Studium o Hamlecie (Hamlet Study)

Poster for "Studium o Hamlecie (Hamlet Study)"a performance by the Laboratory Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole, presented for the first time on 17 March 1964. The textual basis of the performance was Shakespeare’s tragedy and Stanisław Wyspiański’s own version of Hamlet (Hamlet Study). Script and directing: the theatre company led by Jerzy Grotowski. Assistant director: Ryszard Cieślak. Cast: Zygmunt Molik (Hamlet), Rena Mirecka (Queen and Ophelia), Antoni Jahołkowski (King), Gaston Kulig (Polonius), Ryszard Cieślak (the Father’s Spirit, Rosencrantz), Andrzej Bielski (Guildenstern), Mieczysław Janowski (Laertes).

During work on the performance, Grotowski and the actors adopted the attitude which Wyspiański represented and which Grotowski himself considered truly creative – he faced up to the myth of Hamlet in creating his own work. In this way, Grotowski remained deeply faithful to the author of the ‘study’ even though he employed the text in his own free-spirited way. In preparing to start work on the performance, Grotowski developed a script which is something of a separate creation to the performance itself, since during rehearsals it was heavily reworked. As was the case in preceding works, Grotowski created a ‘framing’ situation within which he located all of the events of the piece. The frame he chose was a cemetery scene, with Grotowski intending that the whole of his Hamlet would take place at a cemetery, while the leading partner of the eponymous protagonist was to be a Gravedigger (according to initial plans he was to have been played by Andrzej Bielski; in later versions he was combined with the character of the King and played by Antoni Jahołkowski). Using words of other characters and also Wyspiański’s own comments, he became someone who exhumes Hamlet and breathes new life into him. With the Danish prince (as if he were a director with an actor), he contemplates the Hamlet myth using Wyspiański’s words, staging and commenting on particular scenes (the order of Wyspiański’s argument was generally maintained in Grotowski’s work). In effect, what was created was a script for a performance that resembled the later productions of Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death: the dead protagonists exhumed by the Gravedigger-Director contemplate their existence at a cemetery and in an uncoordinated and inconsistent manner (such is Wyspiański’s labyrinthine commentary, after all) they speak about themselves while all the while trying to comprehend the sense of their existence and experience. Yet, during work on the performance, the script underwent radical transformations while the performance itself was created through collective improvisations by the actors, becoming the first work by Grotowski to be ‘written on stage’ to such a great extent.

