(October 27, 1914 - December 23, 2001) was a well-known Polish critic and theoretician of the theatre.
Born in Warsaw in 1914, Kott moved to the United States in 1966 and lectured at Yale and Berkeley. A poet, translator, and critic, he was also one of the finest essayists of the Polish school. He died in Santa Monica, California after a heart attack in 2001. Jan Kott Dies; Helped Recast Shakespeare | Article from The Washington Post | HighBeam Research
Kott became well-known after World War II, initially as the chief editor of literary magazine Kuznica
and as Poland's leading theorist of Socialist Realism. He promoted a flavor of Socialist Realism colored by Polish culture and history that he termed Grand Realism
. At the heart of his criticism was the desire to see the literature of a "New Poland" modelled on Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, Stendhal and Leo Tolstoy. However, as the communist authorities tightened their control over all aspects of life in Poland, Kott found himself pushed to the margins of political life. He renounced his membership in the communist party in 1957.
A long-time theatrical reviewer, Kott won fame for his readings of the classics, and above all of Shakespeare. His book, Shakespeare, Our Contemporary
(1964), became the most widely read work of criticism by any Polish author. The book interpreted Shakespeare in the light of the philosophical, existential and political experience of the 20th century, with generous helpings of insight from Kott's own personal experiences. This autobiographical accent became a hallmark of his criticism. Kott sought to juxtapose Shakespeare with Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett, but his greatest insight came from the juxtaposition of Shakespeare with the everyday experiences of citizens living under totalitarianism. He took a similar approach to his reading of Greek tragedy in The Eating of the Gods
Peter Brook's film of King Lear
and Roman Polanski's Macbeth
(both made in 1971) are heavily influenced by Kott's view of Shakespearean high tragedy as adumbrations of the 20th-century "nightmare of history".
Kott wrote more than 30 books and countless articles in such leading American journals as The New Republic
, Partisan Review
and The New York Review of Books
. Aside from Shakespeare and Greek tragedy, he also wrote about Japanese theatre, Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski. He translated extensively into Polish and English, including works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Denis Diderot, Eugène Ionesco and Molière.