A virtuous and chaste young woman, and devoted sister. Isabella pleads for her brother’s life when he is sentenced to death for having unlawful sex. Isabella is a spiritual person, and initially plans to become a nun.
An unfailingly virtuous, good, and kind-hearted character. Duke Vincentio spends most of his time disguised as a friar to observe what is happening in his absence. He tends to rule leniently, which is why he enlists Angelo’s help.
Isabella’s brother. Claudio is young man sentenced to death for impregnating his fiancée before they were married. Claudio depends less on the guidance of laws and religious practices than on that of his sister.
The villain of the play. He rules strictly and without mercy. He also proves himself to be a hypocrite who does not adhere to the strict rules he imposes on those around him.
A wise lord who advises Angelo to be more merciful. He is loyal to the Duke and seeks to carry out his orders justly, but he cannot go against Angelo’s will.
A flamboyant bachelor who provides much of the play’s comedic content. Lucio is a friend of Claudio’s and tries to help him.
Angelo’s former fiancée. She was supposed to marry Angelo, but he called the wedding off when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck that killed her brother.
The manager of a brothel in Vienna.
A clown who also works for Mistress Overdone.
The prison-keeper who is responsible for carrying out all of Angelo’s orders.
A dim-witted constable who arrests people for misconduct, particularly of the sexual variety. Elbow speaks in malapropisms and provides comic relief throughout the play.
A long-term prisoner of the jail. Barnadine is sentenced to be executed together with Claudio. The Duke originally considers him hopeless and therefore dispensable but later changes his mind.
Claudio’s lover. She is pregnant with his baby.