Poland, the Philosopher and the Players

James Malpas

Was Hamlet present at Bruno’s lectures
before giving up University as a job-lot
of scoundrels and charlatans, leaving
Wittenberg for a court grown purulent?
He found himself unemployed, at best
the self-appointed professional mourner.
Offstage, Poland is racked with unrest.
Four centuries later, Andrzej Wajda films
Hamlet in gabled Cracow, where Faust
(real and imagined) plied his dreadful trade;
His legend, Hamlet’s, Bruno’s and that
of Poland lives on, each trying to find
themselves in the furtive signs of passing
hours, fair or unfair fugitives ...
Again, foreign armies assemble on the borders,
Russian troops run through forests
to their tanks in ranks on hills:
Careful, Andrzej, can your camera outshoot
their guns? We have to believe so as film-troops
(garbed for the Thirty Years War) reel off,
timbrelling their march to smash the Polacks.
No, Hamlet did not hear Magus Bruno speak
or he would’ve stayed and we lost the play;
The philosopher arraigned the problems
facing peace but ended Inquisition-burnt –
feeding the flames one February morning
about the year Hamlet was first run through
with a poisoned foil: ‘... as we grow,
we are brought up in the disciplines
of our house and hear disapproval of the laws
of our adversaries as they of us ... We esteem
the slaughter of our enemies, as they do
when they have done the like, and render thanks
for having vouchsafed to them the light
of eternal life with the fervour we feel
in rejoicing our hearts are not as black as theirs ... ’