Deconstructing Jan Kott's contemporary Shakespeare
: an investigation of the criticisms of Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore

  • Agnieszka Jadwiga Collier

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    This Dissertation explores the phenomenon of Jan Kott, a prominent Polish literary and theatre critic, author of Shakespeare Our Contemporary (1964). I seek to challenge the argument proposed by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, who have compared Kott and E.M.W. Tillyard, a literary critic generally associated with traditional Shakespeare criticism. Dollimore and Sinfield described the critics as 'two sides of the same conservative coin', arguing that 'Kott does little more than invert the Elizabethan World Picture' - both approaches being predicated on the ideas of an essential human nature and the desirability of 'an order' hostile to positive political action'. 1

    The Dissertation is divided into two parts. While Part One sets up the social and cultural context, Part Two's concern is the close study of Shakespeare's King Lear in the context of Dollimore's and Sinfield's debate. Chapter One: 'Kott and Tillyard: Two Sides of the Same Conservative Coin?' outlines the main argument presented by Dollimore and Sinfield. Chapter Two: 'Kott's Formative Years: the Apostle or Victim of the Dominant Ideology' provides biographical note on Kott and some historical context in relation to politics and Polish cultural policy between 1949- 1968, the time of Kott's intellectual formation, and then focuses on Kott's emergence as a critic and his development of a literary critique from Marxism, the avant-garde, socialist realism, and post-Marxism. Having established Kott's intellectual formation, in Chapter Three, 'Kott, Tillyard and the Royal Shakespeare Company: The Making of Ideology', I look at Kott's emerging ideas, in particular, those of 'contemporaneity' and Tillyard's concept of Elizabethan World Order in relation to the RSC and its apparently radical image. Having established the key arguments and theoretical context, Part Two: Chapter Four: ' "The History of the world can do without psychology and without rhetoric. It is just action": Kott's carnivalesque reading of King Lear ', provides a more analytical case study of King Lear in the context of Bakhtin's camivalesque tradition and its subversive nature. The chapter tests out Dollimore and Sinfield's argument and views Kott's poetics as political and constructively oppositional. The Final Part will establish Conclusions.

    1 Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore, 'History and Ideology: the Instance of Henry V' in John Drakakis, ed,. Alternative Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 208.

    Date of AwardMar 2002
    Original languageEnglish

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