The dramaturgy of Sławomir Mrozek

Regina Grol-Prokopczyk, Binghamton University--SUNY


The focus of this dissertation is the dramaturgy of Sławomir Mrożek. The study was triggered by a striking disproportion in Mrożekian criticism. There is a multitude of minor articles and reviews, but not a single monographic study devoted to the dramatist and his work. Such a state of affairs resulted from some accidental factors. In Poland where Mrożek is very well known and appreciated, the official ban imposed on him during the past five years precluded any book on him from appearing. In the West, the absence of a full-length critical study on Mrożek might be attributed to the fact that on the one hand, some of his plays have not yet been translated from the Polish; and on the other hand, the Polishness of the plays that have been translated into Western languages has probably inhibited non-Polish critics. In the hope of filling this gap in the scholarly writings on one of the prominent contemporary playwrights, I undertake in this study a systematic exposition and a critical analysis of Mrożek’s dramatic works to date.

The approach to Mrożek that the dissertation follows is a comparative one. Mrożek’s drama is considered in the context of Polish literary tradition and in the context of the Western Theater of the Absurd. Assuming that the universal implications of Mrożek’s art would need less emphasis, the dissertation expounds primarily on the intricate allusions to Polish social reality abundant in Mrożek's plays as well as on the dramatist's relation to specific figures in Polish literature and the Polish literary tradition as a whole. The influence of Witold Gombrowicz and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, the two major artistic inspirers and philosophical patrons of Mrożek’s dramaturgy, is discussed in detail. The comparative method is applied throughout the study. In each chapter Mrożek is related either to a larger literary context or to a particular dramatist. This approach led to the identification and hierarchization of the major motifs of Mrożek's drama.

Mrożek’s plays have been considered mainly as literary works. The collection of materials for the analysis and evaluation of the numerous productions of his plays proved to be a practical impossibility. The research was further hampered by the ban imposed on Mrożek’s works in Poland since 1968. My impressions, however, from the Polish, French, and American performances of Mrożek’s plays undoubtedly affected my critical approach.

In their totality, Mrożek’s dramatic works are not susceptible to any definitive interpretational formula which would embrace all their basic meanings. One is prevented from establishing such a formula not only because of the complexity of Mrożek’s dramaturgy, which is a curious blend of the local and the universal, the traditional and the avant-garde, or the amusing and the serious. His work is also difficult to assess critically in final terms because Mrożek, still a fairly young man, constantly searches for new themes and new ways of artistic expression. In view of this situation, the dissertation offers a sequence of comparative essays which analyze the essential aspects of Mrożek’s dramatic oeuvre to date without attempting to confine him in any final formula. This multifaceted picture will hopefully reflect the quality of Mrożek’s dramaturgy in a most faithful way.