The harp's crystalline and delicate tones, as well as its graceful shape, will emphasize the femininity of the woman playing it. Not to mention that it gives the harpist a definite air of dignity and nobility. As such, harp-playing women in fiction are usually important to the plot.
This trope is Older Than Radio but not Older Than Steam, and doesn't generally come in to play much in works from before the French Revolution. As such the Wandering Minstrel (a medieval trope) will often be male and play the harp, and playing the lyre also Gender Flips this trope just as often as not (most of the 'inversions' listed below concern hand-held harps and lyres, rather than the sort of grand harp one would see in an orchestra). In the very, very rare occurrences where a man is shown playing the harp, he will be at least a particularly effeminate Bishōnen or Pretty Boy.
In ancient Western culture, the harp was if anything a masculine instrument. Thus we see figures such as King David and the Greek god Apollo playing the harp (or lyre) without any loss of masculinity.
This trope is Truth in Television, since real-life harpists are mostly female. This started because in the 18th Century in Europe, it was considered highly improper for women to play most instruments: the harp was one of the few that wasn't considered scandalous for a woman to play (along with keyboard instruments).
Also note who else typically plays the harp: Angels, elves, and people who died and went to Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
Almost always also an Elegant Classical Musician. Compare Feminine Women Can Cook and Textile Work Is Feminine for a much less refined way to show femininity. For a modern counterpart of this trope, see Female Rockers Play Bass.
- Pictured: Pandora in Saint Seiya. To emphasize the "lady" in the Lady of War, she often plays the harp in her free time.
- Apart from advising Captain Harlock, Mimay's favourite pastime is to play the harp while wearing a very feminine dress.
- In Hidamari Sketch, Yuno saw Hiro planting herbs and asked what she was doing. When Hiro explained, Yuno misheard her as saying "harp" and envisioned a harp-playing Hiro. Now, Hiro is already the motherly one of the group, so the feminine qualities are already there, just enhanced in Yuno's imagination.
- Fist of the North Star: Yuria in the anime, who has come into possession of a harp and nothing else while in Shin's captivity and is playing it in nearly every scene where she makes an appearance. The harp sound plays any time Kenshiro thinks about her.
- Haydee from Gankutsuou plays the harp (most notably in the opening), which emphasizes her graceful and feminine demeanor.
- Gunslinger Girl: Jose's memories of his little sister Enrica (killed in a terrorist bombing) often have her playing the harp, as her brother remembers her as Purity Personified (when we actually see Enrica in flashback chapters, she's more interested in playing soccer than her harp). Perhaps because of this Jose's Replacement Goldfish for Enrica — his cyborg Henrietta — is not instructed in the harp but the violin (also the case is useful for carrying her FN P90 submachine gun).
- One Piece: Conis likes to play a harp in her spare time and is even known as "the beautiful lady who plays the harp" among the boys of her village.
- Played with when it comes to Nando from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. He's a man who always carries around a harp but he's one of the most effeminate male characters to appear.
- Sailor Moon: Played with. Sailor Mercury uses a lyre as a weapon, to cast "Mercury Aqua Rhapsody", but she's still rather feminine.
- Saint Beast: The Uke, Shin, went to the extent of crafting his own harp to play.
- In Fairy Tail, one of the celestial spirits that Lucy can summon is Lyra, a songstress with a lyre.
- In RG Veda, the beautiful and talented Lady Kendappa is never seen without her harp.
- In Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, both Rapunzel and Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty are very feminine girls who beautifully play their lyres. Rapunzel's musical skills are even a plot point: her Prince falls for her beautiful songs before properly meeting her, and towards the end the now blinded Prince finds her after he hears Rapunzel play the same song that she played when they met..
- Duchess in The Aristocats. Made more impressive by the fact that she's a cat.
- The Emperor's New Groove: Kronk's (male) shoulder angel carries a harp, prompting his shoulder devil to mock the "sissy, stringy thing".
- Princess Camille's introductory scene in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. Shortly after done playing, she begins to tease Nemo about how unrefined he's dressed in comparison.
- Fantasia's orchestra solely consists of men... save for the harp players, who are women. Enforced due to gender expectations of the era the film was released in.
- The Evil Matriarch of the girls' boarding school in A Little Princess (1995) is shown playing a harp at moments when she's not actively working to make Sarah's life miserable. Her musical ability is arguably the only likable trait the character has.
