The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The first act of Operetta takes place before World War I, around the year 1910, in a church square near the Castle Himalaj. The protagonist, Count Szarm, son of the prince and princess Himalaj, desires to seduce a young girl named Albertynka. The problem is that he has never been introduced to her. Thus, he searches for a way to start up a “casual” acquaintance with her. He hires a petty thief to steal a medallion from her neck while she is sleeping on a bench. The count then “catches” the thief, retrieves the stolen medallion, and thus has a pretext for an introduction. During her sleep, however, Albertynka feels the hand of the thief, and from this time onward will constantly fall into sleep in order to relive the experience of that touch. The touch was not that of a thief but, rather, that of a lover. Count Szarm’s plans are thus foiled, for Albertynka has come under the spell of someone else. From this time on, she dreams of “nudity,” which is especially unfortunate for the count, as he is ashamed of nudity and loves to dress up. He would like to dress the girl in clothes from the best stores, while she only desires that he undress her.

At this time, Master Fior, a world-renowned fashion designer, arrives. A ball is subsequently arranged at the Castle Himalaj, in connection with a fashion show. Fior, who is to rule the fashion world for the next few years, is unsure what his next famous style will be. Acceding to the advice of Count Koniarz Hufnagiel, Fior decides that all guests at the ball will create and present their own “styles of the future.” All are to cover themselves (and their creations) with large bags, which they are to take off at an appointed moment, uncovering their new clothes. In this way, Fior hopes to get some ideas for his new line. A committee will give out awards to those judged...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As Operetta is a drama that sets in metaphorical opposition images of clothing and nakedness, the most obvious and important dramatic device in the play is that of pretentious “dressing up” versus Albertynka’s desire to be denuded. In the first act, Albertynka’s unconscious desire to be undressed, which dramatizes her authenticity and unpretentious nature, is excited by the touch of Count Szarm’s hireling thief. In stealing her medallion, the thief is indeed “undressing” her for the first time, giving her the subconscious impetus she needs to express her true self. From this time forward, she longs for nudity—that is, unpretentious authenticity.

The other characters of the play, and especially Szarm himself, are stifled by their own particular masks. Ashamed of nakedness, afraid of realizing their own authentic selves, they hide behind the various uniforms they show to the outside world. Perverted as they are as to appearances, they have not lost their reason. Knowing full well that their masks are unauthentic, yet ashamed to strip down to the nakedness of their own true nature, they strive to mask the nakedness of other, authentic personages so as not to be aware of their own falsity. This can be seen in Szarm’s overwhelming desire to dress (indeed, overdress) Albertynka, as well as in his leashing of the thief.

As a matter of course, however, falsity cannot cover up truth for very long. When Szarm and Firulet, in a...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Goldmann, Lucien. “The Theatre of Gombrowicz.” Drama Review 14, no. 3 (1970): 102-112.

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

Junker, Howard. “Sweet Violence.” Newsweek, May 29, 1967, 94.

Przybylska, Krystyna. “The Modern Polish Theater.” Queens Slavic Papers 1 (1973): 68-79.

Taborski, B. “Witold Gombrowicz.” In Crowell’s Handbook of Contemporary Drama. New York: Crowell, 1971.

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