Claire was born with the last name Wascher, meaning "washer", which may reflect her proletarian upbringing. In her youth, she was the lover of Alfred Ill, but after becoming pregnant and losing a paternity suit against Alfred, she fled to Hamburg and became a prostitute. In the brothel, she met the old Armenian oil magnate Zachanassian, who fell in love with her. They married, and she became a multi-millionairess, freely contributing to philanthropic endeavors and always creating a sensation with her many marriages. Over the course of the play, we see her wed to Husbands VII-IX.
When the play begins Claire is 63, with red hair and an artificial leg and hand. She visits Guellen, her hometown, with the intention of buying herself justice. Upon her arrival, she announces to the impoverished townspeople that she will donate one million pounds. The gift, however, will only be given in return for the death of her former lover, Alfred Ill.
Husbands VII-IX (or Moby, Hoby, and Zoby)
Throughout the play, Claire moves through three husbands. "Moby", or Husband VII, is actually named Pedro, and owns tobacco plantations. "Hoby", or Husband VIII, is a German film star she marries in Guellen Cathedral. Shortly after the wedding, Claire's lawyers arrange for a divorce, and she prepares to wed "Zoby", a Nobel Prize-winner.
The play indicates that all three husbands can be played by the same actor.
The Butler is referred to by Claire as "Boby". It is revealed at the end of Act I that he was once the Lord Chief Justice of Guellen. He left his job there to serve in the Kaffigen Court of Appeals, where Claire approached him with a request that he become her Butler, and offering him a salary that he couldn't refuse.
Roby and Toby
Roby and Toby are former Manhattan gangsters who were facing death by electric chair before Claire paid one million dollars for each petition to have them amnestied and entered into her service. The two men are brutes, and are always chewing gum. Roby and Toby bear Claire's sedan-chair and perform songs on the guitar whenever they are commanded to do so.
Koby and Loby
Koby and Loby's real names are Jacob Chicken and Louis Perch, respectively. Alfred Ill bribed the two men to commit perjury in Claire's paternity suit with pints of brandy. They falsely testify that they were her lovers. Later, Claire tracked Jacob Chicken down in Canada, and Louis Perch in Australia. Roby and Toby castrated and blinded them, and they are referred to as eunuchs. Koby and Loby tell the press gathered in Guellen for Claire's wedding to Husband VIII that Alfred Ill was once her lover. Claire responds by sending them both to one of her opium dens in Hong Kong.
Alfred Ill, who runs the general store in Guellen, is considered the most popular man in town (perhaps because he allows the townspeople to purchase items on credit). He is married to Matilda, with whom he has one son and one daughter. The Mayor tells Ill that he is to be his successor in the next election.
In his youth, Ill was the lover of Claire, the multi-millionairess. While the town awaits Claire's visit, the Mayor urges Ill to bank on nostalgia and see if he can convince her to donate funds. However, Ill quickly becomes the target of the townspeople once Claire declares that she will give a generous financial donation to the town only if Ill is murdered. She seeks revenge because he had impregnated her when they were young, but had successfully denied paternity by presenting two false witnesses. He married Matilda because she owned the general store, and Claire was forced to give birth to a child out of wedlock, to give it up for adoption, and to become a prostitute in Hamburg.
Matilda is Alfred Ill's wife and the original owner of the general store. It is implied that Ill married her for the store, not for love.
Ill's son, Karl, is initially seen going off to seek work at the railway station. By the end of the play, he is driving a new car.
Ill's daughter, Ottilie, is first seen going off to look for work at the Labour Exchange. Later in the play, however, she is seen going off to play tennis.
The Mayor of Guellen initially tells Ill that he is to become the next Mayor. As the play progresses, however, the Mayor informs Ill that the revelations about his past will prevent him from taking public office. Towards the end of the play, the Mayor offers Ill a gun, implying that everything would be easier if he would just shoot himself. During the play's conclusion, the Mayor sways the assembled audience in the auditorium of the Golden Apostle hotel to accept Claire's donation and to kill Ill.
Early in the play, the Priest is shocked when Claire asks him whether he comforts condemned men, stating that there is no longer a death penalty. Later in the play, when Ill seeks his help, the Priest draws attention to the magnificent new bell. At that moment, Ill realizes that even the Priest is playing a role in the fulfillment of Claire's condition.
The Schoolmaster goes with the Doctor to plead with Claire. The two men express their sympathy for how Ill treated her in the past, but at the same time they implore her to act out of the goodness of her heart to alleviate the town's debts. The Schoolmaster is a "humanist" and a "humanitarian", in that he seeks to work for the public good. He proclaims that he is a lover of Plato, and has apparently remained in the town because of his hope that it will one day rise again. He is the one member of the town who attempts to speak to the press about Claire's cruel proposal, but is stopped by the townspeople. In the end, he tells Ill that he knows that the townspeople are slowly becoming murderers, but that he is too weak to stop it.
Early in the play, Claire tells the Doctor that the next diagnosis he makes ought to be "heart attack". Later in the play, the Doctor, along with the Schoolmaster, implores Claire to help the town without requiring Ill's death. In the end, however, the Doctor participates in Ill's death, and pronounces him dead of a heart attack.
The Policeman refuses to arrest Claire when Ill, fearing for his life, approaches him. The Policeman claims that there is no real threat. In the end, he forces Ill to remain in the auditorium so that he can be slaughtered, and calls him "a bastard".
These men are seen at the railway station, and also in Ill's general store. They symbolize the townspeople of Guellen, and also transform into the trees of Konrad's Village Wood.
At the start of the play, the Painter paints a sign welcoming Claire to Guellen. He bemoans the fact that he was once a brilliant student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. When the townspeople begin to enjoy a higher standard of living, the Painter arrives at Ill's general store with a portrait of Ill as a gift for Ill's wife. By this point, he is wearing the customary clothes of a painter: a beret and a colorful kerchief. When the Schoolmaster attempts to tell the press about Claire's cruel proposal, the Painter smashes the portrait of Ill over the Schoolmaster's head.
Louisa is a young woman who is engaged to one of the town's musicians. The audience first sees Louisa flashing across the stage half-naked. Later in the play, she crosses the stage wearing stylish clothing. In both cases, she is the subject of criticism by the townspeople.
The Visit Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Visit is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.