THE IMPOSSIBLE DOWRY
Licensed 26 November 1630
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
Rival to his best friend, Damon, in Laurinda's love. Unlike Damon, he is innocent of spurning any other woman in his single-minded pursuit of Laurinda. Their courtship tactics are identical, both pleading together for her favor and thwarted by her riddling replies. They agree jointly to press her to a decision; while waiting Alexis prefers to hunt. He stubbornly rejects her advice to seek another love and, like Damon, grows more impatient for her to decide between them. They resolve to fight each other with spears to decide between themselves who better deserves her, but they consent to her offer to allow an arbitress to choose between them the next day at the temple. Both swear to abide by this final decision, Alexis is content to do so when the arbitress is revealed as Amaryllis. Damon accuses him of conspiracy to rig the result. He despairs when Amaryllis's letter choosing Damon is read out, but is left to claim Laurinda when Damon is sentenced to death. The couple is now impetuous for marriage but take Medorus's advice to wait until the curse on marriage is lifted. Damon's pardon and change of heart in loving Amaryllis removes all remaining bars to their future happiness.
A distressed shepherdess. She is daughter to Claius and sister to Amyntas, unrequited in her love for Damon and patiently enduring all his hostility to her. Her aunt Thestylis intercedes for her with Laurinda, wooed equally by Damon and Alexis. Laurinda promises to help her win Damon if she can. Meanwhile Amaryllis comforts her mad brother and his betrothed, Urania. She is further distressed when Damon rejects her gift of an (embroidered) emblem of Echo and Narcissus and accompanies Urania to the temple, for consolation. Amaryllis considers suicide. Laurinda persuades her to spend the night with her, preparing a plan. She is therefore absent when their father, incognito, cures Amyntas. According to Laurinda's plan, she appears veiled and wearing Damon's garland, to stand as arbitress between the rival suitors. Damon violently breaks his oath to stand by her decision, attacks and wounds her on sacred soil and leaves her to die. She succeeds in writing her decision in her own blood, delivering the letter via Dorylas. To save Damon's life, she maintains that she has killed herself for unrequited love. Her meditation on death is interrupted by Claius, whose first attempt to cure her fails because he does not know the identity of her assailant. He knows she is innocent of attempted suicide, or he could have cured her, and facing great danger reveals his identity to compel her on a father's authority to tell the truth. Damon's conscience-stricken return reveals him to be the assailant. She blames herself for the death sentences passed on both her true love and her father. Grieving, she takes Amyntas to prison to be reunited with Claius. Together, the siblings interrupt the human sacrifices. Amyntas identifies his sister's blood, already spilled in the attack, as having already satisfied the terms of the oracle. Her selfless love has won Damon's heart and they are free to marry.
A mad shepherd. He is son to Claius and brother to Amaryllis, beloved by Urania. His madness is the result of his failure to decipher the riddling oracle, which dictates the dowry he must provide to win Urania. It is believed that their impossible love is the goddess's punishment to Urania's father for his vengeful prayers, which have already killed Amyntas's mother and doomed his exiled father to death should he ever return to Sicily. Amyntas has been loyally nursed in his long ravings by his true love and his devoted sister. His madness takes the form of rambling hallucinations: he mistakes Mopsus for Chaeron the ferryman of Hades, Urania for Proserpine, and his sister for the Fury, Tysiphone. He still rants on the frustrations of his love and the insoluble oracle and calls on his imaginary dogs. He mistakes Mopsus for a dog, a charade the foolish Mopsus keeps up for several comic scenes, even out of the invalid's presence. Claius returns incognito and cures Amyntas. It is agreed that, to prevent a relapse into insanity, Urania will swear perpetual virginity to the goddess and place beyond all hope marriage to Amyntas, and therefore, any need to solve the oracle, but he is not privy to the decision. He is taken by Amaryllis to visit their doomed father in prison. Together the siblings interrupt the joint executions of Claius and Damon because Amyntas has now had time and grace to interpret the goddess's riddles correctly. He expounds the first oracle at great length, proving that his father's blood has already been spilt, in his sister's injury; also that the 'fire' of the riddle is the love between the children of the fathers at enmity. He thus saves his father's life and that of Damon, who is now free to marry Amaryllis. Amyntas still grieves for himself that the impossible dowry remains unsolved and his love for Urania remains unrequited, but joins in the public rejoicing for his lifting of the island's curse. Amyntas is shocked to discover Urania's intention to vow chastity at the altar. Her prayers and his are echoed by divine intervention, and the Echo gives Amyntas the solution to the remaining oracle. What he cannot and may not have, but must give to Urania for her dowry, is a husbandhimself. The goddess blesses his solution, and he may marry and join in the general happiness.
