Taborski on Wojtyla’s Drama

Boleslaw Taborski 1927-2010

The definitive edition in English of Wojtyla’s plays is still The Collected Plays and Writings on the Theater, translated and with introductions by Boleslaw Taborski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987)

I found a remarkable passage in the editor’s introduction to confirm the  interpretation  of the theater of the word along the lines of Augustinian philosophy of time.

Taborski says that Wojtyla’s inner drama is unique, reaching beyond the bounds of the Rhapsodic Theater, because it “creates its own dramatic reality.”

The world of external events is not so much expressed by the dramatist directly as absorbed into the “inner space” the psychological space, of the protagonist, where it exists timelessly, in projections into past or future (that is in the memory of the hero or in his prophecies), supported by the author’s knowledge of history, or even theology. (p 16)

I started to say in my previous post that action is swallowed up, but chose not to say that because action remains in the theater of the word; but Taborski’s “absorbed” is much better. Action is present, but absorbed into the word, suspended in its meaning. It is a different (truer) perspective on time and human action. Augustine got this right — there is only present, and the soul’s attention, through which passes memory (time past) and anticipation (time future). Time is not an external box into which we fix time or an apriori form onto which we fit actions, as school boys fuss over their time lines. No, time is a “distension of the soul.” Aristotle had it partially right — time is a measure of a before and after, and therefore time requires mind, an attentive awareness of change. But here is Augustine on time — past and future do not exist as such, (the past is no longer and the future is not yet). So what then? Time is present, only present, even memory and anticipation:

Nor is it properly said, “there be three times, past, present, and to come”: yet perchance it might be properly said, “there be three times; a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future.” For these three do exist in some sort, in the soul, but otherwhere do I not see them; present of things past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation. XI.28

The inner drama, the theater of the word, rolls time into the present, the inner space of the actor. Taborski had earlier explained that Wojtyla’s dramatic works belong to the sphere of poetic drama . .  he is not concerned so much with external events as with exploring man’s soul; it is there that “action” often unfolds. (p. 15)

Taborski’s overall assessment of Wojtyla’s drama is quite generous:

To a remarkable extent the dramas of Karol Wojtyla, despite being written over a twenty five year period (1939-1964) and despite their stylistic differences, are in some respects monolithic, especially in their themes and their moral import, mature even in Wojtyla’s work as a nineteen year old. They are coherent in what I call their inner form. In fact, from the beginning Wojtyla as a playwright was no debtor but consistently build his own vision of the drama of human existence: the vision of mans place on earth and in the divine plan of creation. In his plays he referred to the highest values in our culture, and at the same time, in the days when word and language were totally degraded and devalued by ideologies that demanded their subservience to shallow, often inhuman purposes, he aimed at the revaluation of words. With astounding consistency he developed a modern form of theater that is religious without being devotional. Even though the author of these works did not specifically aim at the theater at large, they are a proposition that the theater ought to seriously consider.

We owe a great debt to Taborski for his careful translations and his insightful comments on each play of Karol Wojtyla. Please see further posting on Taborski, who died less than a year ago.


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