Critical Context

It has been remarked (and by Gombrowicz, at that) that Operetta can be seen as a farcical look at humanity’s political nature and the desire to dress up in uniforms and masks which represent something that is quantitatively (though not qualitatively) bigger than the individual self. This idea is certainly present in the play. Operetta, however, is not a political drama. Like all Gombrowicz’s works, it centers on the individual, on the inner soul, provoking the members of the audience to take a hard look at themselves and their own particular masks.

The entirety of Gombrowicz’s literary output centers on the individual. An important writer little understood by his contemporary public, a Polish author living at a great distance from his nation and readership, Gombrowicz had much time and occasion for musing on the solitariness of individual human existence. This philosophical search for the individual’s authentic essence can be found in works which span the entirety of the author’s corpus. In the early short story “Pamitnik Stefana Czarneckiego” (the diary of Stefan Czarnecki), Gombrowicz explores the problem of individual identity in relation to the masks that national tradition and adolescent experiences force upon one. Both these themes were taken up and developed at greater length; the former in the semi-autobiographical novel Trans-Atlantyk (1953) and the latter in the author’s most famous work, Ferdydurke (1938; English translation, 1961).

Iwona, ksniczka Burgunda (pr. 1938, pr. 1957, revised pb. 1958; Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, 1969) may be considered a forerunner and sister-play of Operetta. The prince in Ivona, however, is unable to liberate himself from his mask; as noted above, Operetta is uncharacteristically optimistic in its conclusion.