Józef Korzeniowski

Biographical Outline

Józef Korzeniowski (1797–1863) was a successful playwright, a precursor of the novel of manners, and a respected teacher. He translated a single Shakespeare play in its entirety – King John (Król Jan) – and passages from three other dramas. Korzeniowski’s translations were the earliest Polish versions to work from the original, and he significantly shaped the convention of rendering Shakespearean blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) into unrhymed 11-syllable lines.


Thanks to the patronage of the Czartoryski family, Józef Korzeniowski enjoyed the support of the cultural milieu in Puławy, where there was something of a competition to see who could complete the first translation of Shakespeare. Both his fragmentary Richard II (Ryszard II) and his complete translation of King John exhibit a coherence of style and register, accurate prosody, and above all strike a balance between taking up existing poetic forms and developing distinctive new approaches that critics happily identified as being characteristic of the Shakespearean style. From the outset Korzeniowski translated Shakespeare into unrhymed, 11-syllable lines, avoiding contractions, enjambment and archaisms. He took care to make his text flow and read clearly. He winningly reimagined Shakespeare’s ebullient metaphors and imagery, sometimes even finding equivalents for alliteration. Some of the cultural references are translated literally and then explained in a note.


Taking up first King John and then Richard II, Korzeniowski chose two early history plays in which the action predominantly unfolds in a courtly setting, and the characters exchange static dialogue with distinctive rhetorical patterning, mostly free of extended wordplay, colloquialisms or bawdiness. The selection of these titles allowed Korzeniowski’s translations to enter more easily into the Polish canon, where they came to be seen as useful templates for a Polish tradition of historical drama, which at that time was non-existent.

Korzeniowski’s translations were rated more highly than those Hołowiński had made in 1839–1841, a fact that in large part led to Hołowiński’s decision to stop working on Shakespeare. In a later period, Korzeniowski’s reviews supported the translations of Józef Paszkowski. Indirectly, then, Korzeniowski’s work and his opinions exerted a powerful influence on the initial reception of Shakespeare.

The translation of King John was reissued twice: in Korzeniowski’s collected works and in the Lwów edition of the works of Shakespeare. It has never been staged.

Bibliography of translations

[William Shakespeare], Król Jan. Dramat w pięciu aktach W. Szekspira , tłum. Józef Korzeniowski [w:] Arcydzieła dramatyczne, przekłady Józefa Korzeniowskiego i Alfonsa Walickiego, T. 2, J. Zawadzki, Wilno 1844 [1845].

[William Shakespeare], Król Jan. Dramat w pięciu aktach W. Szekspira, tłum. Józef Korzeniowski [w:] Józef Korzeniowski, Dzieła, T. 12, S. Lewental, Warszawa 1873, s. 173–245.

[William Shakespeare], Król Jan, tłum. Józef Korzeniowski [w:] Henryk Biegeleisen (red.), Dzieła Williama Szekspira, T. 3, Dramaty królewskie, Księgarnia Polska, Lwów 1895, s. 3–84.

[William Shakespeare], Król Jan, tłum. Józef Korzeniowski [w:] William Shakespeare, Dzieła dramatyczne w dwunastu tomach, życiorys Shakespeare’a i przedm. do poszczególnych utworów oprac. Roman Dyboski, studyum „Shakespeare w Polsce” napisał Ludwik Biernacki; wyboru przekładów dokonał Stanisław Krzemiński, T. 5, Gebethner i Wolff, Warszawa 1912.