James Shirley


circa 1639?

a synoptic, alphabetical character list


Albina is Gotharius' long-suffering and faithful wife. Though despised and mistrusted by Gotharius, Albina yet defends her husband, holding a crowd of rebels at bay while Gotharius escapes, and then deciding that she, too, must die when she discovers her husband is dead.


A "ghost character." Altomarus is the dead count who was Marpisa's first husband and Haraldus' father.


This armed forces captain brings the king news from the field and receives a ring as reward. In the shifting series of loyalties that ensues, Aquinus is believed murdered. Still alive, however, Aquinus remains true to the cause of the king's son Turgesius; by the play's end Aquinus has been made captain of the king's guard.


An honest courtier, Cortes is upset that the king has wed Marpisa and questions whether Altomarus truly fathered Haraldus.


This uncle of the king has been off at war with the king's son Turgesius. At court, the duke warns the king that Marpisa's queenship is not to be tolerated. Emotions run high and accusations proliferate as Turgesius dismisses troops that Olaus would have had him retain. Olaus thinks he has mortally wounded Aquinus; at the play's end, the duke tells rebels that Turgesius needs to be buried, convincing the rebels to take up the coffin within which is hidden the traitor Gotharius.


Gotharius is the crafty politician after whom the play is named. He enjoys a position of power and favor with the king, and he has long been a lover of Marpisa, who is now the king's wife. Gotharius has been persuaded by Marpisa that her son Haraldus is the son of Gotharius and not of her deceased husband Altomarus. Gotharius has therefore been eager to advance Haraldus' standing and decrease the popularity of the king's own son Turgesius. He uses bribery, falsehood, forgery, and other treacheries in an attempt to gain his ends and to save himself. He dies, however, while hiding in a coffin intended for Turgesius; while in the coffin he has swallowed poison, which Marpisa had earlier pressed upon him and claimed was a curative.


Haraldus is the sweet-dispositioned son of Marpisa who would prefer study at a university to life at court. Suddenly suspicious of his heritage after overhearing Cortes and Hormenus talking, Haraldus pries an admission of paternity from Gotharius. Becoming ill after a drinking bout, Haraldus is broken in spirit; even though his mother assures him that Gotharius is not his father, Haraldus still dies of fever combined with grief over his mother's shame.


Helga, along with cohort Sueno, is a court parasite. Helga seeks glory and favor, preferably at little cost to himself. He and Sueno accept Gotharius' commission to get Haraldus drunk; Helga receives his comeuppance when he is arrested and hung.


An honest courtier, Hormenus is upset at the king's wedding of Marpisa and questions the paternity of Marpisa's son Haraldus.


Having courted Albina and been refused, the king of Norway has wed the widow Marpisa, much to the chagrin of the honest people in the court and the military. The king continues to proposition Albina, and he continues to be duped by Gotharius, believing the forged letters that mark Turgesius as an unfaithful son and discontent courtier. Brought slowly to the realization that Turgesius is loyal and Gotharius is treacherous, the king promises to be less susceptible to subversion in the future.


Marpisa is the widow of Altomarus and mother of Haraldus. Recently wed to the king, Marpisa suffers the dislike and mistrust of many, including Duke Olaus and the king's son Turgesius. She plots with Gotharius, her lover, in different power plays, but she turns on Gotharius when she learns that it was his commission that urged Helga and Sueno to get Haraldus overly intoxicated. By the end of the play, Marpisa has poisoned herself rather than allow rebels to take her, and the so-called "curative" she has provided Gotharius has poisoned him as well.


The First and Second Physicians are summoned to tend the feverish Haraldus. The First Physician speaks of Haraldus' tender constitution. He offers that Haraldus' fever is more malignant because of its confluence with Haraldus' hidden grief. The Second Physician explains to Marpisa that Haraldus first became ill following a drinking bout with Helga and Sueno.


The Rebels break into Gotharius' house. Held at bay by Albina while Gotharius escapes, the Rebels eventually arrive at Olaus' house, where word is to take Turgesius' coffin so the prince can be buried. The rebels find the self-poisoned Gotharius in the coffin.


A military captain, Reginaldus feels that Duke Olaus has been too vocal and passionate in speaking to the king about Marpisa.


The Soldier bears letters forged by Gotharius. The letters are supposedly from Turgesius and speak of rebellion; they also speak of disdain for Marpisa.


Sueno is a court parasite and confederate of Helga. Sueno seeks glory and honor, preferably at little cost to himself. He and Helga accept Gotharius' commission to get Haraldus drunk; though Sueno thinks to escape retribution through exchanging clothes with Gotharius, he is instead killed by Gotharius.


Turgesius is the son of the king of Norway. Gotharius has urged the king to send Turgesius to war, hoping that the prince would be killed. Turgesius returns victorious, however, only to find himself betrayed by Gotharius, who sends the king forged letters in which Turgesius supposedly speaks treason and a hearty disdain for Marpisa. Turgesius is shot and believed dead; his coffin rests in Olaus' house. The prince lives, though, and reveals himself at the play's end when Gotharius' treachery becomes plain to all.