Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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a b in o w ic z
— H
e r zl
t h e
l a y w r ig h t
1 0 3
(Nordau) can quietly let it happen that some abuse him and
others suppress him. His
D ok tor Kohn
will move forward into
future times and proclaim what our days had been . . . People
will be amazed and shudder over the mendacity and cowardli-
ness against which so honest a play had to fight. All this will
only enhance the glory of the upright poet. Those who pursue
success through submission may humbly bow and crawl before
influential public opinion; a true man’s highest desire is to
remain himself. What a miserable occupation the writing of
books and plays would be if one were only to repeat the pre-
vailing opinions of the crowd. Many a precious and over-
sensitive poet finds the clever way out—to evade the struggle
of ideas. In sight of the fire of daily problems they simply hide
on the side in the bushes. They sing as the birds sing. Art
should be fostered only for art’s sake and for other similar
chatter. But we believe that in the first place art must have a
meaning and this cannot be anything else but the meaning
of real life through which we pass sobbing and laughing . . .
Lately, literary theatrical works which concerned themselves
with local colorings of cities and districts and even with their
original dialects, have been generally praised. But the presenta-
tion of ideas of our time is proscribed, though it is nothing else
but a chronological local coloring of human fate.9
This analysis seems conspicuously applicable to Herzl’s own
plays, or at least to a number of them. They relate in simple Ian-
guage what ideas and problems were extant in those days, and how
Herzl had visualized their development. Compared with many
a successful play on Broadway or on Shaftesbury Avenue, a num-
ber of Herzl’s dramas with their middle-class issues, their wit,
satire, plots and dialogues, could stand scrutiny today. Therefore
I concur with Joseph Fraenkel that some of these plays merit pro-
duction, and should at least form part of
Hab imah’s
in this hundreth anniversary of Herzl’s birth.10
These observations are not intended to elevate Herzl the play-
wright to a niche in the world of dramatics higher than he de-
serves. Hero worship has no place in a serious study. I frankly do
not believe he belongs among the immortal playwrights. I rather
share the opinion of those who agree, on the basis of his plays,
that had Herzl remained a dramatist of the same genre and
art, he would be today a forgotten author like many of his con-
temporaries who enjoyed greater or lesser successes. But he did
not remain a playwright. He went much further and became the
first and greatest Jewish statesman since the destruction of
Jerusalem; he became the Herzl of history.
Did the dreams, the thoughts, the studies and impressions which
his playwriting absorbed have no share in the development of
Die Wel t ,
1899, Nr. 3, p. 13.
10 Fraenkel,
op. cit. ,
p. 117.