Mścisław Karski

Biographical Outline

Mścisław Karski (1835–1908) was born in Pomiechów (in the Pomiechówek district of Mazovia) to a land-owning family. He held the honorary title of a chamberlain at the Russian court and probably lived in Pogorzel (in the Siennica district of Mazovia in central Poland).

In 1870–1871, together with Karol Chłapowski and Zygmunt Sarnecki, he made efforts to establish a literary periodical called Figaro. The idea for the journal was to provide support to the rising career of the actress Helena Modrzejewska, who at that time was somewhat isolated in the cultural life of the capital.


Karski belonged to a tight-knit group which celebrated the talent of Helena Modrzejewska and it was probably the demands of her repertoire that dictated his choice of the play. In 1871 Modrzejewska declared that in the upcoming season she would appear as Cleopatra, although the performance did not come about. In 1874 Karski published in Kłosy a translation of Anthony and Cleopatra (Antoniusz i Kleopatra) that may have been intended to be a premiere performance that never came to pass.

Karski used an unrhymed 13-syllable line, following the divisions between prose and verse. His translation is lucid, but the rhythm of the verse is often disrupted by enjambments and inversions of the natural word-order. Many scenes are weakened or simplified, lacking the hyperbole and rhetorical extravagance of the original. Cultural references are typically handled periphrastically, in a manner that appears to confirm that the primary motivation for the translation was the stage.


Karski’s version of Anthony and Cleopatra was the second translation into Polish (after a version by Krystyn Ostrowski was published in Paris in 1872) and was not reviewed anywhere. In 1895 Henryk Biegeleisen published Ostrowski’s Anthony and Cleopatra in Lwów as part of a series of translations, but replaced the prose sections, which Ostrowski had rendered into verse, with Karski’s translations. The authorship of the text was ascribed exclusively to Ostrowski.

The text never appeared in book form and was never staged.

Bibliography of translations

[William Shakespeare], Antoniusz i Kleopatra. Tragedya Szekspira, w pięciu aktach , tłum. Mścisław Karski, „Kłosy” 1874, nr 451, s. 122–124; nr 452, s. 137–138; nr 453, s. 158–160; nr 455, s. 179, 182; nr 458, s. 233–235; nr 459, s. 251; nr 460, s. 271–272; nr 461, s. 275–279; nr 462, s. 300–301; nr 463, s. 313–315; nr 464, s. 332–333; nr 465, s. 342–343.