Shakespearean Motifs in the Poetry of Wisława Szymborska in the Context of the Generation of ’56

Anna Frajlich-Zajac, Columbia University

Shakespeare’s influence in world literature is omnipresent, yet each generation approaches and incorporates Shakespeare in its own way. I propose to examine the uses of Shakespeare in Polish poetry of the so-called ’56 generation, which came to prominence after the Poznan anti-Communist revolt in Poland and after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party that revealed the cruel mechanisms of the Stalinist era.

Some poets of the ’56 generation entered the poetic scene earlier with a total dedication to communist ideology, and in 1956 sought the opportunity to free themselves of ideological confinement. Others had been banned until that time for their lack of ideological zeal and were given their first opportunity to publish their work in the mid-fifties.

The production of Hamlet in Krakow in September 1956 marked a turning point for Polish intellectual circles. Jan Kott’s renowned reviews and essays, which eventually made up his world-famous bestseller Shakespeare Our Contemporary, played a pivotal role in the process of intellectual self-examination.

In my presentation I would like to explore Shakespearean motifs mainly in the poetry of Wisława Szymborska, analyzing the artistic and political functionality of these images in the face of a still rigid censorship. I want to show how certain images from Hamlet, which Szymborska uses in her poem “Rehabilitation,” express her regret at her own ideological blindness and indifference toward political injustice, while other images in other poems express existential concerns.

Since being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1996, Wisława Szymborska has received considerable critical attention; however, her usage of Shakespearean motifs has only recently received scholarly attention by Wojciech Ligeza in his book O Poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej. Świat w stanie korekty. I propose to amend Ligeza’s findings with my own interpretation and place it in the context of Jan Kott’s famous exegesis by comparing the treatment of this topic in the writings of other poets of this extraordinary generation.


Kott, Jan. Shakespeare our Contemporary. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1966.

Ligeza, Wojciech. O Poezji Wisławy Szymborskiej. Świat w stanie korekty. Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2003.

Trznadel, Jacek. Polski Hamlet. Kłopoty z dzialaniem. Paris: Libella, 1998.