Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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LANDIS/ YIDDISH THEATRE
37
ness as by its “vulgarity”—that he succeeded in having Yiddish
theater banned in Russia in 1883, though the excuse was the
fear of seditious tendencies. But it was not only the assimila-
tionist elements that were upset by the quality, or lack of it,
of the early Goldfaden. Moyshe Zayfert, in his
Di Geshikhte
funem Yidishn Teater
(1897), was especially harsh on such
early operettas as
Shmendrik, N i Be N i Me,
and other works
of Goldfaden’s Romanian period. In fact, Goldfaden himself had
serious doubts about those early operettas. In 1889 he wrote
to Sholem Aleichem: “I am now ashamed of having written
Shmendrik. . . .
You may very well ask, how is it that the author
of
Shulamith
and
Bar Kokhba
could write such a
Shmendrik.
My answer is that
Shmendrik
has its value in that it reveals how
one had to write when the Yiddish stage was still in its swaddling
clothes, how raw were the actors the stage possessed who could
not understand a good monologue nor even repeat it mecha­
nically. It shows us that the Bucharest audience of the time
[1877] could not understand anything better.” Some twenty
years later, David Pinski perceived the true value of Goldfaden
when he assessed him as a great
badkhn,
noting that “the
badkhn’s
humor is folk humor and Goldfaden’s caricatures have
so much of folk humor in them that they have become the
property of the folk. Kuni Leml, Shmendrik, Hotsmakh—the
folk laughed its richest laughter because of them and that makes
them immortal.”10 This opinion was shared sixty years later by
Itsik Manger, that marvelous latter day
broder zinger
and
brilliant poet who so admired Goldfaden.
If Goldfaden himself was a great
badkhn,
the same cannot be
said of his talentless imitators on both sides of the Atlantic who
kept the theater at a low level, feeding it dregs. Yet it may very
well be that instead of denigrating that early dramatic fare, it
might be appropriate to marvel that the Yiddish theater sustained
itself at all. The conditions under which the theater had to
exist were hardly conducive to fulfilling the hopes of that genera­
tion of young writers, critics, intellectuals, who were intoxicated
with the world of European culture which lay before them and
in which they hoped to make a place for a modern Yiddish
literature and theater. Having grown up outside the social and
io Op. cit., pp. 8-9.