Shakespeare, our contemporary: A review of Jan Kott's book
Jan Kott was a Polish literary critic and theatre director who wrote a influential book on Shakespeare called Shakespeare, our contemporary. The book was first published in Polish in 1961 and translated into English in 1964. It offers a modern and political interpretation of Shakespeare's plays, drawing parallels between the Elizabethan era and the twentieth century. Kott argues that Shakespeare's characters and themes are relevant to our contemporary issues, such as totalitarianism, revolution, violence, sexuality, and existentialism.
The book consists of several essays on different plays, such as Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, and Richard III. Kott analyzes the plays from a historical and cultural perspective, but also from a theatrical and aesthetic one. He emphasizes the role of the stage, the audience, and the actors in creating meaning and emotion. He also explores the various genres and styles that Shakespeare used, such as tragedy, comedy, history, romance, and satire.
The book has been praised by many critics and theatre practitioners for its originality, insight, and creativity. It has influenced several productions of Shakespeare's plays, especially by directors such as Peter Brook, Peter Hall, and Jerzy Grotowski. The book has also been criticized by some scholars for its selective and subjective readings of the texts, its lack of historical accuracy, and its ideological bias. However, the book remains a classic work of Shakespeare criticism that challenges and inspires readers to see Shakespeare in a new light.
If you are interested in reading Shakespeare, our contemporary, you can find a free PDF version of the book online at Archive.org[^1^] [^2^] [^3^]. You can also buy a print or digital copy from various online retailers.One of the most interesting and controversial essays in the book is the one on King Lear, titled \"The King in the Mud\". In this essay, Kott argues that King Lear is a play about the collapse of civilization and the emergence of a new barbarism. He compares the play to the events of World War II and the Holocaust, and suggests that Lear's madness and blindness are metaphors for the loss of human values and dignity. He also interprets the play as a critique of the patriarchal and feudal system that oppresses women and the poor. He sees Cordelia as a symbol of resistance and hope, but also as a victim of a cruel fate.
Kott also discusses the different ways that King Lear has been staged and performed over time. He contrasts the traditional and romantic versions of the play, which emphasize the sublime and heroic aspects of Lear's character, with the modern and realistic ones, which expose the grotesque and tragic aspects of his condition. He praises Peter Brook's 1962 production of the play, which he saw in Paris, for its minimalist and experimental approach. He describes how Brook used a bare stage, a circular platform, a metal ladder, and a few props to create a stark and powerful visual effect. He also admires how Brook's actors portrayed the characters with intensity and authenticity, without resorting to sentimentalism or melodrama.
Kott concludes his essay by stating that King Lear is a play that speaks to our contemporary situation, because it shows us the consequences of human folly and cruelty. He writes: \"Shakespeare's King Lear is not only a drama about an old king who has divided his kingdom between his daughters. It is also a drama about us: about our times; about our world; about our civilization; about our humanity\" (p. 101). He urges us to learn from Shakespeare's vision and to resist the forces of evil and chaos that threaten our existence. 29c81ba772