Stanczyk’s blog has a blog roll that includes the talented, Donna Pointkouski’s “What’s Past is Prologue”. Her blog’s title is from Shakespeares’ play, “The Tempest”. Today’s article is NOT a paean to her fine works, nor to Shakespeare really though this jester has a fondness for the bard – I know I’ve said that before.
Ok, get out your Shakespeare’s 1st Folio and follow along. You will not have to flip too far. The Tempest is the first play in the tome. Just do it. Donna’s quote (“What’s Past is Prologue”) comes from Act II, Scene 1 and is said by Antonio. Today’s article is about Act I, Scene I and how that scene appears in another case of life imitating art. Never fear this is an historical tale from Russian Poland …
Dateline – Easter Week 1794. Poland has already been partitioned twice, the second time was just last year (1793) following the War of the Second Partition. The Empress of Russia is Ekaterina (Catherine) the Great. This Tsarina seems to have had a ‘soft spot” for the Polish diplomat and it was her seduction of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, whom she had caused to be installed as the last elected King of Poland that brought us to this day. It was Poniatowski’s duplicity in trying to move Poland closer to his lover’s Russian Empire that led to the Four Year Sejm only the Empress did not want Poland to re-arm nor Poland’s help in suppressing Turkish aggressions. So the Sejm left to itself, enacted the world’s 2nd Democratic Constitution on May 3rd, 1791 which led to the War of the Second Partition and finally the 2nd partition in 1793. Violence begets violence and so we find ourselves here Easter Week 1794.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko emboldened by his success in the American Revolution, leads a successful Insurrection in Krakow, where his heroic charge against the Russian General Tormasov results in the capture of the Russian cannons and defeat for the Russian General and his overly small force. This victory results in the ensuing liberation of Warsaw followed by Wilno. Thereby commencing a killing spree led by a tailor whose name (ironically in English) is Jan Kilinski and also by the Guild of Slaughterers (the fascinating occupations of our ancestors). The Russian Ambassador in Warsaw was able to flee eastward across the Vistula bridges just ahead of the Insurrection.
However, the remainder of the Russian sympathizers who were too slow to follow the Russian Ambassador were summarily tried and hung by the Insurrection Council and/or by angry mobs. Amongst those fleeing, was a certain Hetman named Szymon Kossakowski who was caught trying to escape by boat …
Kossakowski was caught and hanged under the rather literate inscription, “He who swings will not drown.”  .
Now compare that quote to Shakespeare’s text in “The Tempest”, published in the 1st Folio in 1623 (performed prior to that publishing in 1610/1611). Near the end of Act I, Scene I Gonzalo says, “He’ll be hanged yet, though every drop of water swear against it …” . That scene also contained more dialog about the loathsome boatswain being hanged rather than drowning.
Now we have arrived at the point of Stanczyk’s thesis. That Poland’s rebels were literate and familiar with Shakespeare’s Tempest. They cleverly used this paraphrase in proper context and it was directed at Poniatowski and of course the hangings left no doubt what would happen to other Russian sympathizers when caught. How do I come to suppose such a thing?
Poniatowski, despite his flaws was linguistically talented and mastered many languages, including English due to his mentorship in Russia by the British Ambassador, Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, who was responsible for introducing Poniatowski to the Russian Empress. Poniatowski was so enamored of the bard he erected a statue at Lazienki Palace of Shakespeare ! Poniatowski’s brother, Michal Poniatowski (a Polish Primate) committed suicide rather than meet his fate at the hands of the Insurrection Council. So the Primate knew more certainly than most what Kossakowski’s hanging meant to all Russian sympathizers.
The Insurrection was short lived and was put down by the Catherine the Great and her Russian Generals. This historical story is what led to the third Partition of Poland.
However, it appears 171 years was ample time for the 1st Folio to be transported to Poland, translated to Polish and understood and used in appropriate context during a rebellion. So Stanczyk lays the events of Easter Week 1794 squarely at the foot of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, including the rebels literate scholarship, and the resulting third Partition of Poland which made Poland’s borders (not her people or her culture) disappear for 123 years (1795-1918). Poniatowski had to abdicate in 1795 (at the 3rd Partition) and he died 3 years later … in St Petersburg, Russia.
Catherine The Great : Portrait of a Woman
I’ll have you know that today’s article was inspired by my wife, Tereza. She is reading the above named book by Robert K. Massie and because she knows my interest in and knowledge of matters about Poland and our shared Slavic genealogies, we have had many wonderfully animated conversations about this book she is reading. It was nice for her to hear another viewpoint and for me to be further informed by Massie’s scholarly work. We both recommend the book to biography/history readers. My wife reads the book as Catherine, and Stanczyk pretends he is Potemkin !!!
That is my meme for today.