“She isn’t stupid, she’s in a stupid situation.”
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is a Shakespearian parody. Witold Gombrowicz called it a “comedy” in his Polish Memories.
Ivona is the story of a mute, unmemorable girl whom the Prince marries on a whim. Ivona, passive and indolent, stimulates remorse, shameful instincts, hate, and aggression among those surrounding him.
Witold Gombrowicz’s first play already contained shadows of the “unlimited anarchy of form” that he would develop throughout the life of his work.
Witold Gombrowicz began to write Ivona, Princess of Burgundia in 1933, at his ailing father’s bedside. His first book, the collection of stories titled Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity (later Bacacay), had just been published.
Completed in 1935, Ivona was first published in 1938 in the prestigious journal Skamander.
“I wrote Ivona with great difficulty and great reluctance. I decided to exploit for the theater the technique I’d developed in my stories—the capacity for devising a disconnected and often absurd motif, a little like a musical motif. What was coming out for me was a scathing absurdity that was quite unlike the plays being written at the time. I struggled unrelentingly with form. Those awful hours spent immobile in front of a sheet of paper, when the pen is idle and the imagination desperately seeks solutions, while the whole emerging edifice creaks and threatens to collapse!”
—Witold Gombrowicz, Polish Memories [Trans. Johnston]
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia was published as a single volume for the first time in 1958 by PIW, Warsaw. On this occasion, Witold Gombrowicz made several modifications to his 1938 text. In particular, Ivona’s twenty-five lines—a few words each at most—were reduced to a mere seven in this edition, which would serve as a model for foreign translations.
The cover for this edition was drawn by Tadeusz Kantor. Gombrowicz’s work would later serve as inspiration for Kantor’s play The Dead Class.
Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński and Geneviève Serreau’s French translation of Ivona was published in 1965. Three years later, Witold Gombrowicz made further cuts to this French version. Among others, he lifted Ivona’s seven lines from the text, thus rendering her completely mute. In place of her lines, he wrote, next to each instance of her name: “She is silent.”
«“There is no monstrosity that won’t find their lover.” A trivial adage, but one that ought to be engraved on the pediment of temples».
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia was Gombrowicz’s first play to be performed. Its world premiere took place in 1957 at Warsaw’s Teatr Dramatyczny, and directed by Halina Mikołajska, with Barbara Krafftówna playing the role of Ivona.
In 1965, Alf Sjöberg directed Ivona, Princess of Burgundia at the Royal Dramatic Theater of Stockholm. Jorge Lavelli also directed it in Paris. It is at this moment that Gombrowicz’s potential candidacy for the Nobel Prize in Literature began to be considered.
Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is Gombrowicz’s most popular play and the most performed worldwide.