- In The Prince of Thieves, beautiful Damsel in Distress Lady Christabel is introduced playing the harp while imprisoned in her room awaiting her Arranged Marriage.
- Aversion: Flewddur Fflam in The Chronicles of Prydain was a consummate badass, a king, and a wandering bard. He played a magic harp, which could be more accurately said to play itself, but harping is not regarded as particularly feminine in Prydain.
- Rudyard Kipling talked about "When Homer smote his bloomin lyre" (not his most inspired passage).
- Featured in The Mists of Avalon, which Morgaine (as the viewpoint character) combines with Elegant Classical Musician to assure herself that she could have any man who heard her play the harp.
- The world of A Brother's Price has a Stereotype Flip for nearly every gender role, as "masculine" in that world codes very close to what "feminine" is in this world, and vice versa. All the same, it's specifically noted in one scene that dulcimers, harp-like instruments, are being played by women.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Grayson's grandmother played a harp, and its removal for sale prompted the crisis that opens the book. There's also a painting depicting the twelfth Duchess of Penford seated at the instrument, and it is among the items Grayson repurchased after making a fortune portraying crass rock star Lex Rex.
- Mary Crawford has quite the skill on the harp in Mansfield Park.
- Limerick guy Edward Lear has two limericks about young women playing harp...one of them with her chin.
- Averted in Dragon Bones, both Ward and his younger brother Tosten play the harp. Tosten is better at it, and earns his bread as Wandering Minstrel, minus the wandering part. While Tosten is rather pretty, he is a Warrior Poet and decent swordfighter (except that he has to throw up after his first kill, but that happens to the best).
- Averted in The Riddle Master Trilogy; of the three protagonists, the two harpists are the men, Morgon and Deth, while Raederle, the woman, is a flutist.
- Averted with the bard in The Last Hero, who starts off as a bit of a pretty-boy, but plays a lute. His journey to badassitude is completed when he replaces it with a lyre that uses a human skull as the soundbox.
- Averted in The Hobbit: Thorin is a badass, grey-bearded dwarf, and a highly skilled harpist. Though, J. R. R. Tolkien likes to play with this trope. He does use it to soften the killer Maglor, and as part of Finrod's semi-intentional gender-bending aesthetic. On the other hand, he also makes it the instrument of choice for the Rated M for Manly Rohirrim. Tolkien likes playing with gender tropes, because he did intend his stories to reflect the real world: and people in the real world play with and subvert gender tropes all the time.
- In Green Wing the impossibly girly and infuriatingly perfect Angela plays the harp to Grade 7, while her more tomboyish housemate Caroline struggles to get a sound out of her flute.
- The Big Bang Theory plays with this somewhat: Amy Farrah Fowler plays the harp in spite of being the least feminine of the female characters, but she sees her non-femininity as a result of social exclusion and has a strong desire to become more feminine, making her harp playing possibly represent Wish-Fulfillment or escapism.
- Rome. Agrippa falls in Love at First Sight with Octavia after seeing her play a stringed instrument, though we're reminded she's hardly The Ingenue when she misses a note and shouts, "Piss and blood!" in frustration.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Subverted in "Prime Factors". While enjoying himself on a friendly planet, Harry Kim sees a beautiful woman playing an alien instrument resembling a harp, only it turns out to be an atmospheric sensor that works via sound. That doesn't bother Harry much as he immediately deduces how it works and they start bonding over that instead.
- in Xena: Warrior Princess, The decidedly unfeminine Xena has an Identical Stranger in Princess Classic Diana, and impersonates her to ward off some would-be assassins. When asked to play the harp by the villain suspicious of her identity (as Diana is supposedly a master harpist), she intentionally breaks some of the strings to avoid having to play it, and then uses it to fire off some arrows when the fight eventually breaks out.
- The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show had Barbara the harpist in a few episodes.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG has Spirit of the Harp, a delicate woman playing a harp.
- The Legend of Zelda series:
- Marin from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is shown to play the harp in official art (though she never does so in the game itself, and never mentions that she can, either). A harp is also one of the eight magic instruments Link has to acquire throughout the game.
- Sheik in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, who plays the lyre. Of course, Sheik turns out to be female even though she looks male. The harping here is important to the plot, as Sheik teaches Link songs which he needs to succeed.
