Andrzej Koźmian (1804–1864) was born into a family of impressive literary achievements. He was the son of Kajetan Koźmian, a leading figure of Polish classicism, and the cousin of Stanisław Egbert Koźmian, who was also a translator of Shakespeare. His own son Stanisław (1836–1922) contributed to the considerable achievements of the theatre in Kraków and was also a politician and journalist. Koźmian took part in the November Uprising (1830–1831) and supported the January Uprising (1863) against Russia. He combined the management of his estates with his literary enterprises. He worked on a single Shakespeare play: Macbeth (Makbet, 1857). He left behind numerous literary works in manuscript form, including plays and collections of proverbs, some of which were published posthumously by his son.
With some breaks, Koźmian worked on his translation for nearly thirty years. He worked with rhymed 13-syllable lines using neoclassical diction. The declamatory nature of his translation was intended to ensure a successful transition to the stage, where acting conventions from the turn of the century still applied. Koźmian eagerly added to the number of lines, toned down the meaning of the original text and interpolated explanations. He was not concerned about the money he might make from sales of his translation, but it mattered to him that his translation would reach readers in all corners of Poland, now partitioned among the neighbouring powers of Austria, Russia and Germany. He sought, and to an extent secured, the unofficial backing of significant cultural figures. This type of patronage did not shield him from the ruthless judgements of later critics, who were not bound by family or social ties.
The translation did not become part of the mainstream of the reception history of Shakespeare in Poland, yet it is one of the most poignant and well-documented examples of an approach to translation that falls foul of contemporary expectations. Refined and recited in influential circles over a period of many years, the translation had secured fragile approval from its own waning generation, but subsequent generations discounted it altogether. In a sense, Koźmian is the most belated 19th-century translator of Shakespeare.
Irrespective of the views of critics, the translation enjoyed success on the stage, playing from 1859–1880 in Lwów (where the first performance took place in 1859), Kraków, Kalisz and Poznań, suggesting that had it been published several decades earlier, it would have stood up well alongside the neoclassical free adaptations of Shakespeare that characterised the first phase of his reception history. The translation has not been reissued.
Bibliography of translations
[William Shakespeare], Makbet. Tragedya Wilhelma Shakspeara przełożona z angielskiego wierszem polskim, tłum. Andrzej Edward Koźmian, J.K. Żupański, Poznań 1857.