Academic journal article German Quarterly

Framing the jew: Grillparzer's Die Judin von Toledo

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Framing the jew: Grillparzer's Die Judin von Toledo

Article excerpt

Grillparzer's grand "historical tragedy" Die Judin von Toledo takes as its premise a lie: the fabrication that Alfonso VIII's humiliating defeat at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195 was divine retribution for his amorous involvement with a Jewish woman, an allegation with no historical basis. No evidence indicates unequivocally that such an affair ever took place, let alone led to Alfonso's defeat, yet this anti-Semitic myth has served as a theme for a long tradition of literary compositions that inspired Grillparzer's "historical" tragedy. Grillparzer was aware his subject matter was grounded in an anti-Semitic legend, and the scapegoating of the Jew is central to his text. At the same time, the text very obviously pits philo-Semitism against anti-Semitism repeatedly and programmatically, thereby foregrounding one of its central themes: the representation of the Jew. This essay interprets the play's problematic portrayal of Jews from the vantage of discourse analysis. Die Judin von Toledo, I propose, instantiates a critique of the rhetoric surrounding the 19th-century Jewish emancipation debate, and it does so with a subtle anti-Jewish bent.

Remarkably, nearly all scholarship to date has dismissed the idea that the Jew constitutes a major theme in Die Judin von Toledo.1 Most critics have glossed over the play's treatment of Jews or dispensed with it in short order, arguing that while the text exhibits a smattering of anti-Semitic prejudice at odds with its pro-Jewish stance, the play is about erotics, power, politics and the state, and it is largely irrelevant that three of the main characters are Jews. Taking their cue from an early entry in Grillparzer's diary that identifies sensuality ("die Wollust") as a prime motivation for the king's actions, these readings focus on what happens when Alfonso, a man with little sexual experience, is confronted for the first time with "das Weib als solches, nichts, als ihr Geschlecht" (III, 859: 481).2 Yet the same diary entry begins by suggesting the king's attraction to the Jewess is not merely sexual: "Die Judin von Toledo. Trauerspiel. Die Geschichte Alonso des Guten von Kastilien and jener Rahel, die ihn nicht ohne Verdacht der Zauberea [b: 3 unterstr.], so large umstrickt, and die zuletzt von den Grossen des Reichs im Einverstandnisse mit der Konigin, ermordert wurde" (HKA 358).3 Judging from Grillparzer's own notes, Die Judin von Toledo is indeed a play about a king incapacitated by sexual infatuation, but it is of prime importance that the object of Alfonso's infatuation is a Jewish woman suspected of sorcery.

The few critics who have analyzed the Jewish characters have noted their contra dictory depictions throughout the text, yet for the most part have failed to offer an adequate explanation for this blatant incongruity. According to nearly all these readings, the play presents ambivalent statements about the Jews rather than a unified textual theory. Three lines of analysis-all concentrating primarily on the play's thematic level -have been proposed.

The first examines Grillparzer's documented statements about Jews and the Jewish emancipation debate and concludes Die Judin von Toledo has nothing to do with the Jewish question. Regrettably, none of these analyses submits the play to close textual analysis. Dorothy Lasker-Schlitt explains the conflicting statements about Jews recorded in the playwright's journal and letters by arguing Grillparzer was a patriotic Austrian whose "racial heritage" was steeped in antiSemitism, but was tolerant of the Jews and a great humanist. She does not undertake a comprehensive analysis of Die Judin von Toledo, claiming Grillparzer did not write the play to express his views on Jews, but as a treatise on the state.4 Harold Lenz and Charlotte Lea likewise assert the play is about politics and the state, but not the Jewish question. Citing the fact that most scholars bracket the depictions of Jews from their analyses and still find ample material to interpret, Sigurd Scheichl too argues the Jewish question cannot be of central importance to the plays Scheichl raises an important methodological consideration. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.