The Lady or the Tiger?

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The king Character Analysis

The “semi-barbaric” tyrant of a kingdom somewhat influenced by distant “Latin” neighbors, the king has grandiose ideals, not least among them that justice should be administered with absolute impartiality, by chance. It is to this end—and also for his own viewing pleasure— that he has established the public arena in which the accused are forced to choose between one door, one of which hides a beautiful lady to whom the accused will be married (whether he likes it or not) if he opens her door, and the other a ferocious tiger that will devour him should he open its door. When the king discovers that his daughter, the princess, has a lover beneath her royal station, a young man who serves in the royal court no less, the king condemns this young man to trial by arena.

The king Quotes in The Lady or the Tiger?

The The Lady or the Tiger? quotes below are all either spoken by The king or refer to The king. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Barbarism and Civilization Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Charles Scribner's Sons edition of The Lady or the Tiger? published in 1884.
The Lady or the Tiger? Quotes

In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts.

Related Characters: The king
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote introduces us to the world of the short story. The phrase "in the very olden time," like the traditional "once upon a time," lets us know that the story we're about to read is something of a fairy tale or folk tale.

The king's "Latin neighbors" are the Ancient Romans, who lived in a great and powerful civilization. They were progressive in some ways – for example, in the way they organized their society (as a republic before it became an empire) and sense of civic virtue – but Rome was barbaric in many ways as well. They waged brutal wars of conquest, tortured political prisoners in spectacularly awful ways, and entertained the public with gruesome gladiatorial combat in the Coliseum, which is what inspired the king to build his arena. The narrator, then, is being a bit ironic in pointing to "the progressiveness" of Rome, suggesting that notions of barbarism and civilization are, to some extent, relative.

The king himself is "florid," that is, excessively and elaborately flowery in speech and gesture, which the story associates with the strong and somewhat uncontrolled nature of what it calls "barbarism." The King is also described as being godlike in being able to turn "fancies into facts." On one hand, this refers to the king's total power within his kingdom: whatever he wants to happen will happen. At the same time, another way of reading this story is as an allegory for God's relationship to the world, in which the king is God and the arena is the world he's created and peopled. 

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The decisions of this tribunal [held in the public arena] were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena.

Related Characters: The king
Related Symbols: The Public Arena
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Trial by arena can result in one of two "decisions": the accused is either eaten by a tiger (in which case the king and his subjects believe that "chance" has determined that the accused was guitly) or rewarded with a marriage (innocent).

This, of course, is not fair at all. To be fair, a justice system must first determine whether or not we're guilty, and only then may it punish or reward us appropriately. But the king's arena punishes or rewards first, only for guilt or innocence to be deduced after the fact. The narrator uses "fair" ironically and with a bit of humor, then, although he's right to say that being eaten or married off is a "positively determinate" outcome – that is, an outcome that settles the matter unambiguously. 

One final irony we should point out is that the reward of being married off may very well be a punishment. After all, a man determined to be innocent is rewarded "whether he liked it or not." This casts even further doubt on the fairness of the king's arena.

Of course, everybody knew that the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. He had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in which he took such great delight and satisfaction. No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events…

Related Characters: The king, The princess, The young man
Related Symbols: The Public Arena
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

The king's daughter, a passionate young princess, passionately loved a young man beneath her station. The king was outraged by this crime, and decreed that the young man should face his trial in the arena.

We might think that a trial is hardly what is called for in this case. Everyone in the kingdom knew about the love affair between the princess and the young man, which neither of them would have even denied. It is absurd to put someone on trial who's already pleaded guilty – but this is precisely what the king does, because he is delighted by the spectacle of the trials themselves and because he can do whatever he wants.

"Aesthetic pleasure" is the pleasure people experience when perceiving something beautiful, like a work of art. The king does not think that justice and "aesthetic pleasure" are incompatible – but they are, because the workings of justice should rarely, if at all, be pleasing in the same way that a play or movie or story is pleasing. The reality of justice is seldom so clean or satisfying as a story. States in which violence is treated as a work of art tend to rely on terror in governing their people.

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The king Character Timeline in The Lady or the Tiger?

The timeline below shows where the character The king appears in The Lady or the Tiger?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Lady or the Tiger?
Barbarism and Civilization Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
Long ago, there lived a semi-barbaric king who, though influenced somewhat by the progressiveness of his “distant Latin neighbors” (presumably the Romans),... (full context)
Barbarism and Civilization Theme Icon
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
One reason the king is considered only “semi-barbaric” and not wholly barbaric is that he adopted from his Latin... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
...arena worked like this: when a subject was accused of a crime that interested the king, an announcement would be issued that on an appointed day that subject’s trial would be... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
This public arena, then, was “the king’s semi-barbaric method of administering justice.” It was perfectly fair in that the accused did not... (full context)
Barbarism and Civilization Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
Now, the king had a daughter, the princess, as fanciful and passionate as her father. She had fallen... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
...loved the princess, and not even he or the princess denied the fact, but the king would not allow this to interfere with the workings of his justice system. Either way... (full context)
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
...him to be in the arena. The young man, as was customary, bowed to the king, but was looking all the while at the princess. She would not have been present... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
...was the princess, that – as no one before her ever had, not even the king – she had used gold and willpower to learn which door in the public arena... (full context)