Critical Context

Tango was an instant success, both in Poland and abroad, and is perhaps the best-known contemporary Polish play. Its obvious allusions to the political situation in Poland contributed to the playwright’s exile from his homeland in 1968, as well as to a rediscovery of Polish drama in the Western world. As noted above, Tango is one of a large number of Polish plays drawing on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet; another of these is Stanisaw Wyspiaski’s Wyzwolenie (1903; the deliverance, untranslated), which attacks the Polish people (and Polish drama in particular) for an indulgence in lofty rhetoric and a corresponding lack of genuine action. The motif of the tango is taken from Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s last play, Szewcy (pr. 1957; The Shoemakers, 1968), in which a folk character, instead of doing the traditional Mulch dance in peasant clothes, appears in a tuxedo and does the tango.

As a result of the peculiar political situation of Poland during the latter half of the twentieth century, many contemporary Polish plays reflected on this particular history. Mroek does not see Poland as a completely singular case but as an extreme example of the consequence of common Western spiritual and political trends. It is this universal appeal that has made Tango such a popular play on European stages, allowing audiences all over the world to see themselves reflected in the Stomil family.