Missing

By Jays, David | New Statesman (1996), October 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

Missing


Jays, David, New Statesman (1996)


DAVID JAYS on the absence of the Jewish context in British drama

Harold Pinter has just turned 70, and theatrical celebrations continue throughout the winter. They include not only Michael Gambon in a revival of The Caretaker, but also an adaptation at the National Theatre of an unfilmed screenplay based on Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Faber & Faber's birthday present gathers together affectionate, wary tributes from friends and colleagues in Harold Pinter: a celebration. They touch on many subjects -- Pinter's place in the European intellectual tradition, his fervent political conviction, his passion for cricket -- but never his Jewishness.

It might seem a puzzling omission, but it's not untypical. Despite the work of Pinter, Arnold Wesker and Deborah Levy, Jewish writing is a neglected presence in British theatre. If you want to see an overtly Jewish character on the British stage, you usually have to wait for the ambivalent hero-villains in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice or Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, both written at a time when Jews were officially banished from the country. Subsequent waves of immigration did not produce a correspondingly heightened profile among the dramatis personae of British drama.

Pinter's relationship with Jewishness is interestingly ambiguous. His monstrous patriarchs -- the retired butcher in The Homecoming, the father spuming on his deathbed in Moonlight--carry uncomfortable resonances of the religion in which he was raised. "God speaks through me," booms the interrogator in One for the Road. "I'm referring to the Old Testament God, by the way, although I'm a long way from being Jewish." His early work struggles against the grip of organised religion. As Michael Billington points out in his biography of the dramatist, The Birthday Party argues against the dead hand of Judaism and Catholicism, as represented by the heavies Goldberg and McCann. Pinter himself has said that the play "showed how the bastards ... how religious forces ruin our lives".

Jewish identity is a slippery subject, because it is both an ethnicity and a religion. Also, there are almost as many forms of British Jewry as there are Jews. There was certainly widespread immigration from eastern Europe, but there is an equally strong tradition of Jews with an Iberian and Mediterranean heritage. None the less, there are connecting experiences, of which the Holocaust was defining. Despite honourable exceptions, such as Kinderstransport by Diane Samuels, it is too rarely addressed by Jewish playwrights in Britain. Audiences here have recently seen two plays examining Albert Speer's delicate games of conscience, but only Julia Pascal, in The Holocaust Trilogy, creates a wide canvas of collusion and exclusion beyond the rotten glamour of evil.

Even in the 1980s and 1990s, years that were dominated by writing about identity politics, few Jewish plays were produced to accompany black, feminist and gay texts (again with exceptions, such as the plays of Deborah Levy, although Judaism is a subdued texture in her work). Instead, the people of the book include vibrant transformers, adapters and re-readers of texts. Jonathan Miller, Mike Alfreds and Steven Berkoff have played, argued with and reconfigured Shakespeare and Kafka, Sophocles and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Michael Meyer, the mighty translator and biographer of Ibsen and Strindberg, who died this summer, was in the same tradition. Jews make good spectators, too, according to the playwright David Hare. When Michael Gambon asked why West End audiences slumped in quality during a long run, Hare told him: "Because there are only enough Jews and gays in London to give you 80 rewarding nights. After that, you have to play to the rest."

Dodgy racial theories about aptitude are best avoided. Daniel Pick collects several in his study Svengali's Web (Yale University Press), noting that the necessarily adaptable wandering. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Missing
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.