Billy Budd


Herman Melville

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Billy Budd

Billy is the protagonist of the novella and a perfect example of the type of person the narrator calls the Handsome Sailor. His beautiful appearance reflects his upstanding character and because of this he earns… read analysis of Billy Budd

Captain Vere

The valiant, intellectual captain of the Indomitable, a bachelor of about 40 years of age. He has a strong sense of duty and is conflicted when Billy kills Claggart. His personal conscience tells… read analysis of Captain Vere

John Claggart

The antagonist of the novella and the Indomitable's master-at-arms, Claggart is a deceptively wicked character. He has an attractive appearance (except for a protruding chin) and is able to fit in with society at most… read analysis of John Claggart

The Dansker

An old, wise sailor on the Indomitable, who had fought valiantly under Admiral Nelson. His years of experience have given him wisdom, and Billy seeks advice from him several times. He tells Billy to… read analysis of The Dansker

The Surgeon

The doctor of the Indomitable, who checks Claggart after he is struck by Billy and declares him dead. He also talks with the purser after Billy's death, refusing to see Billy's remarkable stillness while… read analysis of The Surgeon
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Minor Characters
Lieutenant Ratcliffe
A lieutenant on the Indomitable, Ratcliffe searches for men to conscript, forcibly if necessary, to join the ship. Upon seeing the handsome Billy, he immediately chooses him.
Captain Graveling
The captain of the Rights-of-Man, who is sad to have to let go of Billy, his best sailor, when Billy is impressed into naval service.
Red Whiskers
The only sailor on the Rights-of-Man who is initially not fond of Billy. He starts a fight with Billy but ultimately comes to respect and love him.
A corporal serving under Claggart, whom Claggart orders to prank and harass Billy. Squeak makes up rumors about Billy insulting Claggart, which fuel Claggart's hatred of Billy.
Red Pepper
A sailor awakened by Billy's confrontation with the after-guardsman at night. He is skeptical of Billy's story and wants to punish Billy and the unidentified after-guardsman.
The After-Guardsman
An unnamed sailor who wakes Billy one night and offers him two guineas in exchange for helping him with an unspecified plot, probably a mutiny.
The Chaplain
The priest onboard the Indomitable, who goes to give spiritual advice to Billy before his execution. He is unable to say much to Billy, though, because Billy does not fear death and is so innocent the chaplain feels he does not any blessing or even really any religion.
The Purser
An officer of the Indomitable in charge of money onboard, who talks with the surgeon after Billy's death and claims that the complete stillness of Billy's body during his hanging shows Billy's remarkable will power.