The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 of The Police opens in the office of the Chief of Police in an unspecified monarchy. Much to the consternation of the Chief of Police, the Prisoner declares that after ten years in prison he has had a change of heart and will sign an oath of loyalty to the government. Ten years ago he had attempted to assassinate the General by throwing a bomb at him, but the bomb failed to explode. For ten years he has been interrogated and urged to renounce his antagonism toward the Infant King and the Regent. He has steadfastly refused, but now he has suddenly seen the light and will give in to the government’s demands. He is tired of being the last prisoner in the country and eager to join the rest of the population in devoting all of his strength to the support of “the best political system in the world.”ek)}awomir Mro{zdot}ek{/I}[Police]}ek)}

The Chief of Police is less than exhilarated by his last prisoner’s sudden change of heart. He tries his best to trap the Prisoner into revealing that his newly discovered love for the government and the authorities is only a ruse to gain his freedom, but the former revolutionary is steadfast. He has observed the country and the populace from the window of his cell and admires their loyalty and the progress that has been made during the years of his imprisonment. More than that, he has begun to be weary of his adolescent rejection of law and order, which has left him free but aimless. He has become nostalgic for a sense of belonging, for “a joyful and calm conformity, an eager hope in the future, and the peace which flows from full submission to authority.” He no longer wants to be the only remaining dark spot despoiling the otherwise perfect society which the Infant King and the Regent have created. Once he is reformed and released, prisons will no longer be necessary and can be turned into schools.

At this point, the Sergeant, in civilian clothes, enters the office, battered and limping. He has been making the rounds among the population, trying to provoke somebody into making disloyal remarks about the government to allow him to make an arrest, but has been treated roughly by an enthusiastically loyal populace. This is the last straw for the Prisoner: He demands to sign the oath...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Police uses the techniques of the Theater of the Absurd. The play employs cartoonlike characters—Mroek began his literary career as a newspaper cartoonist—and the cliché-ridden dialogue typical of the plays of Eugène Ionesco. Like many of Mroek’s early plays, The Police also exhibits the influence of Alfred Jarry, whose play Ubu roi (pr., pb. 1896; Ubu the King, 1951), set in Poland, is considered the prototype of the contemporary anti-illusionist theater. Mroek works in this anti-illusionist vein by creating an unidentified country composed of grotesquely distorted real features of Polish society. In his production note he warns that “this play does not contain anything except what it actually contains. This means that it is not an allusion to anything, it is not a metaphor, and it should not be read as such.” This caveat, while affording Mroek a modicum of protection, is clearly duplicitous, for by his very prohibition Mroek ensures that audiences will understand the parallels to life in Poland during the Cold War.

Thus the country is not named; indeed, it is ruled by an Infant King and his uncle, the Regent, who appear only as pictures in state offices. The characters do not have any personal names that might associate them with Poland but are identified only by their dramatic functions or their professions. The police officials have mustaches and wear jackboots, swords, and high, stiff collars. The Prisoner has a “pointed beard like those of nineteenth-century progressives.” The result is a Kafkaesque no-man’s land, at once nightmarish and ridiculous, run by a grotesque, menacing bureaucracy. Like many absurdist plays, The Police employs comic devices but is not ultimately a comedy: No harmony is created or restored at the end.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gerould, Daniel, ed. Twentieth-Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama: Plays, Scenarios, Critical Documents. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Kloscowicz, Jan. Mroek. Translated by Christine Cankalski. Warsaw: Authors Agency and Czytelnik, 1980.

Kott, Jan. Theatre Notebook, 1947-1967. Translated by Bodesaw Taborski. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1969.