The Yiddish King Lear

The Yiddish King Lear

The Yiddish King Lear

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The Yiddish King Lear (also known as The Jewish King Lear, original Yiddish title דער יידישער קעניג ליר, Der Yiddisher Kenig Lir) was an 1892 play by Jacob Gordin, and is generally seen as ushering in the first great era of Yiddish Theater, in which serious drama gained prominence over operetta.

Gordin, a respected intellectual and Yiddish-language novelist, had been recruited by Jacob Adler in an effort to create a more serious repertoire for Yiddish theater, comparable to what he knew from Russian theater. His first two plays, Siberia and Two Worlds had failed commercially, although Siberia was later successfully revived.

The play is not a translation of Shakespeare's King Lear, but the title is an acknowledgement of the roots of the plot. It begins at the Purim feast given by David Moishele, a wealthy Russian Jewish merchant in mid-19th century Vilna, personification of what Adler referred to as the "Grand Jew", surrounded by family, friends, servants: in effect, a monarch in his court. As he divides his empire, the story of Shakespeare's Lear is recounted to him as a warning by the virtuous daughter who denied his authority by becoming a student in St. Petersburg. He is destined to follow in the same path to ruin and madness; unlike Shakespeare's Lear (but quite like the way Lear was often staged from the English Restoration well into the 19th century), there is a relatively happy ending, with differences set right and...
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