Shakespeare in Slovakia

A test of the progress of Slovak drama came with the work of William Shakespeare and the theatrical legacy of the ancient culture.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Hamlet (1931) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

Beginnings

The Slovak National Theatre was established on 1 March 1920 and its first drama production was the play Marisha by the brothers Mrštík (2 March 1920) staged in the Czech language. In the first years of the existence of Slovak professional theatre, the Slovak language was used on stage only very sporadically.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1932) by Sedláček, amateur photographerThe Theatre Institute

Until 1938, the repertory of the Slovak National Theatre mostly included Czech dramatic works. After World War II, in the period of Europeanization, modernization and cultivation of drama, Slovak theatre artists started to stage also international drama, mostly French and Russian.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1942) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

A tough test of the progress of Slovak drama came with the work of William Shakespeare and the theatrical legacy of the ancient culture. Because of a lack of translations and the overall difficulty of staging, Slovak theatremakers got to produce these works only belatedly. 

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew (1946) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

Before 1918, only three plays were translated into Slovak by two translators. Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, one of the best-known Slovak poets, translated Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. More translations started to be done as late as in the 1930s.

Stage design, William Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing, Ján Ladvenica, 1944, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Stage design, William Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing, Ján Ladvenica, 1944, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Hamlet (1950) by Gejza PodhorskýThe Theatre Institute

1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s and 1960s, a deliberate interest in Shakespeare grew in Slovakia. In this period, Slovak artists staged Shakespeare’s play almost systematically – some of the productions were very successful. Many new translations appeared as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, a deliberate interest in Shakespeare grew in Slovakia. In this period, Slovak artists staged Shakespeare’s play almost systematically – some of the productions were very successful. Many new translations appeared as well. 

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor (1954) by Gejza PodhorskýThe Theatre Institute

Director Karol L. Zachar’s production relied on humour, playfulness, and actors’ improvisations. The class struggle, highlighted in the production, was ignored in the contemporary press reviews.

Stage design, William Shakespeare: Othello (1955) by Ján HanákThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1957) by Gejza PodhorskýThe Theatre Institute

In Jozef Budský’s directorial interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, the main characters are not important. What matters perhaps as much as the people, if not more, is the dark city filled with hatred. The director did not try to contemporize the text using external elements but used the setting to create an internal and mental parallel with the world of that time.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1961) by Jaroslav BarákThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Hamlet, unknown, 1962, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Stage design, William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Martin Brezina, 1962, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure (1964) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1964) by J. FeckoThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar (1964) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Hamlet (1964) by Jozef VavroThe Theatre Institute

In 1964, the Slovak National Theatre produced Hamlet on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. It was very critical of the regime in Czechoslovakia. The character of Hamlet, performed by Karol Machata, was portrayed as a choleric avenger and tribune of the people fighting against a totalitarian system.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1968) by unknownThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: King Lear (1972) by Jaroslav ŠurkalaThe Theatre Institute

1970s and 1980s

Slovak theatre in the 1970s and 1980s was most affected by two events: the military occupation by the armies of the Warsaw Pact in 1968 and the consequent “normalization” in the society, which influenced theatre practice as well (censorship, dramaturgy, etc.). 

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Macbeth (1979) by Igor TeluchThe Theatre Institute

Artistically, the most important development came with the generational change. The new generation brought along new directorial and performative approaches. This allowed for artistic interpretations of Slovak and international classics using metaphors containing latent critique. Shakespeare made it possible to use the verses with coded themes and motifs that would normally be discovered by the contemporary censors.

Until then, Shakespeare’s plays were mostly staged using the translations by Stanislav Blaho and Ján Boor. In the early 1970s, translator Jozef Kot became established in the artistic circles as well as in a high political position (Director of the Art Department at the Slovak Ministry of Culture). He monopolized Shakespeare and gradually pushed out all of the other translators. In two decades, he translated more than a half of Shakespeare’s work.

