Significant Characters in Gulliver’s Travels Book
Character Analysis of Youth
CAPTAIN LEMUEL GULLIVER (46): Straight out of Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver “travels” to the island and is taken aback by its barbaric customs. Exhausted and starving yet quick-witted and intelligent, Captain Gulliver immediately sees through the younger islanders’ naivety and struggles to convince them of the errors of their ways. While zany and over-the-top characters surround him, he is in my mind what keeps the play grounded; he therefore is able to react to the humor of the play to complement its comedic moments while not necessarily causing them. I hesitate to use the phrase “straight man” because he is so much more than that, but that is his purpose at certain points in the story. A substantial role despite the play’s shorter length, the actor who plays Gulliver must have a penchant for monologue memorization and a strong grasp of subtext. Despite Gulliver’s grounded nature in this play, I would identify his basic drive as Adventure. Being the character from Gulliver’s Travels, he has a penchant for voyaging to strange new worlds and encountering odd stories. His adamancy at persuading the island’s citizens to change their ways seems to indicate this as well.
MISTRESS BELINDA JENKINS (18): Belinda is above all else young and impressionable. She begins the play comically abhorring Gulliver, as everything about him is foreign to her—his age, his kindness, and his fatherly nature. As the story progresses, however, she develops a strong paternal connection to him and, realizing what she is currently missing, decides to help him escape. Belinda is in fact the only member of the island’s citizens who actually sees Gulliver for who he really is. The play’s most dynamic character, she is the least likely to remain stubborn in her ways. This actress must be able to sell to an audience the act of sudden realization and enlightenment. I would also identify her basic drive as Adventure. As aforementioned, she is the only one who sees Gulliver for who he really is, and is therefore more of a dreamer in my head. Her ending—the escape from the island—supports this claim.
LADY SIBYL PONSONBY (24): As close to a stereotype as this play gets, Lady Sibyl on the surface epitomizes the uptight, pretentious, upper class citizen. In terms of personality and obstinacy, I see her as a more extreme version of Belinda. An exaggeration in more ways than one, she totes an ostentatious parasol and fan which—combined with her costume—create a ridiculous and over-the-top ensemble. While in her discourse with Gulliver she rebukes all his arguments for the criticism of their traditions, a key detail towards the end of the play indicates that there is perhaps more to Lady Sibyl than haughty self-importance. The actress who plays her must have excellent comedic timing and convey zero tolerance for lower-class impertinence. Lady Sibyl’s basic drive is Security. Her main objective in the play seems to prevent Gulliver from staying on the island as long as possible. She is adamant in her resistance to him and never falters on her beliefs.
THE DUKE OF CORNWALL (28): If Gulliver represents the wisdom of age, the Duke represents the other side of the coin: the stubbornness of youth. Of the island’s four speaking-role citizens, he is by far the strongest presence onstage—or at least he thinks he is. My vision of this character is similar to the air-headed athlete who struts around the locker room as if he owns the place; he’s the type who Gulliver would ordinarily not bother to deal with if his life was not at stake. The Duke matches Gulliver’s eloquence in their debates, but is so cartoonish in appearance and intensity that he is difficult to take seriously. He is nonetheless a formidable opponent for Gulliver and the play’s antagonist. Actor must be able to convey arrogance and an utter lack of self-awareness. The Duke’s basic drive is Recognition. He is, after all, the man on the island with the greatest athletic skill and who is most renowned physically. Because of this and his love at hearing his own voice, it stands to reason that he above all wishes to be recognized by others and held in high esteem.
MR. SIMPSON (20): Initially a minor role with very few lines, Simpson serves as a subversion of the “silent servant” type by becoming more outspoken towards the end and even critical to the play’s conclusion. A commoner and a servant living in the Duke’s shadow, he is introverted and obedient, taking the nobles’ word as law and following orders and subscribing to customs without question. It is because of this that he is the most reluctant of the two island defectors to finally decide to escape with Gulliver, and it is because of his society’s harsh implementation of toxic masculinity that he is so emotionally unprepared to face Gulliver’s persuasive influence that he lashes out and attacks him when the two are left alone. This actor is tasked with convincingly expressing inner conflict which is comedic in one moment and devastating in the next. Simpson’s basic drive is Response. His whole life he has been living in silence, never really achieving much. His desire to learn the nature of the arch supports this idea; he wants to be acknowledged and, if he obtained this knowledge, he would get his wish.
BOY GUARDS (15): Not making their appearance until the final moment of the play (in the original Samuel French play text), the two guards help add a button to the story and create its final tableau . . . and the implications for those who remain on the island. Their drive—like most of the island’s inhabitants—is Security. They want to live their short lives ignorant of the world’s capabilities and resist any opposing viewpoints, much like Lady Sibyl.
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Character Analysis of Youth CAPTAIN LEMUEL GULLIVER (46): Straight out of Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver “travels” to the island and is taken aback by its barbaric customs. Exhausted and starving […]