Grotowski’s Hamlet Study was situated in a Polish village saturated with an atmosphere of inertia and powerlessness. The performance opened with the gradual gathering of a group of peasants while an elegantly dressed Jewish intellectual (Zygmunt Molik) stood out from the group. The gathered peasants were roused from their torpor by one of the actors who imitated the sound of a gust of wind. Following his lead, the rest of the group gradually built up a soundscape of Poland, presenting prayer songs interrupted by the sound of the cawing of crows. The point of departure that enables the text of Hamlet to appear on Grotowski’s stage is the peasants’ inept attempt at staging it (a similar premise to Apocalypsis cum Figuris). The Jewish intellectual, however, treats the whole matter seriously and takes on the role of Hamlet. The director of the play within the play (Antoni Jahołkowski) is also the Gravedigger before then becoming the King. The next scenes are presented as failed attempts at village theatre which makes it possible, however, to tease out the protagonists’ ambiguities, so, for example, the scene with Ophelia shows her being exhumed as a rural woman while playing both a whore and a virgin. The opposition between the intellectual and the peasants is revealed quite brutally in the scene where Hamlet was conscripted into the army by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who appear as agents of the authorities. Hamlet’s opponent from this point onward is the King who with his determination and the will of someone ‘with plenty of cannon fodder at his disposal’ (Flaszen) contrasts with Hamlet’s hesitation and doubts. Hamlet became the model Other represented by the Jewish intellectual within the world of rural Poland. This otherness was depicted drastically by the war scenes: while the peasant soldiers were engaged in violent battle, Hamlet issued his ‘To be or not to be’ monologue. In these final scenes, the peasants brought Hamlet an imaginary sacrifice, while he – contradicting his own lofty words – beats the defenceless sacrifice before sinking to the ground gibbering and vomiting. As a result, he gained the peasants’ mocking recognition: for one moment he became one of them. Thanks to this he took on the position of corporal and proceeded to drill the rest while at the same time reciting Shakespeare’s ‘Advice to the Players’, with Flaszen considering this scene (in one of his most outstanding comments on Grotowski’s performances) ‘as self-mockery by the director who wants to do away with accusations of being a ‘violator’ of his actors’ souls’ (Flaszen, Grotowski and Company, p. 104). Upon returning from war, Hamlet headed to the tavern where he encountered the agents with the King and Queen (Rena Mirecka). He returned destroyed to a destroyed world, like Odysseus in Wyspiański’s dramat Powrót Odysa (The Return of Odysseus) or Henryk in Witold Gombrowicz’s Ślub (The Marriage), which was at the time key reading for Grotowski. This return was simultaneously an attempt at returning to the maternal womb through an act of incestuous rape (the scene with Hamlet in Gertrude’s bedroom) which ended with the murder of Polonius. This led to the pivotal moment of the entire piece: the bathhouse scene, created entirely through the actors’ improvisation (hence there is no script for it). The peasant soldiers strip themselves bare, pour water over each other and make unambiguous advances on one another. Only Hamlet stands alone and is thus subjected to their mockery. Ophelia then enters the bathhouse and is passed from one man to another as part of an erotic game which turns into a rape scene during which she dies. This is the moment when ‘[t]he carnality of perversion and the carnality of death show their ambiguous similarities. Excess turns into a church service, and ecstatic entertainment into a liturgy of mourning. Brawn, horrified by itself, transforms into culture, the creation of a guilty conscience’ (Flaszen, p.105–6). Dead Ophelia is placed on a catafalque as songs of lament and mourning ring out. Hamlet, chased out of the village, rejoins the army. The funeral procession at the same time gradually became a military march. The King sent further divisions to war, while Hamlet tried unsuccessfully to halt the marching armies. As the soldiers repeatedly set off on their marches singing historical battle songs, from Bogurodzica (Mother of God) to Warsaw uprising songs, they spat in Hamlet’s face, throwing him to the ground and treading on him as he whimpered powerlessly like a child. By the finale, taking place on a stage covered with the dead bodies of the fallen, there remained only the two antagonists: Hamlet and the King. Standing over the corpses of the army, Hamlet bemoaned his powerlessness. The song from Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage could be heard, with its famous words: ‘Let’s face it! Miracles may happen/ Let’s give this thing a spin for one more day./ Spring is here. The snow is melting./ The dead are gone. They're all at peace/ And what remains must now continue./ That's us. Let's go. We're all that's left’ [tran. David Hare, 1995]. The King-Gravedigger knelt down and intoned the Kyrie, eleison.

While Grotowski’s performance might not have been entirely coherent, it nevertheless made an extraordinarily brave incursion into the collective subconscious, drawing out from it images and imaginings concerning Poland, Poles and Polishness. Never before and never again would Grotowski make such direct reference to the realities of his nation. And he never again appeared as perspicacious as he had done in 1964 when he created this performance which seemed to presage the anti-Semitic manifestations and state-provoked aggression towards Jews which came to a head in 1968. Having touched upon something so painful and difficult, he quickly retreated.

Hamlet Study was performed barely 21 times. According to Zbigniew Osiński, only 630 spectators had seen it by May 1964. Regardless of the suggestions that emerged many years later suggesting that the political authorities had forced the removal of the piece from the repertoire, it is difficult not to notice that Grotowski himself avoided all mention of the performance, considering it flawed yet also recognising that it paved the way, to some extent, for Apocalypsis cum Figuris.


Studium o Hamlecie
Compiled by Monika Blige
In Polish


Flaszen Ludwik: „Studium o Hamlecie”, druk ulotny, Teatr Laboratorium 13 Rzędów. Przedruki [w:] Ludwik Flaszen: Teatr skazany na magię, przedmowa, wybór i opracowanie Henryk Chłystowski, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków – Wrocław 1983, s. 337–339; [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 72–73; [w:] Ludwik Flaszen: Grotowski & Company. Źródła i wariacje, wstęp Eugenio Barba, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2014, s. 81–83.

Grodziński Juliusz: Hamlet – w rękach szamanów, „Panorama Północy” 1964 nr 12–13, z 22–29 marca, s. 22.

Kelera Józef: Hamlet i inni, „Odra” 1964 nr 5, s. 77–79. Przedruk [w:] Józef Kelera: Pojedynki o teatr, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, Wrocław 1969, s. 93–98; [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 174–177.



