Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CSI Jewish King Lear

  • Jacob Mikhailovich Gordin
    • Born May 1853 in Ukraine
      • Received a liberal arts education
      • Also worked as a farmer, journalist, and shipyard worker
    • Grew up in the time of pogroms in Ukraine
    • Immigrated to New York in 1891
  • Yiddish Theater
    • Founded primarily by Abraham Goldfaden
      • Went to the Crown School and then on to the Rabbinical Academy at Zhitomir
    • Born in Romania, developed in Russia but truly “grew up” in New York
      • Very popular with young Jewish immigrants because it was affordable and represented a divergence from traditional, confining Jewish values
    • Yiddish theater in America was a sign of growing Jewish secularism
    • Golden Age (Late 19th century New York City)
      • Spurred by the Russian ban of Yiddish theater in 1883
      • Featured actors such as Jacob Adler and Sigmund Mogulesko, both of whom were friends of Gordin
    • Gordin’s plays
      • Focused on “realistic” issues
      • Spurred passionate feelings in response to characters
      • Different from previous Yiddish plays in their simplicity
  • Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah)
    • Adherents: Maskilim
    • An attempt to secularize Jewish life
    • Use Yiddish to spread their ideals
    • Serious dissident movement in Judaism
      • Maskilim were seen as “wicked”
        • One who separates oneself from their community
    • Yaffe is an example of a Maksil (an “Enlightened” Jew)
      • Refuses to wear head covering at dinner
  • Jewish King Lear
    • Opened in New York in 1892
    • Was made a success largely due to actor Jacob Adler
    • Set in 1890 in Vilna, Poland


  • Torah
    • Book of Jewish scripture
    • Referenced to by many characters in the text
    • Pious characters such as Taybele reference it and live by its message
  • Megillah
    • First major work of Rabbinic literature
    • Describes the laws of Purim
  • King Lear
    • The old king, like you, divided his kingdom and also like you sent away the loving daughter who told him the truth. Oh! How dearly he paid for that! Yes, you are a Jewish King Lear!” (19)
    • Pride prevents Dovidl from asking his daughters for help
    • Dovidl suffers from blindness

  • Traditional gifts at Purim are sweets, not gold coins or jewelry
    • Demonstrates that Dovidl is a rich man, parallels the fact that Lear is a rich King
    • Has nowhere to go but down
  • Herr Yaffe is a Maskil
    • Represents movement towards increasing secular learning, an idea that Gordin was a proponent of
      • Yiddish theater could not exist without secularization
  • Dovidl discovers Israel is not the promised land just like Lear realizes that retirement is not the recipe for his happiness
  • Gordin cannot and does not imagine the human capacity for evil at the same level as Shakespeare
    • Largely because his audience actively willed a happy ending
    • Whereas the wheel of fortune leaves Lear in the very dregs of society with no one to care for him, Dovidl is reinstated to his place as head of the household

No comments:

Post a Comment