What makes the king in "The Lady, or the Tiger"  semibarbaric?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In "The Lady or the Tiger," the Stockton employs irony in his character description of the king:

  • He is a man of "exuberant fancy"
  • He possesses an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts.
  • He is greatly given to "self communing; and when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done"
  • He is "bland and genial" when everything moved "smoothly," but whenever "there was a little hitch,"
  • He is "blander and more genial still," for
  • He is never more pleased than when he makes "the crooked straight, and crushes down uneven places."

His amphitheater is an "agent of poetic justice, in which crime is punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance."

The verbal irony is apparent here in the use of words that, obviously, mean the opposite of what they suggest.  For example, the king is anything but "bland/mild" and "genial."  Placing someone in an arena to be eaten by a tiger--"the fierces and most cruel that can be procured"--is hardly an example of "an exuberant fancy," either.  Nor does it resemble anything just or "impartial."  That he is "semibarbaric" is also ironic.  Only a barbarous tyrannt would simply commune with himself.

This use of irony forces the reader to realize how bad the king really is. 

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