The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The first act of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is set on a promenade, with the king, queen, prince, and their court gathered together in conversation. While the king and queen engage their court in conventional praises of the sunset, their son Philip sets himself aside, obviously bored with the routine. Clearly he is looking for a change and is impatient with his male companions, who engage in all too typical commentary on the good looks of any woman who interests them.

Ivona catches the prince’s attention. Not only is she not attractive to men, but even her female relatives find her a trial, for she is virtually inert, rarely speaks, and has an offensive demeanor. Ivona’s aunt goes so far as to say that her phlegmatic attitude is a constitutional defect. In other words, it is unlikely that anything can be done to make her more appealing. However, this unique behavior is exactly what Prince Philip says he likes about her: She is not the kind of woman a young man should love. He is determined to act like an original and not like every other young man out to find a beautiful, charming woman. He takes pride in adopting an attitude that checks his inclinations and that defies the constricting dictates of nature and society.

Act 2 opens in the prince’s apartments, with him declaring that Ivona is the dragon he must slay, the challenge he must undertake to prove his heroic distinctiveness. His friends are appalled; his mother and father are dismayed. The court, however, tries to be agreeable by accommodating...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The most important dramatic device of the play is Ivona herself. It is remarkable how the playwright has been able to use such a simple stratagem—a character who almost never speaks—to precipitate action. As the various characters address Ivona and try to get her to agree or disagree with their observations and advice, they reveal themselves more fully than any dialogue between characters could do. For each time Ivona does not speak, her interlocutor must speak longer and more pointedly. Not only does this device help to define the other characters sharply, but it also increases the tension in the play. Everyone wonders when Ivona will speak.

Except for act 1, the setting of the play is indoors, in various rooms of the castle. The playwright does not describe the rooms. Indeed, the play contains almost nothing in the way of stage or set descriptions, since Witold Gombrowicz is not interested in the period or in the specific social customs of the court. Rather, he presents interior scenes that are meant to raise questions about the structure of society itself and about how rigid role-playing within society must be. The court itself can be viewed as a dramatic device, as a way of emphasizing how fixed human beings are by their societal functions.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gombrowicz, Witold. Diary. Vols. 1-3. Edited by Jan Kott. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1994.

Jelenski, Constantin. Gombrowicz. Paris: Éditions de l’Herne, 1971.

Kott, Jan. Theatre Notebook, 1947-1967. Translated by Bodesaw Taborski. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Thompson, Ewa M. Witold Gombrowicz. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Ziarek, Eva. P. Gombrowicz’s Grimaces: Modernism, Gender, Nationality. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.