Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
14
an end to it before it might be converted into a revolutionary
weapon. The banning of the Yiddish theater in that year forced
dramatic authors, actors and producers to migrate westward to
France, England and America. In the ensuing decade Goldfaden
himself followed the route to Paris, London and New York. After
a brief flurry of success in these Western centers, he returned to
Eastern Europe in a mood of disillusionment. Not until the last
years of his life did he cross the Atlantic again.
Goldfaden’s plays may be grouped into three categories. The
first embraces his early comedies, which castigated the follies of
ghetto life and preached enlightenment. The best of these
comedies are
Schmendrik, Die Kuni-Leml,
and
Kabzensohn et
Hungerman.
The second category comprises the plays which were
in the main written after the Russian pogroms of 1881; they
underscored the vices of excessive enlightenment, of overhasty
assimilation to foreign ways. Most typical of these are
Dr. A I-
masado
and
Moshiakhs Tseiten.
The third category contains the
dramas of Jewish national resurgence and Zionist hopes; these
include
Shulamith, Bar Kochba,
and
Ben-Ami,
his last play whose
premiere took place in New York a few days before his death in
1908.
Though not an original thinker, Goldfaden possessed the talent
to project on the stage the thoughts that coursed through the
best minds of his generation. He did not invent his plots. How-
ever, in adapting them from successful European dramas and
novels, ranging from Gogol’s
Inspector-General
in
Der Ligner
and Moliere’s
Les Precieuses Ridicules
in
Kabzensohn et Hunger-
man
to Goethe’s
Faust
in
Lo Sachmod
and George Eliot’s
Daniel
Deronda
in
Ben-Ami,
he stripped these plots of their Russian,
French, German or English characteristics and made them pal-
atable to his Jewish audiences.
The theatrical stage was for Goldfaden a replica of the stage
of life. Even his supernatural characters—his demons and witches
—are not merely vivid symbols of spiritual realities but also in*
carnations of beings that might be encountered in the flesh.
Thus, in
Die Kishifmacherin,
Bobbe Yachne is a malevolent
creature and not a mere personification of evil forces. Her op-
ponent, the peddler Hotsmach, is not only an emissary of God’s
will, setting at naught the machinations of the wicked; he is also
a lively, lovable human being, laughable for his absurdities and
adorable for his inexhaustible kindness.
Goldfaden’s tragedies and comedies abound in musical inter-
ludes. Without any training in musical composition, indeed
without the ability to read even a single note, Goldfaden man-
aged nevertheless, far more than anyone else, to enrich the
Yiddish musical repertoire. His catchy tunes and songs ranged
from lullabies and dance melodies to patriotic hymns and festive
choruses. Millions of Jews have hummed for generations such
Goldfaden songs as
Dos Pintele Yied
and
Yisrolik kum ahaim.