Iocastus's man, a blunt Clown. Wiser than his master, he is skeptical of Dorylas's appearance as Oberon with his Bevy of Fairies. He is punished by a mass pinching, but later is able to laugh at his master's exposed folly, and offer Iocastus his fool's coat.
Only mentioned. The goddess ruling Sicily through the enigmatic oracles given by her mouthpiece, the Ompha. Ceres has twice intervened at the demands of her high priest Pilumnus, for vengeance. When the son of Pilumnus, Philaebus, looses his bride, Lalage, to Claius, she duly curses Lalage, who dies in childbed. Philaebus then dies of grief for her and she is invoked for further revenge, which takes the shape of a general curse on marriage across the island, until the blood of Claius is sacrificed to her. Her oracle further dictates the Impossible Dowry by which Amyntas should win Urania. He must give her something that he cannot and may not have himself. The enigma has driven Amyntas into madness with frustration. When Urania comes to vow virginity to the goddess, the Echo of Ceres's Ompha provides the riddling answers which allow Amyntas to solve the Dowry at last, and also to interpret the goddess's wishes, proving that neither Damon nor Claius need die to satisfy her stated demands.
A wild Sylvan. He is father to the twins, Amyntas and Amaryllis. Long missing from Sicily, where he is under sentence of death for long ago stealing as his own wife Lalage, the intended bride of Philaebus, son of the vengeful high priest, Pilumnus. Only Claius's blood, the long-standing Oracle says, will release the people of Sicily from the curse of Ceres, which prevents everyone from enjoying happy courtship and marriage. During his sixteen-years exile, he has studied medicine. He returns in disguise after hearing of his son's madness, prepared to risk capture and death to try to cure Amyntas. He is not recognized by his sister Thestylis, whose explanation of Amyntas's condition informs him in detail of the circumstances of his son's romance, and curse. He remains incognito and cures Amyntas, requesting only that Urania vow herself to chastity to prevent a relapse by putting their marriage beyond all hope. Still fearing recognition and arrest, he attempts to cure the wounded Amaryllis. He reveals his identity to her, to make her tell the truth about her assailant. He is captured by the priests and condemned to death, requesting only to see his children before he is sacrificed to Ceres. Amyntas wisely interprets the oracle concerning the spilling of his father's blood in time to save his life. Claius is reconciled with his old enemy, Pilumnus, as they celebrate their children's betrothals to each other.
An under Priest, serving the goddess Ceres and the high priest, Pilumnus. He has returned from three years' travels in unsuccessful pursuit of the fugitive Claius. He is devoted to his calling, pitying his master and the entire cursed island. He is not so solemn, however, that he can resist teasing the foolish Mopsus, who fears the infection of wisdom that the traveler may have brought home from abroad. With Pilumnus, he is appalled at the profanity of Amaryllis's attack, which has caused blood to be spilled on sacred soil. He witnesses the events whereby Claius reveals his identity, cures his daughter and is condemned to death. It is to Corymbus that Damon surrenders himself on admitting his assault on Amaryllis. He may be the unnamed 'Priest with Taper,' preparing for the sacrifices which are interrupted by Amyntas's successful exposition of the oracles.
Son of Pilumnus the High Priest and brother to Urania. The death of his brother Philaebus caused his father to invoke revenge, but provoked the goddess's general curse on marriage in the island. He is adored by Amaryllis, but loves Laurinda. He is rival to his best friend Alexis in Laurinda's love. Their courtship tactics are identical, both plead together for her favor but are thwarted by her riddling replies. They agree jointly to press her to a decision; in the meantime Damon resorts to the temple to avoid Amaryllis. He stubbornly rejects Laurinda's advice to accept Amaryllis and, like Alexis, grows more impatient for her to decide between them. The rivals resolve to fight each other with spears to decide the matter, but consent to her offer to allow an arbitress to choose between them the next day at the temple. Both swear to abide by this final decision. His hatred for Amaryllis turns to violence when she is revealed as the arbitress. Despite his oath, he rejects the authority of Amaryllis's decision and assaults her, profanely spilling her blood on sacred soil and incurring the death penalty if he is caught. He flees, leaving Amaryllis wounded, but has a change of heart and returns. He learns that, using her own blood as ink, Amaryllis has renounced him for Laurinda's sake. He falls passionately in love with Amaryllis for this act of selflessness, but having confessed to the assault on her is condemned to death for his sacrilege. Amyntas saves him by expounding the Oracle demanding the blood of Claius. Amaryllis's blood is her father's and has been legitimately shed by Damon (incidentally, and fortunately, a priest like his father, and permitted to perform sacrifice on sacred soil). Damon's death is averted and he is able to plan to marry Urania and live happily ever after.
