Another Look At King Machush The First By Janusz Korczak

King Machush the First is regarded in Poland as one of the noteworthy contributions to Polish children’s literature.  It has been translated into many different languages, has inspired an opera, plays, and much criticism.  Korczak was one of the leading children’s rights activists of his day, and his book about the psychology of the child, Jak lubic dziecko, is as applicable today as it was when he completed it.   King Machush becomes a kind of philosopher-king as he learns about other children’s impoverished lives and struggles to bring about reforms.  Perhaps the character that most resembles Korczak is the Melancholy King, who is sad, reflective, and all too aware of the obstacles one must face to bring about reform.  The following excerpt from Act 1 Scene 8 gives some idea of the major theme in the work.

Machush:  And why is one King?

Melancholy King:  Not just to wear a crown.  But to give happiness to the people of his kingdom.  And how do you give happiness?  You introduce different reforms.

Machush(aside):  Oh-ho!  This is interesting.

Melancholy King:  And reforms–they are the most difficult.  Yes, the most difficult.(Melancholy King plays a sad melody on his violin.)  You are surprised, because you think that Kings can do anything they want.

Machush:  I don’t think that at all.  I know that protocol forbids many things, and so does the law.

Melancholy King:  Oh, you know already.  Yes, we alone issue bad laws, and then we have to follow them.

Machush:  Isn’t it possible to issue good laws?

Melancholy King:  It is possible, and one should.  You are still young, Machush.  Learn, and issue good, wise laws.(King takes Machush’s hand, and places it on his own, stroking it very tenderly.)  Listen, Machush.  My grandfather gave people freedom, but the outcome was bad.  They murdered him, and afterwards the people weren’t happy.  My father raised a great monument to freedom.  It is beautiful, but wars go on.  Then there are the poor and unfortunate to consider.  I ordered this great parliament building to be built, but what of it?  Things are the same as before.(Suddenly, he remembers something.)  You know, Machush.  We have always done badly when we have given reforms to adults.  If you try with the children, maybe you will succeed.  Now sleep, my dear child.  You came here to have fun, and I’ve disturbed you.  Good night.