THE LOVE OF KING DAVID AND FAIR BETHSABE
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
Abiathar is a priest associated with the high priest Sadoc. With him he receives information about Absalon's plans from Cusay. Abiathar's son Jonathan helps to carry this intelligence to David.
A "ghost character." Hanon, the Ammonite king, mentions the deaths of Abinadab, Jonathan, and Melchisua, sons of Saul, as foreshadowing what he believes will be the defeat and death of David at Rabbah.
Abisai is Joab's brother and David's nephew. He fights for David at Rabbah.
A "ghost character." Abner's death (at the hands of Joab) is mentioned by Semei as an example of the duplicity of those associated with David.
Handsome son of David. Absalon kills his half-brother Amnon for raping his sister Thamar. When David pursues Absalon, Joab works a reconciliation between father and son, but Absalon's pride moves him to usurp David's throne. Foolishly, Absalon rejects Achitophel's advice to attack David at once, preferring instead the suggestion of Cusay (who actually is working for David) that he gather more soldiers before advancing. When David attacks unexpectedly, Absalon flees only to be entangled by his long, flowing locks in the branches of an oak. There, he is stabbed, first by Joab, then by five or six soldiers, and his corpse is buried under a heap of stones, symbolic of the stony-hearted son who sought his father's death.
A "ghost character." Former king of Gath, Achis is the father of Ithay.
Achitophel is Absalon's chief adviser. When Absalon follows the recommendation of Cusay before the battle with David, Achitophel withdraws with a harness to hang himself, cursing Israel for his disgrace.
Only mentioned. Essentially a Hebrew word similar to "Lord," Adonai is frequently the title used for God. The speaker of the Prologue calls upon the deity for inspiration in telling the story of David and Bethsabe.
A son of David. Adonia is present at the country celebration when Absalon kills Amnon for the rape of Thamar. He orders Jonadab to report the murder to David while he undertakes the burial of Amnon. It is he who later explains to David the reason for Absalon's action.
Ahimaas is the son of the high priest Sadoc. Along with Jonathan, the son of the priest Abiathar, he carries the military intelligence of Cusay to David. After the defeat of Absalon, Ahimaas seeks Joab's permission to bring the good news to David, but he is at first denied. His excited condition finally prevails upon Joab, who allows him to follow Cusay, to whom this task has been entrusted. He does manage to arrive before Cusay, but his report is only that David's forces have been victorious; he cannot answer David's question about the fate of Absalon. It will fall to Cusay, who arrives almost at once, to inform the king of his son's death at the hands of Joab and his soldiers.
Amasa is David's nephew and serves as Absalon's chief military leader. After Absalon's death, Joab offers pardon to all who will swear loyalty to David, and Amasa is the first to do so. He then encourages his men to follow suit, which they do, and Joab allows them to retain their swords. Absalon's defeated army then follows Amasa to present itself to David.
Only mentioned. King Ammon was a son of Lot and the founder of the Ammonite kingdom.
One of David's sons, Amnon becomes obsessed with his half-sister Thamar and rapes her. He is then killed by Thamar's brother Absalon (his own half-brother).
A "ghost character." The Second Concubine of David tells Absalon at his crowning that angels guard David's throne, and even if he were swifter than Azahell (the youngest son of David's sister Zeruia) who could run faster than deer, he will not be able to escape them.
Bethsabe (sometimes called Bersabe in the text) is the wife of Urias. When David sees her bathing, he determines to have her for himself and eventually orders Urias be placed in the forefront of the attack upon Rabbah where he is killed. David's affair with Bethsabe produces the unnamed Child who is sickly at birth and who soon dies. David and Bethsabe see in this an indication of God's punishment for their illicit relationship. David then declares that he will marry Bethsabe, a marriage that will produce another son, Salomon. Following the defeat of Absalon but before his death is known, Bethsabe finds David despondent about his estrangement from Absalon. She and Nathan force David to admit that God has chosen Salomon as the next king of Israel, but he asserts that Absalon is still his favorite child. With Cusay's report of Absalon's death, David falls into a deep grief, and Bethsabe shares his pain. Eventually, Nathan forces both of them to recognize that their response to the news is immoderate.
CHILD of DAVID and BETHSABE
The unnamed Child is the product of David's illicit relationship with Bethsabe, the wife of Urias. Sick from the beginning, the Child soon dies, an event that David interprets as God's punishment for having arranged the death of Urias.
A non-speaking character, Chileab is another of David's sons. He appears only in the scene in which David learns of Absalon's death.
