The Constant Prince (Książę Niezłomny)

Poster for "The Constant Prince (Książę Niezłomny)"a performance by the Laboratory Theatre directed by Jerzy Grotowski based on Juliusz Słowacki’s reworking of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s drama. The closed premiere took place on 20 April 1965 in Wrocław, with the public premiere coming five days later in the same city. The textual basis for the performance was Juliusz Słowacki’s unusual translation of Calderón’s three-act drama from 1628/29. The drama focuses on the martyr’s fate of the Portuguese Infante Don Fernando (1402–43) who having found himself imprisoned refused to agree to being freed in exchange for ceding the strategic port of Ceuta to the Moors. As a result, he died of exhaustion, considering it a voluntary death which sanctified his sacrifice. Written in 1843, the Polish version of the drama is faithful to the original, yet at the same time it went deeper and was supplemented by elements exploring spiritual transformation linked to the readiness for the complete sacrifice of anything sensual and corporeal for supernatural values. According to Słowacki’s own testimony, in creating his own version he filtered the experience of Don Fernando through himself in a manner resembling the theatrical experiencing of a protagonist’s fate. This process meant his text appeared less as a translation and more as a script depicting the transcription of a dramatic experience. Work on the performance had already begun in spring 1964 in Opole. Work took a two-track approach: Grotowski worked with the whole company with the exception of Ryszard Cieślak, with whom he worked individually, as the actor playing the lead role. In these closed sessions of highly intimate work, the director – to use Grotowski’s own expression – performed the function of an obstetrician who helped the actor in his dramatic experiments, conducted on himself, whose outcome was the total act. Working on the Calderon/Słowacki text and composing the performance, Grotowski was aiming at underlining the ‘Court-Prince’ opposition, while also making the actions of the Prince a second axis of the piece (indeed quite literally, since for the majority of the performance Don Fernando remains at the centre of the oval space constructed by Jerzy Gurawski, positioned on a plinth/altar/grave while the Court circles around him). As a result, there emerges a confrontation of two equally real and human worlds which are though ruled by completely opposing values. The costumes also served to underscore this difference: the court was dressed in dark clothes, styled partly on military attire (they wore high army boots), while the Prince appeared almost naked and defenceless, dressed only in a white loincloth around his hips before being covered in a red coat in the finale. The simple colour contrasts emphasised starkly the opposition of dark and light, darkness and brightness. While recalling the long creative process accompanying the creation of the Prince character, we should be careful not to overlook the level of attention dedicated to the composition of the actions of the Court, which were most clearly inspired by the image of a flock of birds. Bird motifs also appeared in the composition of movement and gesture as well as in the songs used (‘Uciekła mi przepióreczka’ [My little quail has flown]). At the same time, the flock-like circling of the Court around the centrally-positioned and light Prince strongly accented the singularity of his presence and attitude. The strangeness was also underlined by the process by which the first two parts of the performance were constructed on the basis of analogy and repetition. In the first part, the choir encircles the frightened prisoner (Don Enrique played by Gaston Kulig and then from the second version onwards by Stanisław Scierski) and then, after a whole sequence of preparations (the dance to the melody of ‘Przepióreczka’ (Guail), the corrida, the procession of cripples awaiting a cure), proceeds to carry out the ritual of castrating the prisoner, with this ceremony transforming him into a member of the Court (initially dressed only in a light loincloth around his hips, after the ceremony the prisoner puts on a black costume identical to the ones worn by the others). Then a second prisoner, Don Fernando, runs into the torture chamber, which is also a room of ‘anatomical theatre’ – and he was also dressed only in a white loincloth around his hips. The court then repeated the entire sequence of actions leading always to the same point – the castration ceremony. This time, however, the series is broken and the unfulfilled sacrifice Don Fernando embraces Fenixana (Rena Mirecka), for whom and under whose leadership the ritual is carried out, and tenderly strokes her face. In this way, Don Fernando refuses to become a member of the Court and thus offers himself for Sacrifice. This first sacrificial act is performed by the Prince as he issues his first great monologue stating his refusal to cede Ceuta. From the Court’s perspective this is a scandalous and absurd decision, yet one which it accepts with joy. This initiates a series of scenes which make clear references to the iconography of the Passion: humiliation and acceptance of the Cross (the Prince prostrated himself in the position of the Crucified One), whipping, a crown of thorns, Ecce Homo, and, finally, being taken down from the cross and The Pietà. The images, created by the actors’ bodies with minimal use of simple props, were intertwined with the minuet sequences, danced to a guttural, almost animal lament in honour of the sacrifice. At the same time, the Prince’s passion is filled with references to the Catholic devotions: the whipping is accompanied by the litanies to the Virgin Mary, while the scenes of torment are also a confession (the Ecce Homo created by Fenixana who kneels and says the mea culpa) and absolution (the knocking that follows the Pietà scene). It would be quite reasonable to find oneself under the impression that Don Fernando consciously took the sins of the Court onto himself, while the court joyously liberated itself from their significance. In this context, the Prince’s torment had a salvific character – in administering the Prince’s torture, the Court gains a new saint. The second monologue, which ended with an attack of deathbed palpitations, is followed by a scene identical to the culminating scene of Catholic Mass – Communion. The Court drank the blood and consumed the body of the Prince, employing gestures which drew unequivocal comparisons with the act of taking Holy Communion. The long scene depicting the fight between Don Enrique, on the one hand, and the King and Fenixana, on the other, over who will be able to claim the new saint stands in sharp contrast to the ‘Communion’ scene. It is during the Prince’s third monologue that Ryszard Cieślak in "The Constant Prince (Książę Niezłomny)"Cieślak reached the culmination of his deed as an actor. He issues his monologue standing on a centrally-positioned wooden chest, creating an image of a human being, resplendent with his inner brilliance, speaking of death while living. Although in the scheme of action in the Calderon/Słowacki drama the Prince’s third monologue is issued by a dying hero, within the performance’s dramaturgical scheme it is of a completely different nature. If we consider the scenes surrounding the second monologue, as well as the monologue itself, as expressions of Passion and Crucifixion, then the third monologue appears as the equivalent of Resurrection and Ascension. It concludes with the death-throes of Don Fernando – his body is overcome by death throes, yet the reality of death is annulled by the actor’s forceful, joyous, extraordinary laughter. The Court formed a procession and left the performance space, leaving the martyr’s body on the wooden chest covered in a red overcoat. They did not reappear to receive applause, nor did they give any of the other conventional signals that indicate the end of a performance – the Prince’s body was left untouched until the final spectator had left the room. The Constant Prince soon became one of Grotowski’s most famous performances and entered the canon of twentieth-century theatre masterpieces. It was performed around Poland (Łódź 1–4 October 1965; Gdańsk 7–10 October 1965), though it was mainly staged as a touring production abroad: Stockholm (21 February – 2 March 1965), Copenhagen (5–14 March 1966) and Oslo (20–22 March 1966), in Paris (21–25 June 1966 in the prestigious Paris Odéon as part of the 10th Theatre of Nations – it was these performances in what at the time was the world’s cultural capital that gained The Constant Prince international renown), Amsterdam as part of the Holland Festival (28 June – 2 July 1966), Liège (27–30 September 1966), Spoleto (2–8 July 1967), Belgrade (9–12 September 1967), Mexico (4–18 September 1968), London (25–29 September 1969), Manchester (2–3 and 6–7 October 1969), Lancaster (10–11 October 1969), New York (16 October – 2 November, 29 November – 3 December, 5–7 December 1969), Shiraz, Iran, (26 August – 5 September 1970), Beirut (9–10, 12–14 September 1970), Teheran (17 December 1970) and West Berlin (3–6 and 8–10 December 1970). The production also gained fame thanks to the photographs and descriptions included in the book Towards a Poor Theatre. As a result, The Constant Prince acquired legendary status, becoming an icon of the revolution in theatre and acting brought about by the group led by Grotowski. Over the years it was performed, there were changes in the cast, leading to the development of different versions. The most famous version is the second with Stanisław Scierski in the role of Don Enrique, having replaced Gaston Kulig (premier 14 September 1965 in Wrocław). It was this version that was filmed in Spoleto in 1967 using a hidden camera, while the soundtrack was added from an Oslo performance in March 1966. This recording, together with the multi-language subtitles created by a team led by Ferrucio Marotti at Sapienza University of Rome, provides a source of knowledge about the performance for future generations. The premiere of the third version took place in Wrocław on 18 March 1968, with Zygmunt Molik replacing Maja Komorowska in the role of Tarudante and Zbigniew Cynkutis taking the place of Mieczysław Janowski as Muley.


