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Andrzej Sosnowski

The influence of Shakespeare's plays on works by J. Słowacki

[Wpływ twórczości W. Szekspira na dzieła J. Słowackiego]

Shakespearean themes in works by J. Słowacki

One of the strongest phenomena in the Romantic Era was Shakespeareanism which means drawing thematic motifs from chronicles and historical sources, presenting characters as individuals who are under the influence of strong emotions and moral conflicts, and rejecting the classical strict discipline of composition17. In other words, Shakespeareanism means fascination for Shakespeare. All great Romantics, to a greater or lesser degree, referred to the Elizabethan dramatist who became a spiritual and artist leader of this era. Perhaps, the secret lies in that the Romantic drama, just like Shakespeare's plays, showed passions, depicted the development of a human character, and presented the impact of social and political factors on a character's behaviour. Action belongs here to passions , which is the most typical feature connecting dramas of both epochs! Romantics' special fascination for the great Renaissance playwright is visible in the play of emotions and a complex soul of a man. This fascination can be seen, above all, in works by Juliusz Słowacki. The Polish poet takes up similar issues to the problems Shakespeare wrote about. Just like the British dramatist, Słowacki is interested, among other things, in psychological, moral, and philosophical issues.

The issues brought up in dramas by Słowacki concern strong emotions which Shakespeare had analyzed 500 years ago. Suffice it to mention desire for power and uncontrolled ambition which overcome a man. As far as Macbeth and Balladyna are concerned, these emotions led to the conflict with conscience, appeased moral rules, and made both characters tyrants for whom the most important things are the throne and the crown.

Both dramatists gave some thought to the human moral condition. In his plays, Słowacki asks the same questions which Shakespeare had asked much earlier. Just like Shakespeare, Słowacki reflects on whether a man should respond with a crime to a crime, or whether the only way to obtain power is through betrayal, cruelty, and assassination. Moral issues are strictly connected with philosophical matters as they concern problems of the assessment of the world and human bahaviour. The world depicted in dramas by Shakespeare (for example, Macbeth, Hamlet) is cruel and gloomy, which results from the fact that the laws of nature were violated by crime. Human actions destroy the order and are immoral. When Macbeth commits the crime, he is aware of the fact that he acts against the nature and its laws: Nature seems dead and wicked dreams abuse/ The curtained sleep. (Macbeth, Act II, Sc. I).

Balladyna also acts against the nature. Her death "by the hand of the nature" illustrates a folk sense of justice according to which, sooner or later, a wrongdoer will be rightly punished for his acts. Out of all Słowacki's dramas, "Balladyna" is probably "the most Shakespearean" play. This dramatic fairy tale plays with allusions to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's dramatic works constitute a plane of reference to Słowacki's play . There are so many allusions to the works by the Elizabethan dramatist that it is difficult to count them all. The scene of the feast in the fourth act of "Macbeth" is copied in the third act of "Balladyna" - Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, and Balladyna sees the ghost of Alina, the contrast between the cheerfulness of hosts and the atmosphere of dread is also visible. The words themselves in both dramas are also parallel. Macbeth's words: …beware Macduff, beware the tkane of Fife correspond to the excerpt in Polish: lękaj się drzewa! Lękaj się kwiatu! In "Balladyna" there are also references to "A Midsummer's Night Dream" - Goplana is modelled on Titania, Polish Skierka and Chochlik are Puck and Cobweb (some see here the characters of Ariel and Caliban from "The Tempest"). Traits of cruelty and treachery are taken from "King Lear". There are Shakespearean crowd scenes, liveliness, contrasts, mix of lyricism and narrative, and combination of optimism and bloody solemnity. The whole "Balladyna" is a drama with the Shakespearean subtext. "Kordian" is also based on "the Shakespearean issues and themes". While sitting at the seaside and pondering over the meaning of life, Kordian is reading a work by Shakespeare. Kordian's monologues on human existence and the purpose in life are identical to Hamlet's monologues. Dover, a town known from "King Lear" also occurs in "Kordian". In Słowacki's drama, just like in "Macbeth" and "Hamlet", there are hallucinations and madness, moral dilemmas and punishment.

Shakespeare introduced a man to issues concerning his body and soul. Shakespeare's characters and their statements entered the contemporary world permanently: the famous Hamlet's words "To be or not to be" symbolizes the pain of life and split personality. Macbeth's ambition shows the results of blind passion. The Polish Romantic drama probably would not exist, if it weren't for Shakespeare. Following the steps of Shakespeare and making use of his master's works, Słowacki became a great author of psychological portraits, an artist, an expert in human soul, a painter of passions, and an unmasker of human nature 1. He had a special gift for penetrating analysis of the human psyche. Every work of Słowacki is a rich source of information on the human soul - a flesh and blood person who is full of weaknesses and faults.

Both the above mentioned issues and the comparative characteristic of characters from the works of Shakespeare and Słowacki will be discussed in more detail in the next part.

to be continued

1 W. Szturc, Teoria dramatu romantycznego[The theory of the Rmomantic drama], Bydgoszcz 1999, p.25.