The Chorus first appears to inform the audience of David's having sent Urias to his death, and he announces the birth of the Child of David and Bethsabe. Later, the Chorus returns to comment upon the justice to be seen in the death of Absalon and to alert the audience to the play's approaching end. Because the first speech of the Chorus is in fact labeled Second Chorus and his second passage is called Third Chorus, this speaker and the character termed Prologus who delivers the opening address to the audience may be one and the same.
CONCUBINES of DAVID
Forced to be present when Absalon has himself crowned king, the First Concubine calls Absalon a graceless man, and the Second Concubine predicts that God's angels will punish him for attempting to usurp David's throne.
Cusay is one of David's chief retainers. The king uses him to arrange the affair with Bethsabe and to carry orders to Joab at Rabbah that Urias should be sent to Jerusalem. (Bethsabe is already pregnant, and David's hope is to have Urias sleep with his wife, thus removing suspicion about the child's parentage.) Attending David when Absalon begins his attempted usurpation, Cusay is sent by the king to offer his services as adviser to Absalon, thus undercutting the advice the young man is receiving from Achitophel. This device is successful, and Cusay suggests the delay in attacking David that will, in fact, provide the king with an opportunity to take the offensive. When the forces of Absalon are scattered and the young man has been killed, Joab sends Cusay to David with the report of his son's death.
David is the king of Israel. As the play opens, his forces are engaged with those of the Ammonite king Hanon at Rabbah. In Jerusalem, David sees Bethsabe bathing, is overcome with passion for her, and begins an affair. When she becomes pregnant, David orders her husband, the warrior Urias, home from Rabbah, hoping that a conjugal encounter will remove suspicion about the child's parentage. When Urias refuses to visit his wife, David secretly orders Joab to place him in the thickest part of the battle so that he might be killed, thus opening a way for the king to marry Bethsabe. David joins his army at Rabbah and presides over the taking of the place, but is soon forced to confront another problem, for Absalon, David's favorite son, has killed Amnon, a half-brother, to avenge the rape of his sister Thamar. Peace is restored when Joab works a reconciliation of father and son, but Absalon soon decides to make an attempt on his father's throne. Before word of Absalon's death arrives, David is prompted by Nathan and Bethsabe to recognize Salomon, his son by Bethsabe, as the successor chosen by God, and he does so while asserting that his chief affection is still for the wayward Absalon. When Cusay reports the young man's death, David is nearly inconsolable. Stirred by Nathan, he recognizes that he has obligations to his people, and he recommits himself to the task of ruling Israel.
After Joab stabs the hanging Absalon, several soldiers enter, and the First Soldier suggests stabbing the bleeding man to death (which they do) and burying the corpse in the wood under a pile of stones. Joab then reenters and ratifies this decision.
The Ammonite king Hanon, aided by Machaas, the king of Gath, struggles with David's forces at Rabbah and is defeated.
A "ghost character." David threatens Hanon at Rabbah by reminding him that God had earlier made David successful over Isboseth by the pool of Gibeon, and Semei later refers to this death as an indication of David's evil.
Son of Achis of Gath, Ithay joins David in the battle against Hanon at Rabbah. David urges him to withdraw from a fight that is not his, but Ithay insists on staying. It is he who informs David that Achitophel has joined Absalon as chief adviser.
Only mentioned. When Semei curses David, Joab suggests killing him. David responds by asking why the "sons of Zeruia" (i.e. Joab and Abisai) should interfere with "the son of Jemini," who may well be inspired by God, when David's own son Absalon is seeking his father's life with the same rage. Apparently Jemini is to be taken as Semei's mother because David identifies Joab by reference to his maternal parent (David's sister Zeruia) and the account of this episode in 2 Samuel 16 refers to Semei's father as Gera.
Jethray is Amnon's page.
Nephew to David and brother of Abisai, Joab serves as the king's chief military commander. He wages the siege of Rabbah that leads to the defeat of Hanon, and when Absalon becomes estranged from David because of the murder of Amnon, Joab employs the Widow of Thecoa to work a reconciliation between father and son. In the later battle between David and Absalon, Joab shares command with Abisai and Ithay, and he is present when David urges them to spare Absalon's life if he is taken. In the event, however, Joab finds Absalon hanging by his long hair from an oak, and enraged at the young man's perfidy, stabs him several times. When the traitor is finally dealt the death blow by some of David's soldiers, Joab approves of their intent to take down the corpse and bury it under a heap of stones in the dark thicket of Ephraim. In the final scene of the play, he threatens to leave David's service if the king (who is grieving excessively for Absalon), fails to resume his proper function as ruler of Israel.
