Critical Context

The Marriage is one of Gombrowicz’s three plays presenting characters caught between the force of form, on one hand, and the desire for freedom from form, on the other. In Iwona, ksiniczka Burgunda (pr. 1938, rev. pb. 1958; Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, 1969) Gombrowicz presents the conflict of form with formlessness as Princess Ivona’s pathological shyness in the most formal of all societies, the court, prevents her from giving in to the forms imposed on her. She immobilizes other characters’ social selves through her formlessness, thus exposing inner selves normally guarded from others through formalized relationships. When their identities are exposed as masks, however, the characters feel panicky and cannot perform their social roles. The social game of form must continue, and Ivona must die in order to maintain the world of form wherein masks of maturity are worn for the sake of others while dependent, at the same time, on the perception of others.

Operetka (pb. 1966, pr. 1969; Operetta, 1971) parodies the genre which in itself is a parody of form and shares with The Marriage rapidly changing scenes encompassing a period of forty years from the era preceding World War I to the end of World War II. Operetta, like The Marriage, may be read as a commentary on history and on the bankruptcy of political ideology, projected through the pretenses of an “operetta” society which adheres to empty, insipid, yet rigorously structured forms. Like The Marriage, Operetta presents the disastrous consequences of escape into false ideology: The ideologue mistakes form for reality and attempts to impose that form on everyone else.