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, 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...
(The entire section is 580 words.)