Challenging hegemony. Theatre as an ideological space in Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death

  • Jonas Vanderschueren


Often the work of the Polish theatre maker Tadeusz Kantor is only read biographically, mystifying the avant-garde tradition in which he stood and placing him in a pantheon of individual geniuses. This tendency to elevate Kantor usually detaches his thought and his work from today’s thinking on political theatre. That makes his work remote remote, as highly idiosyncratic emanations from an ‘exception genius’, despite the fact that his late work, collectively known as his ‘Theatre of Death’, is profoundly political despite his claims to the contrary. In this article I would like to revisit the work of Tadeusz Kantor as a potential source for an alternative, less obvious form of political theatre. Through the evocation of personal memory, Kantor manages to establish an alternative ideological space beyond the Marxist-Leninst hegemony that dominated in his contemporary Communist Poland. As any art work constitutes a socially symbolic act, I will establish that in his ‘Theatre of Death’ the personal became a gateway to the political. That will be done in three steps: by establishing the mastercode through which ideological struggles were articulated in the period of the Theatre of Death, then by establishing how Kantor used certain artistic techniques and strategies to create a personal space, and then finally how this personal space became political.

How to Cite:

Vanderschueren, J., (2019) “Challenging hegemony. Theatre as an ideological space in Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death”, Documenta 37(1). doi:

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Published on
14 Jan 2019
Peer Reviewed