Wawel Meets Elsinore. The National and Universal Aspects of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Vision of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  • Andrzej Wicher University of Łódź
Keywords: Hamlet, Wyspiański, Shakespeare, the dilemmas of nationalism, old-fashioned heroism vs. modernity


The aim of this paper is to show the role, the possibilities and the limits of Wyspiański’s national thinking through Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Of particular importance, in this context, is the role the Ghost takes in Wyspiański’s celebrated interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. By the Ghost we mean the spirit of history, the ghost of a father, the spirit of the fatherland, the voice of the ancestors, and particularly that of the Polish king Casimir the Great, as well as the Holy Ghost and the Evil Spirit because all these aspects of the Ghost belong to Wyspiański’s vision. The play in question bears witness to what the Polish poet calls “the truth of other worlds,” as well as the truth of the theatre, which Wyspiański calls the labyrinth. The poet manages to reduce, to some extent, this difficult truth to the truth of the world he cared most about, that is the present and historical reality of Poland, more specifically the city of Cracow, known as Poland’s spiritual, that is “ghostly,” and only virtual, capital. It is also remarkable that Wyspiański saw the Ghost in Hamlet in the context of other Shakespearean ghosts, apparitions and magicians, such as those that appear in Macbeth, The Tempest, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Richard III. At the same time, Wyspiański realizes that the Ghost, with its irrationalism, offends the spirit of post-medieval times, and as such, is understandably neglected by Hamlet, who for Wyspiański, in anticipation of Harold Bloom, stands for modernity.


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Author Biography

Andrzej Wicher, University of Łódź

Andrzej Wicher is Professor at the Department of Studies in Drama and Pre-1800 English Literature and the head of the Centre for Research on English Medieval and Renaissance Literature in the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź. He published three scholarly books: Archaeology of the Sublime. Studies in Late-Medieval English Writings (Katowice, 1995), Shakespeare’s Parting Wondertales: A Study of the Elements of the Tale of Magic in William Shakespeare’s Late Plays (Łódź, 2003), and Selected Medieval and Religious Themes in the Works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (Łódź, 2013), and almost 90 articles, mainly on Medieval and Renaissance studies, cultural studies, and modern fantasy literature, with a special emphasis on the presence of folktale motifs in works of literature. He also translated some Middle English poems, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, into Polish. The most important of his latest publications is: Some Remarks on the Epic Dimension of “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien published in Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny LXIII 3 (Warszawa, 2016).


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How to Cite
Wicher, A. (2017). Wawel Meets Elsinore. The National and Universal Aspects of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Vision of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (7), 214-238. https://doi.org/10.1515/texmat-2017-0012