Characters Discussed

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Princess Ida

Princess Ida, a woman with a strong idea of herself and her sex. Her aim is to establish a college for women. She espouses the feminist cause, exhorting her followers to “lift up their natures.” Her true self is established when she reads to the Prince from a poem: “Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height.” The poem says, “Love is of the valley.” This descent forces Princess Ida to change from feminist to female. It is not, however, a reversal of her values but rather a process of discovery and discrimination leading toward selfhood. The barrier to love is more evident in Ida than it is in the Prince. She denies her femininity. Early in the poem, the Princess expresses her contempt for conventional love poems, “applying herself to the composition of awful odes’ on more solemn subjects.” When the Prince kisses her, passion is aroused and cannot be denied. She reads the erotic “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” and finds it to be a different sort of love poem because of her newly acquired capacity to respond to it. At the poem’s conclusion, the Princess looks to a time when she and the Prince can embrace the ideal of accepting rather than repressing sexuality.

The Prince

The Prince, who makes his first appearance in women’s clothing and is described as being like a girl. He is taunted by his foes as being feminine. His father simplifies the Prince’s choice of garb as an issue of effeminacy; he tells the Prince to make himself a man to fight with men. The Prince is not a homosexual or a transvestite; he is a venerator of women. His beloved is Princess Ida. At the poem’s end, after a series of oppositions between the Prince and the Princess, the Prince tells Ida that either sex alone is half itself, and they look to a time when men and women will take on some of the characteristics of the opposite sex. The ideal is to accept and not repress sexuality. Understanding the nature of women is the Prince’s way of understanding himself and achieving true selfhood.

The King

The King, the Prince’s father. He represents traditional masculinity that rejects a woman’s place in society as an equal. He berates his son for dressing in women’s clothing, finding something effeminate about it and suggesting that his son may be homosexual, a charge the Prince denies. The King believes that “Man is the hunter; woman is his game.”

King Gama

King Gama, Princess Ida’s father. He is a small old man who does not project the image of a king. He leaves the impression that Ida is a victim of having too little masculine authority, which has led her to become opinionated and outspoken, a woman with a mind of her own.

Cyril

Cyril and

Florian

Florian , the Prince’s friends. Cyril is impulsive and faintly disreputable; Florian is courtly. Cyril accuses the Prince of being homosexual. The Prince strikes Cyril, but the two reconcile, with the Prince seeming more manly for the reconciliation.

Psyche

Psyche and

Lady Blanche

Lady Blanche, two widows who dramatize the matriarchal and maternal inclinations that are at war within Princess Ida.

Aglaia

Aglaia, Psyche’s daughter. She functions to soften Princess Ida’s heart. In doing so, Princess Ida accepts a part of her own nature that she has repressed and, in doing so, moves toward selfhood.

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Critical Essays