Ivona, Princess of Burgundia

by Witold Gombrowicz
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683

Ivona Hopit

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Ivona Hopit, an ugly and poor Burgundian peasant girl. Ivona is an insolently silent young woman who seldom responds to the words or actions of others. She refuses to bow to the court or to obey any of their commands. Her sluggishness and enigmatic simplicity elicit the interest of Prince Philip and inspire him to propose marriage. Her eyes are expressive, and on the rare occasions when she speaks, her words are few and often mystical. She is at various times arrogant, vulnerable, angry, or sad, and the prince and the royal court take pains to provoke or interpret her. Ultimately, they all feel threatened in some way and plot her murder. Ivona dies choking on a fish bone at a betrothal banquet in her honor.


Philip, the prince of Burgundia, a troubled and sensitive young man who is restless in his position as heir to the throne and reluctant to accept a conventional, political marriage. Ivona’s simplicity attracts his interest: He believes that his richness entitles him to take on her misery, and he decides to make her his princess. He generally speaks honestly and guilelessly but is subject to sharp mood changes. He initially sees Ivona as a heroic challenge who will help him to realize his princely potential, but then he is amazed and intimidated when she grows to love him. He at first delights in the scandal his betrothal precipitates but later becomes touchy and paranoid about the laughter and gossip of the court ladies. He uses his power and the eerie power of Ivona’s weakness and silence to taunt and manipulate his parents and the court. Prince Philip is capable of extremes of both vulnerability and cruelty, and at last he seduces Isobel and takes her as his fiancée, heartlessly abandoning Ivona and plotting to cut her throat.


Ignatius, the king of Burgundia, a hearty and good-humored man. He lacks patience and can erupt in sudden rage. Although he is furious at Prince Philip’s determination to marry Ivona, the girl subtly reminds him of Queen Margaret and of a mysterious drowning in his guilty past. The reminiscence convinces him that he does not really know his wife. He determines to put Ivona at her ease with a casual chat but finally despairs at her unresponsiveness and flies into a rage that frightens her horribly. This fury leads to his successful plot to murder her at the betrothal banquet.


Margaret, the queen of Burgundia, a poetic soul who loves peace and nature and avoids conflict or scandal at any cost. In her disingenuous manner, she develops a maternal and nurturing attitude toward Ivona. Deep down, she is insecure and untrusting of everyone, including her lady-in-waiting, Isobel. Queen Margaret becomes convinced that the king has discovered her secret notebooks of original poetry. In desperation, she resolves to kill Ivona.

The Lord Chamberlain

The Lord Chamberlain, King Ignatius’ servant and confidant. The Lord Chamberlain is an obsequious and politically astute functionary with a furtive manner and an arrogant attitude. It is his inspiration that results in Ivona’s murder by choking.


Isobel, Queen Margaret’s lady-in-waiting. Isobel is a straightforward and dutiful servant in whom a proper deference is mixed with a realistic skepticism, especially during Prince Philip’s more juvenile moments. Isobel feels an immediate and singular pity for Ivona but later easily accepts the opportunity to replace her in the prince’s affections.


Simon, a friend of Prince Philip. Simon is a rambunctious troublemaker who uncharitably speculates about Ivona’s situation and makes rash judgments about her. He later serves as Prince Philip’s adviser and henchman in plotting Ivona’s murder.


Innocent, a poor young man who is in love with Ivona. Innocent is a fragile and wise, even tragic, figure who speaks honestly and simply. He knows his love for Ivona to be less than heroic: He sees her as a consolation prize for one who deserves no better. Innocent feels a true tenderness for Ivona, however, and pleads with Prince Philip on her behalf.

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