2012-03-19
2012-03-26

Słowacki Juliusz

(1809–1849), the greatest Polish dramatist, poet and philosopher and, alongside Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest representative of Polish romanticism. Author of lyrical poems (Hymn, Smutno mi, Boże! [I feel sad, oh Lord!], Testament mój [My testament]) and epic prose poems (Lambro, Godzina myśli [An hour of thought], Beniowski, Anhelli, Król-Duch [The Spirit King]) which are among the classics of Polish literature. He also created an original philosophical system (known as system genezyjski – Genesis or Genesian system) which combined the traditions of spiritualism and evolutionism (see the text Genezis z ducha [Genesis from the Spirit]). As a dramatist, he developed an original technique that employed intensified dramatic tension which culminated in further scenes of an explosive nature that reveal the ambiguity and complexity of the protagonists’ personalities. In contrast to the demands of the dominant poetics of the time, Słowacki did not tone down or erase the contradictions of human nature and the world, he did not submit either to the poetics’ ideological tendencies or to their philosophical programme but instead presented a truly dramatic vision of reality perceived as a challenging mystery calling out to be solved. His achievements certainly made him ahead of his time and he sometimes departed so significantly from the dominant poetics of his age that his later works were for a long time considered unfinished, unstageable and failures, but it is only today that their particular characteristics and values are beginning to acquire recognition as pioneering attempts at open works. Słowacki’s first drama was the historical tragedy Mindowe (Mindaugas; 1829–30, published 1832) which draws upon a theme that Słowacki’s father Euzebiusz first explored (Mendog, król litewski [Mendog, the Lithuanian king], 1813). Although Słowacki’s debut drama was, by all accounts – including the author’s own, an immature work, it nevertheless contained elements that would be typical of his writing. Mindowe presents the theme of the battle against the enslavement and subjugation of elementary innocence, with this being embodied in a woman (Aldona). This was the central theme of another of Słowacki’s historical tragedies, Mary Stuart (1830, publ. 1832), which depicted the defeat of an embattled woman. The first phase in Słowacki’s writing ends with perhaps his most famous drama Kordian (1833, publ. 1834). This polemic against Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) presents the fate of a young Pole who seeks both an aim in life and also a certain and irrefutable truth about the sense of his existence. Kordian’s experiences form a model biography of a representative of his generation, with the literary work presenting a masterful depiction of a dramatic journey while also providing a metaphor of existence as a constant cognitive experiment which leads to further disappointments. Kordian marks the start of a phase of experimentation in aesthetics and worldview by Słowacki. Shortly after Kordian he wrote Balladyna (1834, publ. 1839) – a fairy-tale fantasy, both ironic and tragic, which is also a variation on Shakespearean themes, and the unfinished drama which its publishers titled Horsztyński (1835, publ. 1866), which presented the irresolvable dilemmas of a hero caught in the trap of emotions, obligations, doubts and historical challenges. A further series of dramas was created in the late 1830s and early 1840s, with works including the historical tragedy Mazepa (1839, publ. 1840) – of near-classical construction yet also provocative (the theme of incestuous love, the negative portrayal of the Polish magnates and king while at the same time idealising the eponymous hero, a Ukrainian); the pseudo-historical tragedy Lilla Weneda (1839, publ. 1840) – an iconoclastic representation of the beginnings of the Polish state; and Beatrix Cenci (1840, publ. 1866) – a masterpiece of the romantic theatre of cruelty. Meanwhile, the following works are connected to Słowacki’s spiritual watershed of the 1840s: the mysterious contemporary tragicomedy Fantazy (date of writing unknown, publ. 1866) which is a masterpiece of irony and ambiguity, and the fragments of a historical drama Złota czaska (Golden skull; 1842?, publ. 1866). The early 1840s were a period of deep spiritual transformations connected to Słowacki’s encounter with the theosophist Andrzej Towiański, followed by his own experiences and practices of a mystical nature (one of the stages of his internal watershed of 1843 was working on The Constant Prince [Książę niezłomny] – a genial reworking of Calderon’s drama). After 1843, Słowacki created dramas which showed the metaphysical ‘underbelly’ of history, unmasking the hidden meaning of events while also showing the place and mission of human beings within them. The dramas of this period do not take the form of tendentious and religious works, but rather are dramas full of contradictions and conflicts written by an artist battling against his own doubts while retaining clear sight of the world’s ambiguity. The works from this period include those completed and published during his lifetime: Ksiądz Marek (Father Mark, 1843), which is a reinterpretation of the history of the Confederation of Bar in the spirit of mysticism, and Sen srebrny Salomei (The Silver Dream of Salomea, 1844) – an almost scandalously courageous and cruel ‘romance’ drama full of outrageously contrasting tones set against the background of Polish-Ukrainian relations. Other works from this period include texts that existed as incomplete fragments, in multiple manuscript versions or in differently edited versions: Agezylausz (Agesilaus, 1844, publ. 1844), Zawisza Czarny (Zawisza the Black Knight, 1844-45, publ. 1908) and, the most famous of this group, the work which publishers titled Samuel Zborowski (1844–45, publ. 1901) which is an almost uncontrolled explosion of mysticism, poetry and aesthetic and spatial imagination, while also attempting to depict the history of Poland and the world in accordance with the Genesian worldview. Only one of Słowacki’s works was staged during his lifetime, namely Mazepa in a Hungarian translation on 13 December 1847 (the poet almost certainly knew nothing about this premiere). Słowacki debuted in the Polish theatre with the same work but on 5 June 1851. From the middle of the nineteenth century, Słowacki quickly became the most important Polish author and one of the most frequently staged, with some of the greatest Polish theatre artists – from Helena Modrzejewska and Stanisław Koźmian through Leon Schiller and Juliusz Osterwa to Konrad Swinarski – involved in discovering and uncovering the possibilities and multiple forms contained in Słowacki’s theatre. Jerzy Grotowski was another who regularly approached Słowacki’s texts. Already while working with the Student Academic Circle of the State Drama School in Kraków in 1953–54, Grotowski took on Horsztyński. At the Theatre of 13 Rows, he staged Kordian and The Constant Prince, while at the Laboratory Theatre he began work on Samuel Zborowski which gradually produced an outline for what would become Apocalypsis cum Figuris. Although Grotowski distanced himself from both Słowacki’s philosophy, particularly its more mystical elements, and also his aesthetics, both artists were nevertheless connected by a resilience in their willingness to experiment, by their conviction that it is necessary to find an answer to the most fundamental questions, and also by their distrust of all systems which have not been subject to proof through practice.

