Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is about the social natures of human beings. Prince Philip would like to believe that he can act on his own, that he can defy the expectations of his male companions, his parents, and the whole court. However, in order to do so, he must act perversely—act, that is, contrary to what he admits are his inclinations. He is really attracted to beautiful women, but he fights against his attraction to prove that he is his own man.

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Ivona’s fate reveals the consequence of being truly individual: isolation from society. There is no way to have a simple conversation without taking into consideration and to a great extent incorporating other people’s points of view. The play begins, for example, with a talk about the sunset similar to the conversations about weather that all people find it necessary to engage in. Such conversations ratify the need for human intercourse, for one person to listen and respond to another, no matter how trivial the matter might be. When Ivona does speak, it is usually to say what she does not feel, to make clear that she is not the sum of what people say about her. She is unwilling, however, to define what she is. She refuses to help others place her in some kind of communal context. She is no help to those who want her at least to acknowledge their questions or to take part in a dialogue they have initiated. By refusing to do so, Ivona attacks the very nature of society.

Ivona makes the king and queen feel inadequate because they are the rulers of society. They, above all people, depend on the obedience of others, on a court that will be ingratiating and cater to royal opinions and wishes. To confront a subject who concedes nothing of herself is to deal with an equal. Ivona reminds the queen of her poetry, which is the most private, most individual part of herself, the part the queen has never been willing to make public; not even her husband knows about it. When Ivona’s individuality, her absolute determination to keep her thoughts to herself, becomes the subject of public commentary, the very notion of a private, secret self is exposed, and it is this very notion that the queen has kept to herself until Ivona’s appearance at court. Thus, the queen feels embarrassed and exposed. The queen, the king, and the prince each have a role that clothes and protects their egos. Ivona refuses to play a role (as the prince’s fiancé, for example) and so forces people to consider who they really are. At first, the prince finds her exhilarating for precisely this reason: Loving her releases him from a role. In the end, however, trying to live as one’s true self and not in some socially defined capacity is so alienating that it cannot be sustained. Therefore, a social event must be staged that removes Ivona from the scene. Society must find a way of protecting itself.

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