Roman soldier who is involved in the murder of Pompey. Caesar orders him beheaded for his crimes against the state.
POMPEY the GREAT
A Roman General and would-be leader of Rome, Pompey raises an army against Julius Caesar, thus beginning the civil war. Pompey is Cornelia's second husband and the father of Sextus. Pompey's armies are defeated by Caesar's on the plains of Pharsalus; after his defeat, he returns to Cornelia intending to take her to Egypt where he will raise a new army. They are overtaken by the enemy and Pompey is brutally beaten and assassinated in front of Cornelia and his young son, Sextus by the Roman soldiers, Achillus and Septimius.
PUBLIUS LICINUS CROSSUS
Cornelia's first husband; he allies himself with Pompey in the rebellion against Caesar. He is killed in battle by Caesar's troops, along with his father, on the plains of Pharsalus.
Only mentioned. Cicero refers to him as the son of Mars and the founder of Rome.
Cornelia's father; Scipio becomes the rebel Commander after Pompey's assassination. Scipio reassembles the army and occupies Northern Africa where he allies himself with Juba, the Numidian King. Scipio's legions fight Caesar's troops at Numidia, but they are roundly defeated. Scipio tries to follow Pompey's legions to Spain, but his ships are stopped by a storm at sea and he is driven back to Africa. There he stabs himself and throws himself into the sea rather than submit to surrender and capture.
A Roman soldier, faithful to Caesar, who, along with Achillas, assassinates Pompey. Photis is allied with Achillas and Septimius.
A "ghost character." A Roman soldier, Cassius asks him why he weeps, and why he allows Caesar to use him.
Pompey's young son, he witnesses his father's assassination. When Pompey's Ghost appears to Cornelia, he tells her to take Sextus to a far-away land, away from the tyranny of Rome.