The Lady or the Tiger?

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The princess Character Analysis

The king’s beloved daughter, the princess inherits her father’s barbarically grandiose idealism and fiery passion. When her lover, the young man, is condemned to trial by public arena, the princess uses gold and willpower to discover which door in the arena holds which fate for him, the tiger or the lady, death or marriage. During his trial, with a slight quick movement of her hand, she directs the young man to the door on the right. So: does it hold the lady or the tiger? On the one hand, the princess is horrified to think of the young man’s bloody death at the tiger’s tooth and claw; on the other, she is agonizingly jealous at the prospect of her lover marrying another woman—especially the lady selected for the young man, whom the princess hates for having flirted with him in the past. While the narrator of the story invites us to meditate on the princess’s dilemma, we never learn definitively what she decides to do.

The princess Quotes in The Lady or the Tiger?

The The Lady or the Tiger? quotes below are all either spoken by The princess or refer to The princess. 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

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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A door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

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

For having a love affair with the princess, the young man is subjected to trial by arena. He is handsome, and the audience immediately sympathizes with him as a result. This suggests that the spectators are rather superficial – they should sympathize with the young man because he's being treated unjustly by the king, not because he's "tall, beautiful, fair."

The audience members seem to understand that the relationship between the princess and the young man is perfectly natural, maybe even to be encouraged. We might feel the same, especially since we're so used to the formula where young lovers are cruelly kept from one another by their tyrannical parents, as in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Despite the audience's "anxiety," though, and despite thinking that it's "terrible" for the young man to be in the arena, the audience are content to watch him suffer. Just as an audience of Romeo and Juliet might find pleasure in the deadly "star-crossed" love of the two lover, the audience in the story takes pleasure in the young man's trial as if he is a character in a drama. When such violence is treated as art, the viewer ceases to view the person suffering that violence as a person, and what is awful and unjust becomes just another thing to enjoy.

Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that the lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested.

Related Characters: The princess
Page Number: 6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

In attendance at the young man's trial is not only the king but also the princess. She wouldn't have been there if she didn't have "the moiety of barbarism in her nature," that is, if she weren't half-barbaric like her father ("moiety" is an equal half of something). 

The king is "interested" in the young man's trial in the sense that it gives him "aesthetic pleasure." So is the audience, even though they think it "terrible" that the young man should be subjected to the arena. The princess is "terribly interested" in the trial in a much different sense. She cannot witness the young man's trial as a drama, because she is passionately in love with him, and because no matter what happens to him she will be heartbroken. In playing on these two senses of "interested" – the aesthetic and the deeply heartfelt – the narrator emphasizes how inappropriate aesthetic interest is in the case of young man.

She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady… Gold, and the power of a woman’s will, had brought the secret to the princess.

Related Characters: The princess
Related Symbols: The Public Arena
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

As has never happened before in the history of the arena, someone watching the young man's trial knows which door holds the lion and which the lady. This someone is the princess herself. This points to yet another flaw in the arena's justice–the rich and privileged princess can buy certainty in the arena, whereas less privileged people must rely on luck.

Just as the king believes he should get what he wants, the princess believes the same. She believes not in the law or justice, but in her own will and power.

The lengths to which the princess goes to get this information is a testament to the power of her love for the young man. But this leads to a further complication: how will a princess with such a powerful love but also a "barbaric" belief in her own right to get what she wants react to the prospect of her lover marrying another woman if he survives?

The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.

Related Characters: The princess, The young man
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

During his trial in the arena, the young man looks to the princess for guidance, because in his soul he knew that she'd learn which door in the arena held which fate.

But what "element of certainty" can he possibly expect? We might assume that the young man wants to live and not die, and so the certainty he might desire is that he's opening the door to the lady and not the door to the tiger. But this reading itself is very uncertain. In the first place, the princess's passionate love for the young man makes her decision impossible to guess: does she love the young man enough that he leads him to life, or does she love him enough that she cannot live with the prospect of him marrying another? Furthermore, we can't even be certain that we know what the young man desires. Maybe he couldn't live without the princess either, and would prefer the tiger's jaws to a forced marriage with someone other than her.  

Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?
The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way.

Related Characters: The princess
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator ends the story not with certainty and finality, but with uncertainty and an open question. During the young man's trial in the arena, did the princess direct him to the lady or the tiger?

The narrator anticipates that we might be overeager for closure. He reminds us that we shouldn't answer this question with the answer we find most pleasing, nor should we answer this question as though we get to decide the young man's fate. For it is the princess, and not us, who has that burdensome privilege. To answer the question, then, we must study "the human heart," specifically the princess's heart. But the more we study her heart, the more we lose ourselves in "devious mazes of passion." The image of the maze recalls the "mysterious vaults" and "unseen passions" that the narrator used to describe the arena itself earlier in the story, as if to remind us that the whole world poses questions to us every day as unanswerable as the one the narrator leaves us with here. Do we ever have enough information to give a definitive answer to questions about human motive and intent and passion?

The narrator doesn't answer his own question, and perhaps we would be wise to leave it unanswered, too, content instead to dwell in the vast, impenetrable mystery of the human heart.

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The princess Character Timeline in The Lady or the Tiger?

The timeline below shows where the character The princess 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
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
Now, the king had a daughter, the princess , as fanciful and passionate as her father. She had fallen in love with a... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
...young man as determined “by competent judges.” Everyone knew the young man had indeed loved the princess , and not even he or the princess denied the fact, but the king would... (full context)
The Danger of Treating Life as Art Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
...man, as was customary, bowed to the king, but was looking all the while at the princess . She would not have been present at the trial were she less passionate and... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
So interested, in fact, was the princess , that – as no one before her ever had, not even the king –... (full context)
Justice, Impartiality, and Bias Theme Icon
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
From the floor of the public arena, the young man looked into the princess ’s eyes and knew at once—for so it is with lovers whose souls are one—that... (full context)
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Theme Icon
Interpretation and the Interpreter Theme Icon
...whether we would have the young man be punished or rewarded, but what we think the princess would decide to do. How often during her long “days and nights of anguished deliberation”... (full context)
Interpretation and the Interpreter Theme Icon
...me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer” whether the princess sent her lover to death or marriage, either one agonizing for her. So we are... (full context)