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The Yiddish ‘Hamlet’
by [?]

‘But you discovered Shakespeare cannot sustain the comparison,’ said Benjamin Tuch, winking at the company.

‘Only as the mediaeval astrologer is inferior to the astronomer of to-day,’ the poet explained with placid modesty. ‘The muddle-headedness of Shakespeare’s ideas–which, incidentally, is the cause of the muddle of Hamlet’s character–has given way to the clear vision of the modern. How could Shakespeare really describe the thinker? The Elizabethans could not think. They were like our rabbis.’

The unexpected digression into contemporary satire made the whole cafe laugh. Gradually other atoms had drifted toward the new magnet. From the remotest corners eyes strayed and ears were pricked up. Pinchas was indeed a figure of mark, with somebody else’s frock-coat on his meagre person, his hair flowing like a dark cascade under a broad-brimmed dusky hat, and his sombre face aglow with genius and cocksureness.

‘Why should you expect thought from a rabbi?’ said Grunbitz. ‘You don’t expect truth from a tradesman. Besides, only youth thinks.’

‘That is well said,’ approved Pinchas. ‘He who is ever thinking never grows old. I shall die young, like all whom the gods love. Waiter, give Mr. Grunbitz a cup of chocolate.’

‘Thank you–but I don’t care for any.’

‘You cannot refuse–you will pain Witberg,’ said the poet simply.

In the great city around them men jumped on and off electric cars, whizzed up and down lifts, hustled through lobbies, hulloed through telephones, tore open telegrams, dictated to clacking typists, filled life with sound and flurry, with the bustle of the markets and the chink of the eternal dollar; while here, serenely smoking and sipping, ruffled only by the breezes of argument, leisurely as the philosophers in the colonnades of Athens, the talkers of the Ghetto, earnest as their forefathers before the great folios of the Talmud, made an Oriental oasis amid the simoom whirl of the Occident. And the Heathen Journalist who had discovered it felt, as so often before, that here alone in this arid, mushroom New York was antiquity, was restfulness, was romanticism; here was the Latin Quarter of the city of the Goths.

Encouraged by the Master’s good humour, young Mieses timidly exhibited his new verses. Pinchas read the manuscript aloud to the confusion of the blushing boy.

‘But it is full of genius!’ he cried in genuine astonishment. ‘I might have written it myself, except that it is so unequal–a mixture of diamonds and paste, like all Hebrew literature.’ He indicated with flawless taste the good lines, not knowing they were one and all unconscious reproductions from the English masterpieces Mieses had borrowed from the library in the Educational Alliance. The acolytes listened respectfully, and the beardless, blotchy-faced Mieses began to take importance in their eyes and to betray the importance he held in his own.

‘Perhaps I, too, shall write a play one day,’ he said. ‘My “M,” too, makes “Master.”‘

‘It may be that you are destined to wear my mantle,’ said Pinchas graciously.

Mieses looked involuntarily at the ill-fitting frock-coat.

Pinchas rose. ‘And now, Mieses, you must give me a car-fare. I have to go and talk to the manager about rehearsals. One must superintend the actors one’s self–these pumpkin-heads are capable of any crime, even of altering one’s best phrases.’

Radsikoff smiled. He had sat still in his corner, this most prolific of Ghetto dramatists, his big, furrowed forehead supported on his fist, a huge, odorous cigar in his mouth.

‘I suppose Goldwater plays “Hamlet,”‘ he said.

‘We have not discussed it yet,’ said Pinchas airily.

Radsikoff smiled again. ‘Oh, he’ll pull through–so long as Mrs. Goldwater doesn’t play “Ophelia.”‘

‘She play “Ophelia”! She would not dream of such a thing. She is a saucy soubrette; she belongs to vaudeville.’

‘All right. I have warned you.’

‘You don’t think there is really a danger!’ Pinchas was pale and shaking.

‘The Yiddish stage is so moral. Husbands and wives, unfortunately, live and play together,’ said the old dramatist drily.

‘I’ll drown her truly before I let her play my “Ophelia,”‘ said the poet venomously.