Jan Kott

Jan Kott, born in Warsaw in 1914, was the most widenly known Polish critic and theoretician of theatre in the world. He had lived in the United States and lectured at Yale and Berkeley sine 1966. A poet, translator, and critic of literature and theatre, he was also one of the finest essayists of the Polish school. He died in 2001. When he began writing after the war, he was closely tied to communist authorities, and was an editor at Kuznica, as well as a theorist and codifier of "socialist literature" that fulfilled the requirements of Marxist thinking about art. However, he never became a panegyrist of "socialist realism". Along with Györgi Lukacs, he promoted the "great realism" according to which the literature of "New Poland" was to be modeled on Dickens, Balzac, Stendahl or Tolstoy. As the authorities tightened the screw, Kott found himself pushed to the margins of political life. He renounced his membership in the communist party in 1957. A long-time theatre reviewer, Kott won fame for his new readings of the classics, and of Shakespeare above all. Around the world, his Sketches on Shakespeare became the most widely read work of criticism by any Polish author. He interpreted Shakespeare in the light of the philosophical, existential and political experience of the twentieth century. He added insights from his own unusually colorful personal experiences; this autobiographical accent became the hallmark of his criticism. Kott juxtaposed Shakespeare with Ionesco or Beckett, but above all he juxtaposed Shakespeare with the everyday experiences of the citizens of totalitarian countries. He took a similar approach to his reading of Greek tragedy and its contemporaneity. He made the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles into records of universal experience: the cruelty of fate, the refusal to accept the world and the gods and kings who govern it. For Kott, theatre was always more than another one of the fine arts. It was rather a form of human life and a means of coping with the world. Since the 1960s, Kott had written not only books but also articles in such leading American journals as The New Republic, the Partisan Review, and the New York Review of Books. Aside from Shakespeare and Greek tragedy, he also wrote about Japanese theatre, Brook, Kantor and Grotowski. He translated extensively, including Sartre, Diderot, Ionesco and Moliere.


    Essay collections:
  • Mitologia i realizm. Szkice literackie, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1946.
  • Po prostu. Szkice i zaczepki, Warszawa: Książka, 1946.
  • O 'Lalce' Bolesława Prusa, Warszawa: Książka, 1948.
  • Szkoła klasyków, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1949.
  • Trwałe wartości literatury polskiego Oświecenia, Warszawa: PIW, 1951.
  • Wiktor Hugo - pisarz walczący, Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1952.
  • Postęp i głupstwo. Szkice, Warszawa: PIW, 1956.
  • Szkice o Szekspirze, Warszawa: PIW, 1961.
  • Szekspir współczesny, Warszawa: PIW, 1965.
  • Aloes. Dzienniki i małe szkice, Warszawa: PIW, 1969.
  • Zjadanie bogów. Szkice o tragedii greckiej, Kraków: WL, 1986.
  • Kamienny potok. Szkice, Warszawa: NOWA, 1981.
  • Przyczynek do biografii, Londyn: Aneks, 1990.
  • Płeć Rozalindy. Interpretacje. Marlowe, Szekspir, Webster, Büchner, Gautier, Kraków: WL, 1992.
  • Nowy Jonasz i inne szkice, Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Wiedza o Kulturze, 1994.
  • Kadysz. Strony o Tadeuszu Kantorze, Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo słowo/obraz terytoria 1997.
  • Lustro, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 2000.
  • Powiastki dla wnuczek, Warszawa: Zeszyty Literackie, 2002.
  • Kadysz. Strony o Tadeuszu Kantorze, Gdańsk: Słowo/Obraz Terytoria, 2006.
    Opinion Journalism:
  • Węgiel, Warszawa: Książka, 1946.
  • O społecznym awansie, Warszawa: Książka, 1947.



  • The memory of the body: essays on theater and death. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1992.


  • La vie en sursis [Przyczynek do bibliografii], Paris: Solin, 1991.


  • Gott-Essen. Interpretationen griechischer Tragödien [Zjadanie bogów], München: Piper, 1975.
  • Shakespeare heute [Szekspir współczesny], München: Piper, 1970.
  • Die Schule der Klassiker [Szkoła klasyków], Berlin: Henschel, 1954.
  • Leben auf Raten. Versuch einer Autobiographie, Berlin: Alexander, 1993.
  • Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, Berlin: Alexander, 1990.


  • Prilog biografiji [Przyczynek do biografii], Novi Sad: Prometej, 1998.