Mykita-Glensk Czesława: Życie teatralne Opola. Od czasów najdawniejszych do współczesności, Instytut Śląski w Opolu, Opole 1976, s. 214–216, 287.



Osiński Zbigniew: „Studium o Hamlecie” według Szekspira-Wyspiańskiego, [w:] Tadeusz Burzyński, Zbigniew Osiński: Laboratorium Grotowskiego, Wydawnictwo Interpress, Warszawa 1978, s. 34–35.



Zbigniew Osiński: Grotowski i jego Laboratorium, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1980, s. 118–123.



Flaszen Ludwik: „Hamlet” w laboratorium teatralnym, „Notatnik Teatralny” 1992 nr 4 (zima), s. 167–171. Przedruki [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 74–79; [w:] Ludwik Flaszen: Grotowski & Company. Źródła i wariacje, wstęp Eugenio Barba, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2014, s. 84–87.

Osiński Zbigniew: Komentarz do artykułu Ludwika Flaszena, „Notatnik Teatralny” 1992 nr 4 (zima), s. 171–173.



Osiński Zbigniew: Grotowski wytycza trasy. Studia i szkice, Wydawnictwo Pusty Obłok, Warszawa 1993, s. 83–84, 124.



Barba Eugenio: Hamlet bez przyjaciół, [w:] Eugenio Barba: Ziemia popiołu i diamentów. Moje terminowanie w Polsce oraz 26 listów Jerzego Grotowskiego do Eugenia Barby, przełożyła Monika Gurgul, redakcja przekładu Anna Górka, redakcja merytoryczna Zbigniew Osiński, Ośrodek Badań Twórczości Jerzego Grotowskiego i Poszukiwań Teatralno-Kulturowych, Wrocław 2001, s. 101–110.



Wójtowicz Agnieszka: „I Hamlet został Żydem”. „Studium o Hamlecie” według Williama Szekspira i Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, [w:] Agnieszka Wójtowicz: Od „Orfeusza” do „Studium o Hamlecie”. Teatr 13 Rzędów w Opolu (1959–1964), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2004, s. 117–142. Przedruki [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 358–385 oraz jako część artykułu: Próba leczenia postawy romantycznej za pomocą postawy romantycznej (Grotowski i narodowe mity), [w:] Tradycja romantyczna w teatrze polskim, pod redakcją Dariusza Kosińskiego, Societas Vistulana, Kraków 2007, s. 187–197.



Świątkowska Wanda: „Mulista mogiła” – śmierć Ofelii według Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, Juliusza Osterwy i Jerzego Grotowskiego, [w:] Żywioły wyobraźni Stanisława Wyspiańskiego, pod redakcją Anny Czabanowskiej-Wróbel, Doroty Jarząbek, Danuty Saul, Wydawnictwo Księgarnia Akademicka, Kraków 2008, s. 259–268.



Kosiński Dariusz: Podróż ku nieznanemu – „Studium o Hamlecie”, [w:] Dariusz Kosiński: Grotowski. Przewodnik, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2009, s. 171–179.



Świątkowska Wanda: Królewicz i Książę Osterwy i Grotowskiego, [w:] Słowacki/Grotowski. Rekontekstualizacje, pod redakcją Dariusza Kosińskiego, Wandy Świątkowskiej, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2010, s. 117–133.



Niziołek Grzegorz: „Hamlet” Grotowskiego, czyli co jest w Polsce nie do pomyślenia, [w:] Poetyka kulturowa polskiego Szekspira, pod redakcją Agaty Adamieckiej-Sitek, Doroty Buchwald, Instytut Teatralny, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Warszawa 2011, s. 55–80; przedruk [w:] tegoż: Polski teatr zagłady, Instytut Teatralny, Warszawa 2013, s. 309–333.

Świątkowska Wanda: Czy Hamlet umarł? Problematyczność faktów wokół „Studium o Hamlecie” Jerzego Grotowskiego, [w:] Nowe historie 02. Wymowa faktów, pod redakcją Agaty Adamieckiej-Sitek, Doroty Buchwald, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Warszawa 2011, s. 85–96.



Świątkowska Wanda: Hamleci Jerzego Grotowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2016. [Książka zawiera pełen wykaz wszystkich źródeł na temat spektaklu.]