Critical Context

Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (or Witkacy, as he liked to call himself) was trained as a painter but maintained truly universal interests. He wrote more than thirty plays, the greater part of these between 1918 and 1926. Few were published or even widely produced during his lifetime, and recognition of his importance as a playwright did not come until after World War II, when the rediscovery of his works fortuitously coincided with the vogue of the Theater of the Absurd. Within his oeuvre, The Madman and the Nun is perhaps the most accessible work, and it has therefore enjoyed far more performances outside Poland than any other Witkacian text.

The Madman and the Nun, with its surprising structural discontinuities, in many ways embodies the new type of drama that Witkiewicz had postulated in his 1919 essay, “Wstep do teorii czystej formy” (“An Introduction to the Theory of Pure Form”). Here, he posited a fantastic psychology and action unhampered by rational motivation or probability, a purity of dramatic plot that he had elsewhere called “non-Euclidian.” The play is a highly successful exercise in stretching and ultimately breaking the conventions of realism and asserting the autonomy of the theater to formulate its own laws.

The Madman and the Nun must be described as a play of Witkiewicz’s maturity as a playwright. It was preceded by largely experimental dramas such as Tumor Mózgowicz (pr., pb....

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