A knavish boy. Too young for romantic involvements, but eager to grow, his mischievous interventions and witty comments provide much of the play's broader comedy, pointing up the absurdities and obsessions of adult behavior. He acts as messenger to Laurinda, bringing her news of her impatient suitors. Mopsus the foolish augur and his brother Iocastus, hopelessly infatuated by fairyland, are the chief butts of his mischief. They are easy targets for his schoolboy humor. He finds the temptation of scrumping the apples from Iocastus's orchard irresistible, and decides to pass himself off as Oberon if challenged by their fairy-obsessed owner. He brings a 'Bevy of Fairies' to the orchard (local boys disguised as elves), who sing a Latin catch. Their song transports Iocastus into a fairy ecstasy, intensified when 'Oberon' actually deigns to speak to him. He leads them in pinching the unbeliever, Bromius, and rewards Iocastus by dubbing him a fairy knight. He hangs a sheep's bell round Iocastus's neck as a sign of Oberon's favor. He later tricks Thestylis into taking Mopsus as her husband after a long and hopeless courtship by secretly using Mopsus's augur's pipe to convince her of auspicious birdcalls directing her to accept his proposal. Meanwhile it is Dorylas who finds the stricken Amaryllis and delivers her all-important letter to Laurinda. He accompanies a chorus of swains to the intended execution of Claius. He mocks Iocastus further, with the ulterior motive of helping the now-betrothed Mopsus. Iocastus has been moved to lead a Morris dance dressed as Maid Marrion. As Oberon, Dorylas affects to desire him and offers a potion to change his sex so they can marry, providing Iocastus divide his estate between Oberon and Mopsus for their marriage portions. This agreed, Dorylas reveals his identity and consents to give back a portion of his wealth to Iocastus, who vows to be wiser in future.
The voice of the echo of Ceres's oracle, the Ompha. The Echo's answers to the questions of Urania and Amyntas enable the latter to decipher the riddling oracles, both of the Impossible Dowry and his father's curse, allowing a happy ending to result for all protagonists concerned.
A bevy of Fairies who accompany Dorylas to Iocastus's orchard that he raids for apples disguised as Oberon. One is singled out by the name of Iocalo. They sing a Latin catch, which delights Iocastus, and torment his servant Bromius with pinches for skeptical remarks. It is not made entirely clear during their scene that they are not real fairies, but it later appears that they, like Dorylas, were boys in fairy disguise.
One of the 'Elves' who accompany Dorylas to Iocastus's orchard, gull Iocastus and pinch Bromius for his skepticism.
A "fantastique" shepherd and fairy Knight, brother of the foolish augur, Mopsus. Iocastus is obsessed by ideas of fairyland. His folly prompts general teasing and more consequential plots by Dorylas. He is opposed at first to his brother's courtship of the nymph Thestylis and warns him off romance. He himself is preoccupied by the preparation of a masque of fleas intended to entertain the king of the fairies. Gratified by (offstage and presumably illusory) intimations of the court of faerie, he later tries to woo Thestylis for his brother, offering only a fantastical jointure of estates in fairyland. This is, not surprisingly, unsuccessful. His orchard is raided by Dorylas disguised as Oberon and accompanied by a 'Bevy of Fairies' whose singing and dancing enchant him. He is gratified to be made a fairy knight by 'Oberon' and to wear a sheep's bell as a sign of fairy favor. When Amyntas saves the lives of Claius and Damon, he decides to organize the local children to celebrate, in the guise of 'mortal fairies.' He leads them in a Morris dance, dressing himself as Maid Marrion, and is gulled into believing his feminine side has attracted the love of 'Oberon.' In return for a fairy potion, which will change his sex and allow them to marry, he promises to give his entire estate away, half to his new husband, half to his poor brother, now betrothed to Thestylis. His folly is revealed and his servant, Bromius, thereupon gives him his clown's attire to wear. He is allowed back a portion of his wealth and promises to amend his folly in future.
