Shakespeare has penetrated Polish tradition in ways few national writers have managed to do. Particularly Hamlet has functioned in Polish politico-cultural consciousness for centuries. Poles often identified their nation’s troublesome fate with the one of the Danish prince, while many Polish literary masters heavily drew from Shakespeare, including Adam Mickiewicz, Stanisław Wyspiański, Zbigniew Herbert, and Sławomir Mrożek. Elizabethan theatre still stands strongly in Poland, with interesting new Shakespearean productions coming up regularly and institutions such as Gdańsk Shakespearean Theatre (which hosts the annual Gdańsk Shakespearean Festival) gaining more and more recognition each year.
This summer, the special bond between the playwright and Poland, will be explored and celebrated during a ten-day Shakespeare and Poland festival at London’s Globe Theatre. Organised by the Polish Cultural Institute and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the festival will feature panel discussions, theatrical and music performances from artists and scholars connected to the Globe as well as guests from Poland. It will celebrate the works of the British playwright but also shine light onto two great figures in Polish literary tradition who perhaps lack the recognition outside their homeland – Jan Kochanowski and Stanisław Wyspiański.
The festival opens with two panel discussions featuring Shakespeare specialists, theatre directors, and artists from both England and Poland. On Wednesday 26th June, the seminar Poland is Hamlet will investigate the way Shakespeare shaped Polish national identity. Speakers include Professor Tony Howard, Jan Klata, Dr. Wanda Świątkowska, Professor Małgorzata Grzegorzewska and Jerzy Limon. The following day, the debate Polonius: The Polish Man? takes place, during which Dr. Jolanta Rzegocka, Professor Jarosław Kilian and Professor Andrew Hadfield will share their perspectives on the character of Polonius (whose Latin name directly translates to ‘the Polish Man’). Interestingly, the discussion will look at the other side of the bond, usually overlooked in the public debate, and search for the possibilities of Poland influencing Shakespeare.
The Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys,the first play written in Polish language by Jan Kochanowski (widely regarded as the poet who moulded the foundations of the Polish poetry) will be performed simultaneously in London and Warsaw on Sunday, 30th of June. The performance will be followed by a reading of Kochanowski’s best-known masterpiece Laments (1580). Laments, a series of nineteen elegies upon the premature death of his beloved daughter, has been compared by academics (including Seamus Heaney who translated Kochanowski’s masterpiece) to Shakespeare’s Sonnets on many occasions.
The Shakespeare and Poland festival also marks the 150th anniversary of Wyspiański’s birth. In celebration of the Polish playwright, artist and Shakespeare interpreter, the first ever English translation of his The Hamlet Study (1904) and The Death of Ophelia (1905) in translation by Barbara Bogoczek and Professor Tony Howard has been published by the Shakespeare’s Globe. The event consists of two parts – a discussion chaired by Patrick Spottiswoode, the curator of the festival, about Wyspianski’s life and work, followed by a reading of extracts from The Hamlet Study and a premiere of the one-act play The Death of Ophelia in Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The festival closes with the Song of Lear performances by the Song of the Goat Theatre on the 6th of July. The Wrocław-based travelling theatre company founded by Grzegorz Bral has received raving reviews for their innovative performances combining folk instruments, a-cappella singing and expressive choreography. The Song of the Goat Theatre premiered during Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 2012, winning three prestigious awards.
The Shakespeare and Poland festival is an important and attractive event on the cultural map of London no doubt, paying tribute to the vast influence of Shakespeare’s works on the political and cultural imagination of Poland. It also explores other dynamics within this relationship, searching for the answers if and how much the existence of Poland inspired the British playwright. It also studies the power of reading and interpreting Shakespeare’s works by artists who followed him – and how their building on the Shakespeare’s legacy shaped the way we may view his texts today.
For more information about the festival please visit: http://www.polishculture.org.uk/theatre/news/article/shakespeare-and-poland-festival-7576.html