Lukasz Barczyk's Hamlet (2004), a "Pearl of the Millennium" for a New Millennium Audience

By Cieslak, Magdalena | Shakespeare Bulletin, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Lukasz Barczyk's Hamlet (2004), a "Pearl of the Millennium" for a New Millennium Audience


Cieslak, Magdalena, Shakespeare Bulletin


On March 29, 2004 Polish national television's "Channel 1" presented a television theater production of Hamlet, the first of four artistic projects entitled "Pearls of the Millennium." This tag essentially promotes the main sponsor of the enterprise, the Millennium Bank, but the phrase also attempts to imply something more profound. Regardless of the commercial and financial strategy behind it, "Pearls of the Millennium" is also meant to describe outstanding works of art that are meaningful for the new millennium.

Lukasz Barczyk, a major recent Polish cinematic discovery, was selected to direct the production. His directorial debut, the 1999 feature film I'm Looking at You, Mary, (1) received much critical acclaim, and since then Barczyk has been a hot commodity in Poland. The fact that he was entrusted with a project like Hamlet best proves how far the public television authorities trusted his talent. Along with Barczyk, Pawet Edelman (Roman Polaflski's cinematographer for The Pianist and the recently completed Oliver Twist) was tapped as cinematographer; the cast consisted of a number of renowned Polish actors (Janusz Gajos, Grazyna Szapotowska, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz and Jan Frycz); and finally, the venue was an ancient salt mine in Wieliczka, near Krakow, a famous tourist site.

When a young director suddenly realizes that he/she has the whole world in their hands, the risk of unnecessary grandeur is very real. Watching Barczyk's Hamlet for the first time, it is hard to say whether a talented cinematographer, fantastic cast and breathtaking venue were put to good use. What is clear, however, is the millennial aspect. In an undefined historical period, against an abstract and eerie background, a fragmentary story is told. Temporal and spatial indeterminacy clearly suggest that the production is trying to build a bridge between the past and the new millennium. The film's drastically selective composition, in turn, stresses the importance of directorial choices, implying that every element-be it Ophelia's full nudity in the madness scenes or Fortinbras's surprisingly young age-is purposeful.

Shakespeare in Poland--A Brief History

Shakespeare was introduced to Polish theaters in the 17th century by groups of traveling actors from England visiting cities on the shore of the Baltic Sea? Proof of their popularity, a theater largely resembling the London Fortune theater was erected in 1610 in the city of Gdansk. In those days, English actors also frequently visited the royal court in Warsaw and Polish kings gladly sponsored their visits. Towards the end of the 18th century, as was also the fashion in England, Shakespeare's plays were often rewritten and performed in "amended" versions. The first Polish translations of Shakespeare were performed at this time. In the period of partitions (1772-1807), Shakespeare was staged mainly in the theaters of the Austrian district, but when independence was regained his plays again were part of the repertoire of all main Polish theaters. Shakespeare was immensely popular in Poland throughout the 19th century and was especially cherished by the Romanticists. The greatest Polish Romantic bards--Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki and Cyprian Kamil Norwid--translated fragments of Shakespeare's plays and admired his poetry. In 1875 Jozef Kraszewski compiled the Polish translation of the Complete Works (Dziela Wszystkie); this volume included translations by Stanislaw Kozmian, Leon Ulrich and Jozef Paszkowski and helped Shakespeare to become the subject of wider study and critical attention in Poland.

In the early 20th century, specialized study and academic research continued with Roman Dyboski establishing the first English Institute and publishing a 12-volume critical edition of Shakespeare's plays. At this time, Wladyslaw Tarnawski also submitted an important Ph.D. thesis on Polish translations of Shakespeare. In postwar Poland, Shakespeare was a firmly established element of the classic canon, alongside Polish, German, Russian, French and ancient playwrights.

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