Coriolanus Meets Polonius : The Political in Shakespearean Operas in Communist Czechoslovakia



Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description This paper focuses on the political elements in two Czechoslovakian operas with librettos based on plays by William Shakespeare and their subsequent stagings. Poison from Elsinore by Karel Horký and Coriolanus by Ján Cikker were both written and staged in the 1960s and early 70s, reacting to the political situation in communist Czechoslovakia and its turbulent history culminating with the Soviet occupation of the country in August 1968. Poison from Elsinore presents a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and confronts the character of Polonius (as well as the audience) with the question of one’s own conscience face to face with “the greater good”. In Cikker’s Coriolanus, the original Shakespearean topic of the fickle political power and opportunities of an individual are greatly emphasized, inconspicuously painting a picture of Czechoslovak most recent history. The paper looks at the staging history of both pieces with an emphasis on the possible political references, their reception by the media and the government, and, most importantly, on the way the classical text of William Shakespeare once again becomes actual in the hands of 20th-century librettists. To argue the unique position of these two operatic works, a comparative analysis of opera repertoire will be offered, as well as the examination of Shakespeare scholarship and popularity in the 40 years of communism in Czechoslovakia.
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