ET TU, BRUTE POLAK?
Bieganski Goes Shakespearean
By Michal Karski
Is This a Dumb and Brutal Pole I See Before Me?
Spot the Odd One Out
Did it all start with the immortal Bard, the 400th anniversary of whose death we are commemorating this year? In Act One, Scene One of Hamlet, Horatio says to Marcellus, both just having seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown’d he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
And has been strange ever since. The term has undergone some changes through the eighteenth century “Polander” to the present-day “Pole” and of course we all know how complimentary “Polack” can be when used today.
So much for Shakespeare. And now for the pictures.
Top left: Wojciech Bogusławski, known as the ‘Father of Polish Theatre’, was the director of the National Theatre in Warsaw during some of the most turbulent years in Polish history. He famously staged Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz’s political satire ‘The Return of the Deputy’ in 1791 and generally espoused nationalist and patriotic ideals during the time of the Great Sejm of 1788 – 92. He is said to have not only introduced classical tragedies to the Polish stage but to have “Polonized” Shakespeare. He also staged operas and founded a drama school. As well as directing he also acted and played King Lear in 1805. Known as the “Polish Molière”, this champion of Szekspir was certainly no dumb Polak.
Top right is Matylda Getter, Franciscan Sister of the Family of Mary, associate of the more famous Irena Sendler and credited, alongside others in the same order, with saving hundreds of Jewish children at the peril of her own life. Irena Sendler, incidentally, has at least once been called a German, clearly because of her married name and perhaps because of its similarity to another saviour of Jews, the famous Schindler. Irena Krzyżanowska on the other hand, would be about as easy for English speakers to pronounce as Kościuszko. As for Matylda Getter, who did what she saw as her Christian duty, she is never likely to be the star of a Hollywood film, nuns being generally rather low in terms of glamour quotient. A good, pious and definitely far from dumb, Polka.
Bottom left is General Władysław Sikorski, subject of a recent extremely negative, indeed, defamatory article in The Scotsman and elsewhere which has been discussed on this blog, and which can only be described as a piece of character assassination. Some of the camps in Scotland where Sikorski placed his political opponents may have had brutal overseers, as tends to happen in prisons, but for all his faults and flaws, Sikorski himself was no brute and as one of the architects of the Sikorski-Mayski Pact, which saved thousands of Polish citizens from perishing in the frozen wastes of the USSR, most certainly no dumb Polak.
The odd one out is, of course, Wojtek the Bear, but not because he was a dumb brute Polish animal. As a matter of fact, he was said to have been remarkably clever. The reason for his being the odd one out is that he wasn’t actually Polish nor of Polish descent not had he even been to Poland. He may have thought of himself as Polish and understood the language, and although he was found and adopted by the Polish army in Iran, the country which extended such a warm welcome to the bedraggled evacuees from the USSR, nevertheless if bears had passports, his would probably have been Syrian.
(Exit, pursued by a bear) The Winter’s Tale, Act III, Scene 3