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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