Only mentioned. The late wife of Claius, who died giving birth to the twins Amyntas and Amaryllis. She was formerly betrothed to Philaebus, son of Pilumnus the high priest of Ceres. Pilumnus called down a curse on her for breaking his son's heart. She dies, but Philaebus's bereavement also kills her rejected fiancÚ. Bitter resentment motivates Pilumnus's vendetta against the exiled Claius as much as it does the Oracle, which dictates that Claius's blood must be spilled to appease the goddess.
A wavering nymph, daughter of Medorus. Alexis and Damon woo her. Her 'wavering' is the result not of indecisiveness but rather of feminine policy. She wisely knows that it is better to enjoy the devotion of two rival suitors than to choose either and give herself in obedience as wife. She is, moreover, aware of the curse on marriage that afflicts Sicily until the goddess Ceres is appeased with the blood of Claius. She respects her father's caution at any marriage being attempted under the circumstances. She promises one man her bed, but the other her maidenhead, making each man feel the more favored. She promises to help Amaryllis's unrequited love for Damon if she can. She later advises Damon to take Amaryllis and Alexis to find another love, but she is not able to dissuade them from courting her. To prevent them fighting over her and profaning sacred ground with their blood, she promises to let an arbitress choose her mate and takes their oaths to abide by the final decision. She appoints Amaryllis her arbitress, leading to Damon's fury and violent attack on Amaryllis. Despite this, Amaryllis chooses Damon for Laurinda in a noble act of self-sacrifice for her friend. Laurinda learns this from the letter written in Amaryllis's blood, but she decisively rejects Damon as a murderer and accepts Alexis. Now eager for marriage, the lovers are reminded of the curse, and Laurinda wisely agrees to postpone the wedding. When Amyntas solves the riddles of the oracle, and Damon falls in love with Amaryllis, the couple is free to celebrate their union.
The character assumed by Iocastus, in drag, during his Morris dance.
Father to Laurinda. Initially, he seems to be a typically irascible overbearing father, suspicious of Laurinda's conduct concerning her rival suitors. His thorough exposition of the island's curse on marriage however explains his paternal concern: he would prefer to protect his daughter from falling in love until the curse on marriage is lifted. When Laurinda finally chooses Alexis, Medorus again advises the eager couple to postpone their wedding until the execution of Claius, which will lift the curse. They respect his wishes, albeit briefly, for the happy resolution comes quickly after this.
A foolish Augur, enamored of Thestylis and brother to Iocastus. As augur, his work with the interpretation of birdsong and avian behavior has resulted in an obsession with birds, equal to his brother's fascination with fairies. His courtship of Thestylis makes no progress because, although he is her only suitor, he is a particularly bad catch. Mopsus is remarkably stupid, and confides to Thestylis his fear of an illness called wisdom. His phobia recurs through the play, as when he meets the priest Corymbus, newly returned from overseas. Mopsus is a good friend to Amyntas, however, visiting him in his madness and humoring his delusions. Taken for a dog by the madman, he adopts that character for several scenes afterwards. His fortunes change for the better when he recognizes Dorylas beneath the disguise of Oberon, but does not reveal the trick to his brother. Dorylas repays the favor by impersonating auspicious birdcalls as Mopsus again tries to woo Thestylis. She is finally persuaded to have him, and Dorylas's second appearance as Oberon ensures that the couple will have a share of Iocastus's wealth.
According to single reference by Thestylis, the name of the alias assumed by Claius upon his return, incognito, to Sicily.
A "ghost character." He is listed in the dramatis personae, and referred to once by Thestylis as her servant, but he does not appear on stage.
The anonymous Nymph and Shepherd squabble over who ought to present the prologue to the pastoral, arriving at the agreement to share it between them. She speaks to the ladies in the audience, flattering the court beauties present, also remarking that the men escorting them will be much improved by the play's lesson in the power of love.
King of the Fairies. The disguise assumed by Dorylas in order to steal apples from Iocastus's orchard, and later to gull Iocastus into splitting his wealth with Mopsus, enabling Mopsus to marry Thestylis.
Only mentioned. Ambiguous references to the authority of the Ompha suggest the personification of the Oracle of Ceres. Cognate with the Omphalos at Delphi, this would indicate the sacred stone of Ceres's shrine, but Randolph's use of the name indicates that he imagines an animate mouthpiece of the goddess, whose Echo is heard in the final scene.
