2012-03-19
2012-03-25

Wyspiański Stanisław

(1869–1907), dramatist, poet, painter, graphic designer, producer, one of the most multi-talented and also most important Polish artists of the twentieth century. He studied at the Kraków School of Fine Arts under renowned Polish painter Jan Matejko before moving to Paris where he developed his painting skills. In Paris, under the influence of the theatre of Wagner and a fascination with tragedy, his youthful interest in the theatre was revived, resulting in the first drafts of Legenda (then titled Wanda), Warszawianka (Varsovian Anthem), Daniel and Meleager. In 1894 he returned to Kraków and would never again be based outside the city for the rest of his lifetime. He began his career in the theatre as a set designer and producer (with what was known as the ‘floral tribute’ at the end of a show in honour of Adam Mickiewicz, 27 June 1898), before making his debut as a dramatist (Warszawianka, 26 November 1898). Further dramas written in the 1890s (a new draft of Legenda, 1898; Protesilas i Laodamia [Protesilaus and Laodamia], 1899; Klątwa [The Curse], 1899) generally did not make it to the stage, with the only exception being his first drama on the subject of the November Uprising, Lelewel (premier 20 May 1899). These early works, though often unfairly neglected, nevertheless already contained the most important themes and motifs of Wyspiański’s oeuvre: the opposition of life and death, the conflict of history and the individual’s order, attempts to reinterpret the mythical sources of national and personal identity, the demand to combat all symptoms of inertia and orders imposed on the individual by the collective. Legion (1900, premiere 1911) can be considered both a certain summary of this period and also Wyspiański’s first great dramatic work, which initiated a new period in his work. It was a poetic vision of the efforts that Mickiewicz undertook in his attempt to create the Polish Legions, while also serving as a critique of messianism. Wyspiański continued his battle against both the myths that sedated the will of the nation and also against vegetating, devoid of ideals, hidden under a mask of suffering, expressing this in his most famous work, Wesele (The Wedding), whose premiere on 16 March 1901 was a breakthrough moment in the history of the reception of his work. Overnight he acquired a reputation as the embodiment a new national bard and was also proclaimed the voice of a whole generation. He tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to free himself from this imposed role through the drama Wyzwolenie (Liberation; premiere 28 February 1903), which was something of a follow-up to Wesele, and also by tackling the supplementary and increasingly important theme of inertia and resurrection in the spiritual life of Poland in Akropolis (1904, premiere 1926). In the following years he continued work on themes previously explored in his early works, creating dramas connected to the sphere of Homeric myths (Achilleis, 1903, premiere 1925; Powrót Odysa [Return of Odysseus], 1907, premiere 1917), the pre-history and ancient history of Poland (a second revision of Legenda, 1904, premiere 1905; Bolesław Śmiały [Bolesław the Brave], 1903; Skałka, 1907) and the November Uprising (Noc listopadowa [November Night], 1904). In each of these works he carried out a reinterpretation of history or a myth, while aiming to depict a dynamic image of the life of the individual and the nation as the unceasing toil involved in forging one’s self in conflict with the world. In opposing passivity and spiritual inertia, he created an ethical model embodied by protagonists who matured into their fates, of which they became conscious at climactic moments that quite often coincided with their deaths. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one example of such a hero, and he appears in Wyspiański’s reinterpretation of the drama (known as Studium o Hamlecie [Hamlet Study], 1905). In the final years of his life, tormented by an incurable illness, he aimed to achieve a maximum density of language, and thus abandoned in the works created in this period (Sędziowie [The Judges], which he had been writing since the 1890s and finally completed in 1907, the unfinished Zygmunt August, 1907) the luxuriance of the Young Poland style in favour of precision and economy of language. Wyspiański’s impact on Polish theatre came not only through his dramas, but also thanks to his role as the first theatre artist in the modern sense of the word: as the author of a total stage form incorporating the text, stage design, direction and even musical accompaniment. After the triumphal success of Wesele, he was invited by the then director of Kraków’s Teatr Miejski (Municipal Theatre) Józef Kotarbiński to create the world premiere performance of Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve; 31 October 1901), following which he worked on bringing his own dramatic works to the stage. His most spectacular success as a producer came with Bolesław Śmiały (premiere 7 May 1903), when he created a suggestive artistic vision of the past drawn from the traditions of folk culture. There might have been less publicity surrounding the staging of Wyzwolenie (the set for the second act was a reproduction of the backstage) and Protesilas i Laodamia (an artistic vision of antiquity, with a multifarious performance space) but they were nevertheless valuable and interesting. His comments and reflections included in Studium o Hamlecie, where he presents theatre as a means of spiritual development and the site of a prepared, deep internal experience, had a great influence on Polish theatre, particularly approaches to acting. Grotowski referred directly to Wyspiański twice, creating his own versions of Akropolis and Studium o Hamlecie. It would be worth considering the deep connection between the two artists evident both in their rejection of all ossified forms and also in their similar attitude towards the Christian tradition, which for both of them provided the vital context for their art while also being subjected to radical, blasphemous tests.

Bibliography: 

Stanisław Brzozowski: Stanisław Wyspiański, [w:] tegoż: Współczesna powieść i krytyka. Stanisław Wyspiański. Artykuły literackie, wstępem poprzedził Tomasz Burek, układ tekstów Mieczysława Sroki, tekst w opracowaniu Janiny Bahr i Marii Rydlowej, notę wydawcy napisała i indeks zestawiła Janina Bahr, Kraków – Wrocław 1984.

Dariusz Kosiński: Polski teatr przemiany, Wrocław 2007, s. 197–292.

Ewa Miodońska-Brookes: „Mam ten dar: patrzę się inaczej”. Szkice o twórczości Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, Kraków 1997.

Maria Prussak: „Po ogniu szum wiatru cichego”. Wyspiański i mesjanizm, Warszawa 1993.

Stanisław Wyspiański. Studium artysty. Materiały z sesji naukowej na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim 7–9 czerwca 1995, pod red. naukową Ewy Miodońskiej-Brookes, Kraków 1996.

Studia o dramacie i teatrze Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, pod red. Jana Błońskiego i Jacka Popiela, Kraków 1994.

Wyspiański w oczach współczesnych, zebrał, opracował i komentarzem opatrzył Leon Płoszewski, Kraków 1971, t. 1–2.

Stanisław Wyspiański: Hamlet, [w:] tegoż: Dzieła zebrane, redakcja zespołowa pod kierownictwem Leona Płoszewskiego, t. 13, Kraków 1961.