Bibliography: 

Beata Baczyńska: „Książę Niezłomny”. Hiszpański pierwowzór i polski przekład, Wrocław 2002.

Paweł Goźliński: Bóg Aktor. Romantyczny teatr świata, Gdańsk 2005.

Juliusz Słowacki we wspomnieniach współczesnych, opracował Jerzy Starnawski, Wrocław 1956.

Kalendarz życia i twórczości Juliusza Słowackiego, opracował Eugeniusz Sawrymowicz, Wrocław 1960.

Juliusz Kleiner: Juliusz Słowacki. Dzieje twórczości, t. 1–4, Warszawa 1927.

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

Alina Kowalczykowa: Słowacki, Warszawa 1994.

Marta Piwińska: Juliusz Słowacki od duchów, Warszawa 1992.

Ryszard Przybylski: Podróż Juliusza Słowackiego na Wschód, Kraków 1982.

Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz: Juliusz Słowacki pyta o godzinę, Warszawa 1989.

Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz: Słowacki. Encyklopedia, Warszawa 2004.

Magdalena Saganiak: Dramaty Słowackiego w teatrze Grotowskiego, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2000 z. 1–4 (193–196), s. 374–402.

Słowacki/Grotowski. Rekontekstualizacje, pod redakcją Dariusza Konińskiego i Wandy Świątkowskiej, Wrocław 2010.

Marek Troszyński: Austeria pod Królem Duchem. Raptularz ostatnich lat Juliusza Słowackiego, Warszawa 2001.