Central and Southeastern European Drama Analysis


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Polandhas a particularly rich theater tradition. During the Middle Ages, mystery and morality plays were produced under religious auspices; the only surviving example of the genre, Mikoaj of Wilkowiecka’s Historia o chwalebnym Zmartwychwstaniu Paskim (pr. c. 1580; the history of the lord’s glorious resurrection), is still performed today. Jan Kochanowski’s Odprawa posów grekich (pr. 1578; The Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys, 1994) was the first secular drama written in Polish, and inaugurated a tradition of court patronage of the theater that lasted until the country lost its independence in 1795.

The National Theater, the first public dramatic company in Poland, was founded in 1765, and was initially directed by foreign managers who concentrated on adaptations or imitations of plays by Molière, Voltaire, and Carlo Goldoni. During the years 1783 to 1814, however, the administration of the Polish actor, writer, and director Wojciech Bogusawskisystematically encouraged native plays and playwrights, established the first school for the training of actors, and developed a network of provincial theaters. This policy began to pay literary dividends with such accomplished works as Alojzy Feliski’s Barbara Radziwiówna (pr. 1817; Barbara Radziwi), a tragedy based on the life of a sixteenth century Polish queen that has been compared with Jean Racine’s Bérénice (pr. 1670; English translation, 1676).

In Poland, as elsewhere, the first third of the nineteenth century saw the Romantic movement capture the imaginations of many young writers, of whom Adam Mickiewicz would go on to achieve international as well as domestic success. Mickiewicz is best known as a poet, but his Dziady (pb. parts 2,4, 1823; pb. part 3, 1832; Forefathers’ Eve, 1968) is a four-part dramatic epic that combines folkloric elements with impassioned patriotic pleas. Never performed in Mickiewicz’s lifetime, it was nonetheless a widely read and very influential work that helped to set a nationalistic agenda for Polish drama.

Like Mickiewicz, Juliusz Sowacki, and Zygmunt Krasiski were forced to seek refuge in France after the failure of the 1830-1831 revolts against Poland’s foreign rulers. Each of these dramatists made important contributions to the theater: Sowacki’s Kordian (pb. 1834) is a stirring examination of political conspiracy, and Fantazy (wr. 1841; English translation, 1977) goes against the period’s grain with its anti-Romantic comedy. Krasiski’s Nie-Boska komedia (pb. 1835; The Undivine Comedy, 1846) is a politically engaged attempt to bring about the transformation of his homeland into a truly just...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dramatic works based on religious ceremonies begin to appear in Hungary in the eleventh century, and by the fifteenth century passion plays were enacted throughout the country. In the 1500’s, strife between Catholic and Protestant factions began a tradition of polemical religious theater that found Protestant ministers such as Mihály Sztáraidepicting Catholic clerics as ignorant and bigoted in Az igaz papságnak tüköre (pb. 1559; a mirror of true priesthood), a play more significant for beginning a national theater tradition than for any intrinsic merit. Catholics, who previously had conducted their anti-Protestant propaganda in Latin, now found it necessary to produce Hungarian-language responses to such attacks; many of these “school plays,” as the works on both sides came to be known, include comment on contemporary political or social issues in addition to their dominant concern with defending true religion.

Secular theater until the late eighteenth century featured adaptations of foreign works. Then György Bessenyei ’s series of nationalistic historical dramas, of which Hunyadi László tragédiája (pb. 1772; the tragedy of Hunyadi László) is the first, as well as his cleverly constructed polemic for Enlightenment ideas, A filozófus (pb. 1777; the philosopher), sparked an explosion of new plays by Hungarian writers. Károly Kisfaludy earned both popular and critical success with romantic dramas such as A kérk (pr. 1819; the suitors) and Iréne (pr. 1821), and József Katona wrote what is generally considered Hungary’s first great tragedy, Bánk bán (pr. 1815; viceroy Bank). Mihály Vörösmarty,an accomplished poet as well as playwright, wrote several complex, moody dramas that often made excellent use of fantasy elements, as in the case of the fairy-tale philosophers who cavort their way through Csongor és Tünde (pb. 1831). Another aspect of his art was revealed in Vérnász (pr. 1833; blood wedding), in which sharp psychological conflict is grounded in realistic social settings.


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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Czechoslovakia existed as an independent country only from 1918 to 1993, when the Czech and Slovak Republics went their separate ways. Historically Czech and Slovak cultures have undergone very different patterns of development. Although some Slovakian drama was produced in the nineteenth century, it was only after Czechoslovakia became an independent nation in 1918 that notable playwrights begin to appear. Ivan Stodola, whose comedy of nouveau-riche greed Kariéra Jozky Pucíka (pr. 1931) is still performed, and Július Bar-Ivan,whose sentimental but moving Matka (pr. 1943; mother) has also stood the test of time, are representative figures.

