Vincentio: The kindly, philosophical duke of Vienna, Vincentio puts the government in Angelo’s hands in the hope he can enforce the laws more strictly. However, in the end he must return and restore justice--with severity and mercy.
Angelo: The duke’s deputy, he is in charge of the government while Vincentio is gone. He rules with an iron hand, but ignores his own mistakes and hypocrisy. In the end he is forced to marry Mariana who he was formerly betrothed to.
Escalus: An ancient lord and counselor to Vincentio, he tries to instill reason and virtue in Angelo’s government.
Claudio: Isabella’s brother, Claudio is betrothed to Juliet and is sentenced to death by Angelo for having sex with her. He nearly loses his life, but in the end he is pardoned by Duke Vincentio and marries his love, Juliet.
Lucio: A “fantastic,” Lucio is a flamboyant and comic bachelor. He is Claudio’s friend and tries to help him.
Thomas: A friar.
Peter: Another friar.
Elbow: A dim-witted constable.
Froth: A foolish gentleman.
Pompey: A clown, Pompey is a servant of Mistress Overdone.
Abhorson: An executioner.
Barnadine: A long-term prisoner, the dissolute Barnadine is sentenced to be executed together with Claudio.
Isabella: About to take her vows as a nun, Isabella is a very virtuous and chaste young woman. Angelo proposes she have sex with him, and he will pardon her brother Claudio. She refuses to do so, and pleads, instead, for mercy. In the end, she decides not to take her vows and to marry Duke Vincentio.
Mariana: Betrothed to Angelo five years ago, Mariana was jilted when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck. In an attempt to save Claudio, she has sex with Angelo, who thinks she is Isabella. In the end, Duke Vincentio orders Angelo to marry this patient lover.
Juliet: Claudio’s beloved lover, Juliet is pregnant and planning to marry Claudio. The two, however, must postpone their wedding while the intrigues of the play sort themselves out.
Francisca: A nun.
Mistress Overdone: A bawd, Mistress Overdone runs a brothel in Vienna.