Jonadab is one of David's nephews and a friend of Amnon. He encourages Amnon to satisfy his passion for Thamar, even if it means rape, and is present later at the country festival when Absalon murders Amnon for that crime against his sister. It is Jonadab who brings the report of Amnon's death to David at Rabbah.
There are two characters named Jonathan in the play.
- Jonathan is the son of the priest Abiathar. With Ahimaas, he brings to David the intelligence gathered by Cusay and his recommendations for the attack on Absalon.
A "ghost character." Hanon, the Ammonite king, points to the death of Saul's sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchisua, as indicative of what will befall David in the assault upon Rabbah.
Machaas, king of Gath, assists the Ammonite king Hanon at Rabbah against David's army. Presumably, he dies in the conflict.
A "ghost character." King Hanon of the Ammonites likens the deaths of Saul's sons Melchisua, Jonathan, and Abinadab to the fate he thinks is in store for David at Rabbah.
Only mentioned. This classical agent of artistic inspiration is called upon in the Prologue, along with the Hebrew deity, for aid in relating the story of David and Bethsabe.
A "ghost character." Nahas is the father of Hanon. Years before the action of the play, Nahas had sheltered David when the latter was in exile.
Nathan is a prophet. He castigates David for arranging the death of Urias and reveals that the sickness and death of the Child are marks of God's displeasure with the king. In the final scene of the play, the prophet, abetted by Bethsabe, elicits from David the promise that Salomon will rule in Israel after him, and when David learns of Absalon's death, it is Nathan who observes that the sorrow demonstrated by both David and Bethsabe is inordinate.
The speaker of the prologue, titled Prologus, calls upon both the Hebrew God and the muses of the classical tradition for inspiration in presenting the story of David and Bethsabe. This character may be the same as the Chorus, thus accounting for the first speech of the Chorus bearing the label Second Chorus.
Sadoc is a high priest and the father of Ahimaas. When David responds with tears to the news of Absalon's rebellion, Sadoc insists that he remember God's promises to him. When David regains his composure, he sends Sadoc with the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. There he, the priest Abiathar, and their sons Ahimaas and Jonathan, seek information of use to David. After Cusay is accepted into Absalon's service and recommends that the usurper gather more men before attacking David (thus giving the king the opportunity for a sudden attack upon his son), Sadoc sends Ahimaas and Jonathan to David with this information.
Salomon is the son born to David and Bethsabe after their marriage. Although he is not the oldest of David's surviving sons, Salomon is chosen as his successor because Nathan says it is God's command that Salomon rule after his father. Prompted by both Nathan and Bethsabe in the final scene, David publicly states his decision to bestow the throne on Salomon and gives his son instructions in right rule, including a special prayer to be used to solicit God's aid.
Semei, called by David the son of Jemini, confronts David shortly before the battle with Absalon. Cursing David and repeatedly throwing dirt and stones at him, Semei charges him with various evil acts (including murder and adultery) and maintains that Absalon's rebellion is God's way of punishing David. When Joab and Abisai wonder why David accepts such abuse, the king responds that Semei may well be inspired by God to remind David of his shortcomings.
This unnamed servant learns that Cusay brings word of the death of the Child Bethsabe has had. Worrying about David's response to this sad news, he urges Cusay to conceal it. David observes the two speaking and forces the report from Cusay.
The unnamed Soldier arrives with Joab at the place where Absalon is hanging in the oak. Joab asks why he has not killed the traitor, to which the Soldier replies that everyone knows of David's order that his erring son not be harmed. To this, the Soldier adds that had he done what Joab is suggesting, the nephew of David would then have surely charged him as a murderer to avoid falling out of favor with the king.
Thamar is David's daughter and is sister to Absalon. When her half-brother Amnon rapes her, Absalon takes revenge by having him killed during a country festival.
Urias, the husband of Bethsabe, is a Hethite (Hittite) who has converted to Judaism and who serves as an officer in David's army. In order to advance his affair with Bethsabe, David has Urias ordered into the thickest part of the fighting at the city of Rabbah where he is killed.
WIDOW from THECOA
The widow comes to David, telling him that she had two sons, one of whom has slain the other. She claims her relatives want the life of the killer, and she begs David for help so that she will not be deprived of both her children. When he promises that the murderer will be protected, she asks why it is then that he is pursuing Absalon for his having killed his half-brother Amnon. David then asks if Joab has put her up to this, and she admits that to be the case. Joab himself enters and confesses to devising this exchange so that David might see his way to reconcile with Absalon.
A "ghost character." Zeruia is David's sister and the mother of Joab and Abisai.