After World War II, Slovakian theater produced several young talents of note, although none achieved the international reputation of their Czech contemporaries: Peter Karvas̆, a skilled comic writer whose Velká parocha (pr. 1964; a great wig) is his most admired work, and Igor Rusnák,whose Lisky, dobrú noc (pr. 1964; foxes, good night) sympathizes with the difficulties of Slovakian youth, are important. Since 1990 the Stoka Theater in Bratislava has mounted several acclaimed collective productions; Eo ipso (pr. 1994; by itself), which contrasts elitist and popular approaches to the arts, has been toured abroad as exemplifying Slovakia’s achievements in the drama.

Czech-language drama began with religious plays, and the integration of the national language into the Latin used in Catholic ritual occurred far earlier than in other Eastern European countries. By the fourteenth century, secular as well as religious works were being performed in a hybrid Latin-Czech idiom, with Czech gradually dominating as lay participation increased. Although none survive in their entirety, there are some manuscript remains that suggest these plays took remarkable liberties in satirizing abuses by the clergy.

After a period of stagnation during which the puritanical Hussite movement suppressed most theatrical activity, Czech drama revived in the sixteenth century. Comedies of contemporary life were popular: Pavel Kyrmezer ’s Komedie ceská o bohatci a Lazarovi (pb. 1566; the Czech comedy about a money-bag and Lazarus) was set amid Prague’s slums, and Jiri Tesak Moslovskyrsquo;s Komedie z knihy zakona boziho, jenz slove Ruth (pb.1604; the comedy from the book of God’s testament, which is called Ruth) placed a traditional Bible story in a contemporary peasant context.

The incorporation of the Czech state into...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dominated by first Roman, then Byzantine, and finally Turkish cultural influences, it was not until the nineteenth century that any significant indigenous drama appeared in Romania Before that time, companies of foreign actors were frequent visitors and some Romanian schools put on plays, but generally only European classics were performed. The French Revolution awakened nationalistic aspirations, however, and by 1840 a national theater had been established and dramas in Romanian began to appear.

Three playwrights stand out in the nineteenth century. Vasile Alecsandri was prominent as both a director and a dramatist, writing a sharp comedy about resistance to Western influences in Iorgu de la Sadagura (pr....

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Under direct Turkish rule until 1878 and not fully independent until thirty years later, it took Bulgaria some time to develop an indigenous literary culture. Dobri Voinikov wrote and directed several historical melodramas in the 1860’s and 1870’s, of which Krivorazbranata tsivilizatsiia, pr. 1871 (civilization wrongly understood), was an influential defense of Bulgarian nationalism. Another important play from this period is Vasil Drumevrsquo;s Ivanko ubiets̆u: na Asenia I, pb. 1872 (Ivanko the assassin of Asen I), written in a slangy contemporary idiom that appealed to a wide audience.

The founding of a national theater in Sofia in 1907 created many opportunities for new playwrights. Ivan Vazov ’s historical dramas received the most performances, although the realistic treatments of social problems in Anton Strashimirov ’s Svekurva (pr. 1907; the mother-in-law) and Kushta (pr. 1909; the house) are now regarded as more literarily accomplished. The interwar era saw the emergence of Stefan Kostov,whose comedies blend entertainment with social relevance; Zlatnata mäna (pr. 1926; the gold mine) and Golemanov (pr. 1927; Golemanov) are still staged today.

The post-1945 communist takeover of Bulgaria produced little more than a number of dull propagandistic plays, almost all of which were forgotten following the return to a more democratic government in 1991. The country’s puppet theateris its most vital dramatic form. A high level of government subsidy supports several professional programs as well as companies such as Credo Theatre, which has been warmly received on international tours.

Southern Slav Nations

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s returned the region to a condition that mirrors its historical past, with Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia actively pursuing the development of their separate cultures.

As in Bulgaria, Serbia ’s long period of Turkish rule meant that theatrical activity was minimal until the nineteenth century. In 1834 Joakim Vujiestablished the first Serbian theater at Kragujevac, and in 1869, a national theater was established in Belgrade. Notable playwrights of the era include: Jovan Sterija Popoviæ, whose comedies Tvrdica: Ili, Kir Janja, (pr. 1837; the niggard, or Kir Janja) and Rodoljupci (pb. 1849; the patriots) are still staged today; Djura Jaks̆i, a...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barac, Antun. A History of Yugoslavian Literature. Translated by Pavel Miljuskovic. Belgrade: Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations, 1955. The only general history available in English, and still useful although somewhat dated. Includes material on Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Slovenian drama.

Braun, Kazimierz. History of Polish Theater, 1939-1989: Spheres of Captivity and Freedom. New York: Greenwood Press, 1996. An insightful account of Polish drama during the German and Soviet occupations, with many engaging anecdotes enlivening a sound scholarly treatment.

Burian, Jarka M. Modern Czech...

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