Review, William Shakespeare: Coriolanus (1976) by Anton KretThe Theatre Institute

In his review, theatre critic Anton Kret praised the staging of Coriolanus not only because it was the first staging of the play in Slovakia, but mainly because of its political topicality at that time. The creators used the play to hold up a mirror to the social events and people in general.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus (1981) by Pavol DřizhalThe Theatre Institute

Jozef Bednárik was a theatre and film actor, and director of various theatre genres. The extent and reach of his theatre activities makes him one of the most outstanding representatives of modern Slovak theatre. He was the first to stage the historical drama Titus Andronicus in Slovakia. In his production, Bednárik’s focus was on the grotesqueness of situations – he replaced the drastic images of violence with resourceful scene cuts.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Bohuš Kráľ, 1982, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Stage model, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Mona Hafsahl, 1982, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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The conflict of the feuding families of Montagues and Capulets was indicated by a battleground outlined with a wire and barricades made from bags. The colour tones of red and blue symbolizing the two families stood out on the white, sterile stage.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Karol Miklóš, 1983, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Costume design, William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Peter Čanecký, 1983, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra (1986) by Ľubor MarkoThe Theatre Institute

Costume, William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice (1995) by Milan ČorbaThe Theatre Institute

1990s and beginning of the 21st century

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the fall of the communist regime, there came a period of gradual thawing and greater freedom not only in society, but also in art. More creative freedom led to the shaping of an independent theatre scene and the establishment of new theatres. There was more room for new interpretations and a greater scope of important and acceptable themes. Consequently, Slovak theatre set out on the journey of searching for its identity and new interpretations of classical works came about, including the works of WS.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: As You Like It (1996) by Jana NemčokováThe Theatre Institute

Audience attendance in theatres, however, became a problem. There were several reasons for this: the stage and the audience lost their common enemy – the communist regime. Creative liberty also changed the theatre language, and the spectators did not want to accept it. People preferred more entertaining titles and started to favour television. 

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Coriolanus (1997) by Matúš OľhaThe Theatre Institute

In the 1990s, well-known Slovak poet, writer, and translator from Russian Ľubomír Feldek began poeticizing Shakespeare’s texts in collaboration with translator Ľubomíra Hornáčková and English scholar Oľga Ruppeldtová. Instead of the planned ten plays, they eventually translated and rewrote in verse as many as eighteen plays and the Sonnets.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Jana Nemčoková, 2000, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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Production photograph, William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Jana Nemčoková, 2000, From the collection of: The Theatre Institute
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The Tempest, directed by Peter Mikulík was a remarkable production owing to its stage design – visual artist and stage designer Aleš Votava’s labyrinth, which received several prizes, e.g., the Best stage design award of the season at the DOSKY 2000 awards. The stage design became the basis for Slovakia’s national exposition at the 2003 Prague Quadriennale. The presentation prepared by the Theatre Institute won the Silver medal.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night or What You Will (2003) by Jana NemčokováThe Theatre Institute

Stage design, William Shakespeare: King Lear (2009) by Fero LiptákThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: As You Like It (2011) by Braňo KonečnýThe Theatre Institute

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Coriolanus (2011) by Martin GeišbergThe Theatre Institute

In the few decades of staging William Shakespeare's plays, his work has become an integral part of the repertory of Slovak theatres. Young and well-established directors alike are still presenting new productions and interpretations of Shakespeare's plays.

Production photograph, William Shakespeare: Hamlet (2013) by Braňo KonečnýThe Theatre Institute

Since 2001, Bratislava has hosted an annual open-air festival honouring Shakespearian drama - the Summer Shakespeare Festival. The first festival event took place in the courtyard of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and since 2002 has been held in the courtyard of the Bratislava Castle.

Credits: Story

Shakespeare in Slovakia 
Author: Dušan Poliščák 
Slovak proofreading: Mária Kvaššayová 
English translation: Ivan Lacko 
Editors: Vladislava Fekete, Dominika Zaťková 
Production: Zuzana Poliščák Šnircová, Marko Popović


The Theatre Institute has made all possible efforts to identify the authors of the graphic or photographic works used in this publication, as well as to obtain legal permission for their use. If you are the holder of the rights to any of the works used herein, please contact the Theatre Institute: du@theatre.sk.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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