Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

The Dead Class is one of the many performance pieces in which Tadeusz Kantor made use of his background as a visual artist. Kantor’s childhood memories of Wielopole, a small town in Eastern Poland with its cross section of Roman Catholics and Jews, help determine the shape, character, and atmosphere of his paintings, drawings, collages, emballage (wrapped humans), happenings, and theatrical performances. Kantor’s exploration of the possibilities of the theater led him to Witkiewicz’s “theory of pure form” as a means of extending the spatial and temporal possibilities of the stage. However, in his stagings of Witkiewicz’s Mtwa: Czyli Hyrkaniczny wiatopogld (1923; The Cuttlefish, 1970), produced in 1956, and Kurka wodna (1922; The Water Hen, 1969), produced in 1968, and other plays, Kantor gave his actors freedom of action from Witkiewicz’s texts. While remaining faithful to the main threads of plot, Kantor broke up Witkiewicz’s dialogue to serve as an accompaniment. These stagings anticipate Kantor’s use of Witkiewicz as a participant in the creation of The Dead Class.

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Although the theatrical devices of puppets, wax figures, machinery, and emballage can be traced to Kantor’s staging of Witkiewicz’s plays, The Dead Class was his first presentation of his own mythology and the mythology of his period. Like The Dead Class, Wielopole, Wielopole (pr. 1980; English translation, 1982) is not based on a literary text but represented Kantor’s return to his childhood and the interwar period of Polish history. As in The Dead Class, the period is evoked through the manipulation of stage imagery, the use of music, and Kantor’s own choreography of the events as the director of the performance. Niech sczena artysci (pr. 1985; Let the Artists Die , 1985) presents Kantor’s story from three perspectives—as a six-year-old boy, as the...

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