Ryszard Cieślak: Szaleństwo Benwolia, na podstawie rozmowy przeprowadzonej przez Konstantinosa Themelisa, spisał z nagrania Bruno Chojak, wybór i opracowanie Zbigniew Jędrychowski, „Notatnik Teatralny” wiosna/lato 1995 nr 10, s. 40–47.

Ludwik Flaszen: „Książę Niezłomny”. Przypisy do przedstawienia, i „Książę Niezłomny”. Przebieg scen; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 83–87.

Jerzy Grotowski: Książę Niezłomny Ryszarda Cieślaka, „Notatnik Teatralny” 1995 nr 10 (wiosna–lato), s. 21–28.

Paweł Goźliński: Święty książę od obrazów, [w:] tegoż: Bóg aktor. Romantyczny teatr świata, Gdańsk 2005, s. 255–340.

Leonia Jabłonkówna: „Książę Niezłomny” w Teatrze 13 Rzędów, „Teatr” 1966 nr 2, z 16–31 stycznia, s. 8-9; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia…, s. 178–183.

Józef Kelera: Teatr w stanie łaski, „Odra” 1965, nr 11, s. 71–71; przedruk [w:] tegoż: Pojedynki o teatr, Wrocław 1969, s. 179–188.

Dariusz Kosiński: Polski teatr przemiany, Wrocław 2007, s. 117–196 i 427–437.

Jacek Łukaszewicz: Książę Niezłomny, [w:] tegoż: Zagłoba w piekle, Kraków 1965, s. 184–198.

Zbigniew Osiński: Książę Niezłomny Jerzego Grotowskiego, [w:] tegoż: Teatr Dionizosa. Romantyzm w polskim teatrze współczesnym, Kraków 1972, s. 221–257; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia…., s. 386–416.

Zbigniew Osiński: Jeszcze raz o „Księciu Niezłomnym” w Reducie i w Teatrze Laboratorium, [w:] tegoż: Pamięć Reduty. Osterwa, Limanowski, Grotowski, Gdańsk 2003, s. 479–518; przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia…, s. 444–480.

Max Waldman: The Constant Prince – A Portfolio, „TDR: A Journal of Performance Studies” 1970, Winter, vol. 14, no. 2 (T46), s. 164–177.