A "ghost character." His misfortunes are a main root cause of the plot. The late son of Pilumnus, once betrothed to Lalage and broken-hearted when Claius took her from him. His father took revenge for his son's misery by calling down the curse of Ceres. The curse killed Lalage in childbirth but did not ease Philaebus's grief. He grew worse at her death and pined away on her grave. His bereaved father's further demands for divine retribution for his death called down the goddess's curse on all brides and grooms in Sicily until the blood of Claius might be sacrificed to her.
The High Priest of Ceres, father to Damon, Urania and the deceased Philaebus. Claius's theft of his late son's intended bride, Lalage, long ago provoked Pilumnus to invoke revenge from the goddess Ceres. This led to the curse on marriage in the island. His daughter defies him in her constant love for Amyntas. Despite his fury, he repents his harshness, which prompted the oracle, and he is moved to grief for the plight of the island. His under priest, Corymbus, has searched for Claius to kill him, but he has failed and returned. With Corymbus, he discovers the stricken body of Amaryllis, wounded by Damon, and is appalled at the shedding of her blood on sacred soil. He must sentence his own son, Damon, to death for the sacrilegious assault. He arranges the execution to coincide with the sacrifice of Claius, who has been found. Pilumnus suffers greatly at the cruel fate facing himto save his son or defy his goddess. He prays, and chooses piety over a father's private feelings. Ironically, he sees his son's life saved by the son of his old enemy. He proclaims Amyntas a hero for this and also for lifting the curse on the island. He is finally reconciled to Claius and rejoices that their children are free to marry each other. He pronounces the epilogue invoking happiness for all true lovers.
The prologue is spoken by an anonymous Nymph and Shepherd, who squabble over who ought to present the prologue to the pastoral, arriving at the agreement to share it between them.
The anonymous Shepherd and Nymph squabble over who ought to present the prologue to the pastoral, arriving at the agreement to share it between them. He speaks to the men in the audience, disingenuously warning them not to expect sophistication with in the pastoral to follow, only homely matters of rustic life appropriate to the pastoral genre.
An old nymph, sister to Claius and wooed by the foolish augur Mopsus. Thestylis is greatly saddened by her family's overwhelming misfortunes: her brother a fugitive, her nephew insane and her niece despairing in love for Damon. She herself regrets her single life, and lacks any suitor but the hopeless Mopsus. She plans, however, to make the most of his courtship, and enjoys teasing him and indulging his follies. She successfully intercedes with Laurinda to help Amaryllis and is loyal in comforting Amyntas. When Iocastus woos her for his brother, he absurdly offers as jointure an estate in fairyland. She fails to recognize her homecoming brother Claius, after his long absence, but welcomes him as a physician offering to try to cure Amyntas. When Amyntas is cured, and wise again, she risks losing Mopsus, who is in fear of catching wisdom. Dorylas, owing Mopsus a favor, tricks Thestylis into accepting Mopsus's proposal by imitating auspicious birdsongs. She is happy, finally to agree to wed, although rather cynical about her prospects with such a foolish husband. The prospects improve, at least financially, when Dorylas further tricks Iocastus out of half his estate for their jointure. Her last action is again selfless: she kindly accompanies Urania to Ceres's altar to vow virginity, which is happily prevented, however, by Amyntas's solution of the oracle.
A sad nymph. She is daughter to Pilumnus the High Priest, sister to Damon, enamored of Amyntas. The death of her other brother, Philaebus, caused her father to invoke vengeance and provoked the goddess's curse on marriage in the island. Her love for Amyntas defies her father's wishes, and she remains constant despite Amyntas's madness as a result of trying to interpret the impossible dowry prescribed by the goddess. Amaryllis and she jointly care for Amyntas and privately console each other for their unhappy lives. Urania lectures her brother severely for his hostility to Amaryllis, and promises Amaryllis to try to persuade him to relent. She rejoices at Amyntas's cure, and agrees to sacrifice her hopes of marriage, and happiness, to prevent his relapse into madness, which could result if he were to continue trying to solve the enigmatic riddle of the dowry. Claius, incognito, persuades her to vow virginity at Ceres's altar. Her prayers to the goddess are answered by Echo, who inspires Amyntas to solve the riddle at long last, freeing them to marry. The goddess blesses their marriage, and they celebrate with all the rest.