The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Characters

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Character List


The narrator, whose name remains unknown throughout the whole story, learns from his friend, George Erskine, about a fascinating theory developed by Erskine’s friend Cyril Graham.

The theory was supposed to reveal the true identity of a man, whom the Shakespeare’s sonnets were addressed to. The narrator lets himself to be ‘converted’ and decides to find further evidence to support the revolutionary idea, even though Erskine finds him ridiculous. He conducts the research with great enthusiasm and passion, however, finds no evidence of existence of Willie Hughes. Nevertheless, he remains absolutely sure of the truthfulness of Graham’s and now his theory. It is not until the point when he informs Erskine of his new discoveries contributing as evidence to the theory, that he finds himself indifferent to the topic and becomes aware of his delusion, as if the process of experiencing the idea of the theory was in reality more important than the verification of Willie’s actual existence.

George Erskine

An older man, friend of the narrator, George Erskine, reveals the story of Cyril Graham, and thus introduces the narrator to the theory of Willie Hughes.

Even though he himself does not believe the theory, which he at first found appealing, through his storytelling he unintentionally manages to persuade the narrator of the its truthfulness. When Erskine learns that the narrator is convinced of the existence of Willie Hughes, he is sorry that he have told him about it, but  after receiving narrator’s letter with further evidence the narrator had found in the text, Erskine again starts to believe in the interpretation. His conviction is so strong, that even when the narrator comes to apologise for being delusional, Erskine refuses to surrender his faith.

Two years afterwards, he sends letter to the narrator, informing him of his inability to prove the existence of Willie Hughes and his plan to die by his own hand for the sake of the theory. Indirectly, he blames the narrator for driving him to suicide, all that just to convert the him back to the theory. At the end of the story the reader learns Erskine died of consumption, which had been killing him for longer time.  


Cyril Graham

Cyril Graham is a character in a story within the story, a subject in Erskine’s storytelling, which was sparked by his and the narrator’s debate on forgery.

From Erskine’s narrative we find out that Cyril was rather effeminate young man, actor frequently cast for the female roles in Shakespeare’s play, who first came up with the theory of Mr. W. H., or Willie Hughes, and introduced it to Erskine. His obsession with the theory was so great that he decided to commit a forgery in order to persuade his dear friend, Erskine, of its veracity. After he was confronted by Erskine about his desperate deed, he decided to commit an even more desperate one, and shut himself with a revolver, leaving a suicide note entrusting the Willie Hughe theory and its presentation to the world to Erskine. 


Lady Erskine

Lady Erskine was mother of George Erskine. She accompanied her son during his last days, and gave the portrait of Mr. W. H. to the narrator, as Erskine had asked her to.


The Doctor

The doctor appears at the end of the story to inform the narrator of the actual cause of Erskine’s death 


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