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The Yiddish ‘Hamlet’
by [?]

‘I translated Shakespeare–yes, but into modern terms. The Ghost vanished–Hamlet’s tragedy remained only the internal incapacity of the thinker for the lower activity of action.’

The men of action pricked up their ears.

‘The higher activity, you mean,’ corrected Ostrovsky.

‘Thought,’ said Benjamin Tuch, ‘has no value till it is translated into action.’

‘Exactly; you’ve got to work it up,’ said Colonel Klopsky, who had large ranching and mining interests out West, and, with his florid personality, looked entirely out of place in these old haunts of his.

Schtuss (nonsense)!’ said the poet disrespectfully. ‘Acts are only soldiers. Thought is the general.’

Witberg demurred. ‘It isn’t much use thinking about playing the violin, Pinchas.’

‘My friend,’ said the poet, ‘the thinker in music is the man who writes your solos. His thoughts exist whether you play them or not–and independently of your false notes. But you performers are all alike–I have no doubt the leading man who plays my Hamlet will imagine his is the higher activity. But woe be to those fellows if they change a syllable!’

Your Hamlet?’ sneered Ostrovsky. ‘Since when?’

‘Since I re-created him for the modern world, without tinsel and pasteboard; since I conceived him in fire and bore him in agony; since–even the cream of this tart is sour–since I carried him to and fro in my pocket, as a young kangaroo is carried in the pouch of the mother.’

‘Then Iselmann did not produce it?’ asked the Heathen Journalist, who haunted the East Side for copy, and pronounced Pinchas ‘Pin-cuss.’

‘No, I changed his name to Eselmann, the Donkey-man. For I had hardly read him ten lines before he brayed out, “Where is the Ghost?” “The Ghost?” I said. “I have laid him. He cannot walk on the modern stage.” Eselmann tore his hair. “But it is for the Ghost I had him translated. Our Yiddish audiences love a ghost.” “They love your acting, too,” I replied witheringly. “But I am not here to consider the tastes of the mob.” Oh, I gave the Donkey-man a piece of my mind.’

‘But he didn’t take the piece!’ jested Grunbitz, who in Poland had been a Badchan (marriage-jester), and was now a Zionist editor.

‘Bah! These managers are all men-of-the-earth! Once, in my days of obscurity, I was made to put a besom into the piece, and it swept all my genius off the boards. Ah, the donkey-men! But I am glad Eselmann gave me my “Hamlet” back, for before giving it to Goldwater I made it even more subtle. No vulgar nonsense of fencing and poison at the end–a pure mental tragedy, for in life the soul alone counts. No–this cream is just as sour as the other–my play will be the internal tragedy of the thinker.’

‘The internal tragedy of the thinker is indigestion,’ laughed the ex-Badchan; ‘you’d better be more careful with the cream-tarts.’

The Heathen Journalist broke through the laughter. ‘Strikes me, Pin-cuss, you’re giving us Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.’

‘Better than the Prince of Denmark without Hamlet,’ retorted the poet, cramming cream-tart down his throat in great ugly mouthfuls; ‘that is how he is usually played. In my version the Prince of Denmark indeed vanishes, for Hamlet is a Hebrew and the Prince of Palestine.’

‘You have made him a Hebrew?’ cried Mieses, a pimply young poet.

‘If he is to be the ideal thinker, let him belong to the nation of thinkers,’ said Pinchas. ‘In fact, the play is virtually an autobiography.’

‘And do you call it “Hamlet” still?’ asked the Heathen Journalist, producing his notebook, for he began to see his way to a Sunday scoop.

‘Why not? True, it is virtually a new work. But Shakespeare borrowed his story from an old play called “Hamlet,” and treated it to suit himself; why, therefore, should I not treat Shakespeare as it suits me. The cat eats the rat, and the dog bites the cat.’ He laughed his sniggering laugh. ‘If I were to call it by another name, some learned fool would point out it was stolen from Shakespeare, whereas at present it challenges comparison.’