Sławomir Mrożek Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Sawomir Mroek began his career as a writer of sketches and short stories, some of which are collected in So (1957; The Elephant, 1962). More stories by Mroek have been collected and translated into English as The Ugupu Bird (1968). His published fiction in Polish includes Pópancerze praktyczne (1953), Wesele in Atomice (1959), Postpowiec (1960), Deszcz (1962), and Opowiadania (1964). He also has published a book of satiric drawings, Polska w obrazach (1957). Although Mroek writes drama primarily for the stage, he has adapted for television Dom na granicy (1967; The Home on the Border, 1967), from his short story of the same title, and he has written a monologue for radio titled Woda (1967). His radio play Rzenia was produced onstage in Warsaw in 1975. Adaptations of Mroek’s work include “Siesta,” adapted by Martin Esslin, from the short story of the same name for the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1963; a comic opera adapted by Henryk Czyz from Mroek’s play Kynolog w rozterce; and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Nicholas Bethell’s translation of Tango for the Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1966. Mroek also contributed regularly to the Polish avant-garde magazine Dialog from 1959 to 1967.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

While Sawomir Mroek was awarded both the literary prize in 1957 by the Warsaw magazine Przegld Kulturalny and the Millennium Award of the Jurzy-kowski Foundation in New York in 1964, his achievements are perhaps greater in the contributions he has afforded Polish theater. Mroek is generally regarded as the first Polish dramatist in the Theater of the Absurd, although as his work becomes more accessible to audiences outside Poland, he is emerging as one of the leaders of international postabsurdist drama. Mroek’s career can be divided into two phases. The first phase, which culminated with his important work Tango, is characterized by what the dramatist himself describes as a concern with exploring metaphors and ideas. His plays since Tango are marked by a less experimental and more direct political and social style.

Another of Mroek’s great achievements is his use of allusions recognizable in both East and West. His early stories parody works by Samuel Beckett, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde. Tango has been described as a Hamlet play, and Vatzlav encompasses both the structure of Everyman and the techniques of Bertolt Brecht. Mroek’s plays are also characterized by an audacious theatricality. In Striptease, a huge hand enters through a door to make demands of the two men imprisoned there, whereas in Rzenia (the slaughterhouse) a horde of barnyard animals invades a music-hall concert.

Mroek has benefited from Western interest in Eastern European literature brought about, in part, by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Solidarity movement in Poland during the early 1980’s. The political content of his early plays, cleverly conveyed through irony and metaphor, proved attractive to audiences on both sides of the Iron Curtain. His later works, such as The Emigrés and Alpha, tend to be didactic and realistic, rather than suggestive and fantastic. Nevertheless, he retains his sense of absurdity, his satiric bite, and his concern with form.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Czerwinski, E. J. Contemporary Polish Theater and Drama (1965-1984). New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. Provides history and criticism of Polish theater in the mid-to late twentieth century. Bibliography and index.

Gerould, Daniel, ed. Twentieth Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama: Plays, Scenarios, Critical Documents. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977. Explores Poland’s experimental theater and provides translations of major plays and documents.

Kott, Jan. Theatre Notebook: 1947-1967. Translated by B. Taborski. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Provides translated analysis of Polish theater.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. 1969. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Provides history and criticism of Polish literature. Bibliography and index.

O’Neill, Michael C. “A Collage of History in the Form of Mroek’s Tango.” The Polish Review 28, no. 2 (1983). Explores historical references in Tango.

Stephan, Halina. Transcending the Absurd: Drama and Prose of Sawomir Mroek. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997. The first monographic study devoted to Mroek, this work centers on his development as a playwright and provides criticism and interpretation of Mroek’s life and works. Bibliography and index.