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games has the Harp of Ages, which is normally played by Nayru, but after she's possessed by the villain, Link (who is obviously male) has to do it himself.
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the two female Earth Sages, Medli and Laruto, are harpists.
- Zelda (again, for the first time), in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the same one that would later be used by Sheik, in fact. Link gets his hands on it during the events of the game.
- Spin-off game Hyrule Warriors has Sheik again, this time using the harp as a weapon. In this game, her movements are more fluid and graceful compared to OoT. No prizes for guessing she's Zelda again, though the characters in-game act surprised. The story mode's intro scene also shows Zelda playing a harp during her Dream Sequence, before being interrupted by the shadows creeping in.
- In Lost Odyssey, Jansen hears Ming playing her harp and guesses that the musician must be a beautiful woman: "No dude plays a harp."
- Kongōka Bosatsu "Uta" in Namu Amida Butsu! -UTENA- is a Long-Haired Pretty Boy who plays the Chinese harp.
- Played with in Dual Hearts. McTuve (a male) plays a small harp, contributing to his Viewer Gender Confusion mystique. Doesn't help that the game is not dubbed (save for battle cries).
- Edward, the very feminine Prince in Final Fantasy IV is a harp specialist, and used it during regular battles as well as to aid the party in their battle against the dark elf while hundreds of miles away.
- The Comet Observatory theme from Super Mario Galaxy.
- Dragon Quest:
- Cai Wenji in Dynasty Warriors is a serene, compassionate and kind woman, not to mention modest found in the faction of Wei. She uses her harp and whatever tone she plays as her weapon.
- In Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, the girlish-looking bard Elphin uses his Magic Music to boost up the other characters and give them a second turn.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, Cordelia and Phila are said to be very talented harpists.
- In League of Legends, Sona uses an instrument called "etwahl", which looks more like a Russian gusli or a Chinese guzheng. Also, she's a gorgeous and graceful mute woman who uses her etwahl songs to buff her allies or damage enemies.
- In Hades, Orpheus uses a harp as his instrument of choice. As a figure from Classical Mythology he would ordinarily not qualify, but somewhat coincidentally, he also has an extremely soft voice and features that make him look and sound very feminine.
- At least one animated version of the "Rapunzel" fable has the title character playing a harp. It's hearing her "special song" that allows the blinded Prince to find her again.
- One gag in Family Guy had an animated version of Elizabeth Smart (a Real Life teenage girl who was kidnapped, sexually abused, and recovered alive a few months before that episode aired). She was, just like her real-life version, playing the harp, and another character comments, "Although all the songs she sings are about rape."
- Samuel Milligan of Harp Column considered the historical reasons for the view of the harp as a feminine instrument. It is believed to have originated from revolutionary France: Marie Antoinette played the harp, meaning that many female aristocrats took it up, and during and after the revolution many women of the newly created middle class also did so because of the association with culture and high social standing. The huge size of the harp was also significant, as the highly visible presence of a harp in a house indicated that the owner had a cultured wife and/or a cultured and possibly marriageable daughter. However, because it was seen as a fashion statement, few of these women learned to play the harp very well, meaning that better composers rarely wrote for it; thus gradually the harp was seen as a mere fashion statement not just by social climbing women but by musicians in general, which reduced men's interest in learning the instrument (after all, budding professional musicians- who, apart from singers, were always men, as any family who could afford the children taking music lessons would consider the wives and daughters working for money a humiliation- would not usually come from especially well-off homes- musicians were considered akin to skilled tradesmen.)
- In fact, the harp has so little music to truly exhibit skill on that most professional harpists are more likely than other classical musicians to also compose for their instrument.
- Once upon a time the Vienna Philharmonic was noted for excluding women members, until 1997. The first female member they hired was harpist Anna Lelkes, who'd already been performing for them in an "associate" capacity for some 26 years, because they couldn't find any male harpists to fill the role.
- Angela July took an entire continent by storm in 2018 with her unique act of singing and graciously playing the harp simultaneously as she landed the second place in Asia's Got Talent.
- The idea of femininity and submissive decorum inherent in a harp player is subverted when it is taken into account that two Harpists to the British Royal Family lost their "By Royal Appointment" status for criminal misdemeanours. One was imprisoned because of the theft and fraud offences carried out to support a drug habit, and a second because of sexual offences against underage boys.