The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Marriage takes place in an oppressive, shadowy landscape; the ruins of a disfigured church can be discerned in the background. The notion that the scene is a dreamscape is suggested by Henry’s first speech and is reinforced by subsequent scene shifts from the battle-torn landscape of northern France to the faintly emerging structure of walls and outlines of rooms from which a country manor house in Poland comes into view. This manor house is simultaneously a cheap roadside inn. The characters who appear in this dreamscape are also subject to Henry’s dream and consequently respond to Henry’s thoughts as if he were the internal director. Since the characters are dream projections, however, they often take on a grotesque, threatening existence of their own.

In act 1, Henry, a Polish soldier in France, sees his childhood home, his parents, and his betrothed in a dream. In the outer fringes of his dream, he is accompanied by Johnny, his childhood friend and companion at the French front. At first Johnny functions as Henry’s guide to the dream-constructed interwar Poland; later, however, he joins the other characters as a courtier in the inner dream.

As Henry and Johnny come upon what appears to be a cheap dive, Henry, through Johnny’s suggestions, recognizes the inn as his ancestral home in Poland and, in a travesty of recognition scenes, the slovenly innkeepers as his parents. A festive dinner of horse guts and cat urine is served with due ceremony, and Henry finds himself subject to old rituals and forms. The father reestablishes a semblance of authority by forbidding Henry to lift his spoon until he, as father, has commenced eating. As the shadowy inn acquires concreteness, Henry recognizes Molly, the servant, as his former betrothed. Thereupon, the Drunkard at the head of other drunkards enters and propositions Molly. The father tries to prevent him, and the Drunkard starts to harass and insult him. In terror, the father announces that he is as “untouchable as a king.” Action freezes as Henry assumes the role of the son of a king and kneels to pay homage to his father, thereby transforming him into an “untouchable king” and making him invulnerable to the Drunkard’s “touch,” or pointing finger. The father, in turn, proposes that by his sovereign power he intends...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Marriage directs the spectator’s attention to Henry’s dream experience through a variety of devices that create an awareness of the illusory quality of the events represented. Even this dreamworld is put into question as Henry’s opening words, “The curtain has risen . . .,” remind the spectator of the theatricality of the events to follow. From then on, the theatrical and dream worlds merge, as an awareness of Henry’s dream state is projected through both scenic metaphors and textual allusions. Henry is pulled into the dream as the initially shadowy forms of the Polish manor house become more concrete; although aware that he is dreaming, he accepts the dream as a form of reality.

Henry’s oscillation between his desire to play out the form of the events he is dreaming and his desire to stop the dream at will is foregrounded as occasional artillery shooting is heard throughout the play from what the audience takes to be the reality of the wartime French landscape of the opening scene. The dreamworld and the real world collide as well when Henry compliments Johnny on the watch Johnny bought in Brussels, thereby merging Johnny his friend and companion in France with the dream Johnny. This confusion brings out the horror of the reality of Johnny’s suicide as Henry, despite his dream state, assumes responsibility for his act of will.

To emphasize the dreamlike nature of the action, the actors are instructed to express...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Baraniecki, Maria. “Gombrowicz’s Drama Within and Without the Absurd.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 27 (September, 1985): 241-247.

Brodsky, David. “Gombrowicz and the Theatre.” Theatre in Poland 23 (1981): 18-23.

Goldmann, Lucien. “The Theatre of Gombrowicz.” Tulane Drama Review 14 (1970): 102-112.

Gombrowicz, Witold. Diary, 1961-1966. Edited by Jan Kott. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1994.

Kott, Jan. “On Gombrowicz.” In Theatre of Essence and Other Essays. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1984.

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