The Jewish King Lear


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A Comedy in America

Jacob Gordin; Translated by Ruth Gay, with notes and essays by Ruth Gay and Sophie Glazer

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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 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.

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.

"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

"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

"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

“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

"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 LostThe Triumph, Tragedy and Mishugas of the Yiddish Theater

"The remarkable achievement of the authors in this book is to give us not only the translation of the original play, as Gordin wrote it, but to present the rich history surrounding the production, including biographical chapters concerning the author, the performers, and especially the importance of Yiddish theatre in America during the early 20th century. . . . The world of the yiddish theatre is brought to colorful life in this charming book."—Jewish Book World

"This wonderful volume offers a translation from the Yiddish of Jacob Gordin's Der Yudisher Kenig Lir, an adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The book includes essays by Ruth Gay on Gordin's life, the evolution of Yiddish culture, and the birth of Yiddish theater, along with an interpretation of the play by Sophie Glazer, Gay's daughter. . . . This is an elegant tribute to Yiddish literature and theater. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Historian Ruth Gay has done a wonderful job of introducing the Jewish 'Lear' and rendering the text into English. . . . Gay and the critic Sophie Glazer also provide essays on theater history, on Jacob Gordin and on 'Lear' as added value to an already splendid volume."—The Jerusalem Report

The Jewish King Lear, the late Ruth Gay’s fine and lively translation of Gordin’s most famous play, along with the richly informative accompanying biographical and interpretative essays by Gay and Sophie Glazer, enable readers without Yiddish to understand what stirred Gordin’s original audience so deeply.”—Stephen Greenblatt, New Republic

ISBN: 9780300180152
Publication Date: July 29, 2011
192 pages, x
10 b/w illus
Safe Among the Germans

Liberated Jews After World War II

Ruth Gay

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The Jews of Germany

A Historical Portrait

Ruth Gay; Introduction by Peter Gay

View details