The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America

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The Jewish King Lear, written by the Russian-Jewish writer Jacob Gordin, was first performed on the New York stage in 1892, during the height of a massive emigration of Jews from eastern Europe to America. This book presents the original play to the English-speaking reader for the first time in its history, along with substantive essays on the play’s literary and social context, Gordin’s life and influence on Yiddish theater, and the anomalous position of Yiddish culture ...

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Overview

The Jewish King Lear, written by the Russian-Jewish writer Jacob Gordin, was first performed on the New York stage in 1892, during the height of a massive emigration of Jews from eastern Europe to America. This book presents the original play to the English-speaking reader for the first time in its history, along with substantive essays on the play’s literary and social context, Gordin’s life and influence on Yiddish theater, and the anomalous position of Yiddish culture vis-à-vis the treasures of the Western literary tradition.
Gordin’s play was not a literal translation of Shakespeare’s play, but a modern evocation in which a Jewish merchant, rather than a king, plans to divide his fortune among his three daughters. Created to resonate with an audience of Jews making their way in America, Gordin’s King Lear reflects his confidence in rational secularism and ends on a note of joyful celebration.

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Editorial Reviews

Joel Berkowitz

"More than any other play in the history of the Yiddish theatre, Jacob Gordin's The Jewish King Lear ushered in a new epoch. Ruth Gay's translation has been rendered with care and intelligence. In the accompanying essays, Gay and Glazer illuminate both the play and the playwright."—Joel Berkowitz, author of Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage

Ken Frieden

"Working from a rare and sometimes indecipherable manuscript, Ruth Gay valiantly translated Jacob Gordin's earliest major play in the Yiddish theater. This is one of the few translations of Gordin's works and the only English edition of The Jewish King Lear. The commentary provides helpful historical and biographical background information."—Ken Frieden, Syracuse University

Tovah Feldshuh

"Jacob Gordin's lively, humorous drama transformed Shakespeare's tragedy into a feminist celebration of the modern Jewish woman, claiming her place in a newly egalitarian society. An engaging and delightful read."—Tovah Feldshuh

Sherwin Nuland

“This book is essential reading for anyone—expert or fledgling—interested in the history of the Yiddish theatre, the Yiddish language or the saga of Eastern European Jews in America. Not only is Ruth Gay's translation a fascination in itself, but the clear, flowing prose of the remarkably informative essays makes reading them as enjoyable as an evening watching a performance of Jacob Gordin's The Jewish King Lear."—Sherwin Nuland
Stefan Kanfer

"The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America is a model of wit and concise and sympathetic scholarship. The once-dynamic Yiddish theater is revived in Jacob Gordin's newly translated dialogue, and in the lively and perceptive notes and essays by Ruth Gay and Sophie Glazer. Brava! Bravissima!"—Stefan Kanfer, author of Stardust Lost: The Triumph, Tragedy and Mishugas of the Yiddish Theater

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300108750
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 6/27/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

The late Ruth Gay wrote extensively on Jewish history. Her books include Safe Among the Germans: Liberated Jews After World War II and The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait, both published by Yale University Press. Sophie Glazer’s articles have appeared in The Boston Review, The Forward, Commentary, and The American Scholar. She lives in Fort Wayne.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     viii
Introduction     ix
A Note on the Text     xvi
The Jewish King Lear
Dramatis Personae
Act I     3
Act II     21
Act III     35
Act IV     49
Essays
Why Do We Smile?     63
Inventing a Yiddish Theater in America     73
Jacob Gordin's Life     107
Reading The Jewish King Lear   Sophie Glazer     139
Glossary     161
Notes     165
Bibliography     169
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