Zaïre Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1732

First published: 1733 (English translation, 1736)

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: During the reign of Osman, Sultan of Jerusalem

Locale: Jerusalem

Characters DiscussedZaïre

Zaïre Zaïre (zah-EER), a slave of the sultan Orosmane, captured in infancy. Zaïre finds that she can love the Muslim ruler in spite of his religion. She discovers, however, that the Christian leader, Lusignan, is her father and Nerestan is her brother. She then vows to become a Christian and, counseled by her brother, postpones her nuptials. Torn between her love for Orosmane and her loyalty to her family, Zaïre goes to meet her brother and is killed by the jealous Orosmane.


Nerestan (nay-reh-STAH[N]), Zaïre’s brother. A prisoner of the Muslims since the age of four, Nerestan escaped to fight against the Turks, only to be captured at Damas. Because of his bravery, he is released to secure the ransom of the Christian prisoners. He learns that Lusignan is really his father and that Zaïre is his sister. A devout Christian, Nerestan attempts to persuade Zaïre to abandon her plans to marry the sultan.


Orosmane (oh-rohs-MAH[N]), also called Osman, the sultan of Jerusalem. Captivated by his slave Zaïre, he decides to make her his sultana. Ignorant of the relationship between Zaïre and Nerestan, he thinks they are lovers and murders her in a fit of jealousy.


Lusignan (lew-zeen-YAH[N]), a French prince in the line of the kings of Jerusalem. Because of Lusignan’s title, Orosmane refuses to ransom him, but Zaïre is able to secure his release. After he is liberated, he learns that Nerestan and Zaïre are his long-lost children.


Chatillon (shah-tee-YOH[N]), a French captive ransomed by Nerestan.


Fatima (fah-TEE-mah), a slave of the sultan, captured in adulthood. Fatima is a devout Christian who exerts her influence on Zaïre.


Corasmin (koh-rahs-MA[N]) and


Meledor (may-lay-DOHR), officers of the sultan.

BibliographyAldridge, A. Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. A biography of Voltaire that contains a significant amount of criticism on his writings, including Zaïre. Seeks to combine literature with the history of ideas and to present Voltaire’s personality as well as his philosophical framework.Howells, R. J., et al., eds. Voltaire and His World: Studies Presented to W. H. Barber. Oxford, England: Voltaire Foundation, 1985. Critical analysis of the body of Voltaire’s theatrical and poetic work. Compares Voltaire to his contemporaries and gives a perspective on the Age of Enlightenment and Voltaire’s place in it.Noyes, Alfred. Voltaire. London: Sheed and Ward, 1936. An extensive study of Voltaire, including an extended criticism of Zaïre and discussion of Voltaire’s life at the time he wrote that work. Includes reproductions of several portraits of Voltaire at different times of his life.Russell, Trusten Wheeler. Voltaire, Dryden and Heroic Tragedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1946. Concentrates on Voltaire and the influence on him of the English author John Dryden. Draws correlations between verses from Voltaire’s plays and those of Dryden, Shakespeare, and other playwrights.Topazio, Virgil W. Voltaire: A Critical Study of His Major Works. New York: Random House, 1967. The essential handbook on Voltaire and an excellent and eminently readable study. Covers his poetry, dramas, and novels, and provides insight into his life and times. Includes a comprehensive chronology.
Categories: Characters