Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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LIPTZIN / THE JEWISH WRITER IN AMERICA
9
and James Ellison in
The American Captive
,
or Siege of Tripoli
(1812). Both plays contained Jewish characters, since Jewish
bankers were the intermediaries in the negotiations that led to
the ransoming of American captives. In accordance with the
dominant stage tradition, the Jewish characters were held up to
contempt and ridicule. They were portrayed as accepting money
from everyone and ready to betray them to gain an advantage.
Noah, the precursor of Moses Hess and Theodor Herzl, could
not join in vilifying his people on the stage. On the other hand,
theatergoers were averse to seeing good Jews portrayed on the
stage, except biblical ones. They had so long been fed on Shy-
lock, Shakespeare’s flint-hearted Jew of Venice, on Barabbas,
Christopher Marlowe’s monstrous Jew of Malta, and on other
villanous Jews by lesser dramatists. They were not ready to ac­
cept Jewish characters that ran counter to the stereotyped wicked
and miserly Jew. Noah had been the American consul at Tunis
from 1813 to 1815, and had participated in negotiating the free­
dom of Americans held captive by the Dey of Algiers. The North
African Jews with whom he had personal contact bore no re­
semblance to the avaricious stage villains and he would not stul­
tify himself by exposing coreligionists to derision. He therefore
excised from his play all Jewish characters.
Throughout his life, Noah was active in Jewish communal
affairs. Nevertheless, all of his plays dealt solely with non-Jewish
themes. These included the immature drama
The Fortress of
Sorrento
(1808), whose romantic subject matter was reminiscent
of the libretto to Beethoven’s
Fidelio; Paul and Alexis or The
Orphans of the Rhine
(1812), his first acted play;
She Would
Be a Soldier, or The Plains of Chippewa
(1819), which dealt
with the War of 1812;
Marion, or The Hero of Lake George
(1821), which dealt with the Revolutionary War; and
The
Grecian Captive or The Fall of Athens
(1822), which dealt with
the Greek struggle for liberation from Turkish rule.
EARLY JEWISH DRAMATISTS
The reluctance of Jewish dramatists to use the stage as a medium
for the treatment of Jewish themes or for the portrayal of Jewish
characters is also evident in the dramatic works of Isaac Harby
(1788-1828) and of Jonas B. Phillips (1805-1869).