Jan Kott In Exile: Arden And Absolute Milan

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New Theatre Quarterly


In this essay, Allen J. Kuharski discusses Jan Kott as an exiled Polish writer best known for his essays on Shakespeare's plays, and compares and contrasts his writings with those of a variety of other Polish émigré writers, notably Witold Gombrowicz. He argues that Kott's most important contribution was ultimately as a performance theorist, in the traditions of Wyspianski and Brecht, rather than as a traditional critic or scholar, and in consequence he reached a wider readership in English and other languages than any other Polish writer. His choice of Shakespeare as a subject belied the full depth and complexity of the Polish sources (often experiential) for his readings of the plays – sources not always acknowledged in his work. Kuharski uses Kott's own syncretic, archetypal methods to interpret his life and work, explaining his position as an exiled writer via Shakespearean characters such as Duke Senior in As You Like It and Prospero in The Tempest – and, closest to the experience of the émigré, the cross-dressing Rosalind, compelled to belie herself in order to express herself. Tracing the evolution of Kott's complex existential self-definition in various phases of his life and writing, Kuharski concludes that the key to Kott's various authorial personae is the influence of the inter-war Polish writer and critic Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski. Allen J. Kuharski, Associate Editor for Theatre Journal, is the Director of the Theatre Studies Program at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, and has published extensively on Gombrowicz, Kott, and other aspects of contemporary Polish and American theatre in the US, UK, Poland, France, and the Netherlands. His translation and stage adaptation of Gombrowicz's novel Ferdydurke has been performed in various countries, winning a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001.