Tolerance Unlimited: "The Noble Jew" on the German and Austrian Stage (1750-1805)

by Charlene A. Lea
Tolerance Unlimited: "The Noble Jew" on the German and Austrian Stage (1750-1805)
Charlene A. Lea
The German Quarterly
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Westminster College, Fulton, MO

Tolerance Unlintited: "The Noble Jew" on the German and Austrian Stage


The "noble Jew" as he was seen on the German and Austrian stage during the period of the Enlightenment will be examined here from a literary standpoint, emphasizing the use of stereotypes and their effectiveness on the stage. In addition, a review of the socioeconomic backgrounds of eighteenth-century Jews, the main historical events that shaped their lives, and the impact of Enlightenment thought on their status will serve as a frame for discussion of the plays themselves.


Lessing's Die[uden: and NathanderWeise2 are the centerpieces-or perhaps the only pieces-examined by many critics of the "noble Jew." The reason for this is clear: Lessing was the only classic poet who wrote proJewish dramas in German in the eighteenth century, or indeed in any century. To broaden the scopeIwillincludeanumberofplaysfrom Trivialliteratur-which often reached more spectators, many from the petite bourgeoisie -whose authors created the stereotypical Jewish portrayals of the day. These plays ultimately hastened the demise of the "noble Jew."

The appearance of the positively portrayed Jewish stereotype in at least fifty plays between 1749 and 1805 (eight were negative)" derives indirectly from the Enlightenment conviction that morality must be the guiding principle against the abuses of Church and State. Many thinkers considered religious tolerance to be a moral obligation, and they advocated the lifting of century-old restrictions. The "noble Jew" was often a didactic figure whose creators either supported tolerance or did not mind profiting from a popular stage cliche, as the "noble Jew" was to become. A look at the major critical works dealing with the "noble Jew" will demonstrate that the authors' internalized attitude toward Jews determined the basis for their scholarly approach. This attitude, which can be represented by gradations of anti-Semitism and pro-Semitism, appears to be difficult to modify in adults; nor, in the long run, can one's attitude be disguised. In the literary works themselves an example of attempted revisionism or apology by an author for his own anti-Semitic portrayals appears as early as 1804,4 but his true views show through in subsequent works. Literary critics, especially since 1945, have made occasional attempts to exonerate authors from what has long been accepted as or is clearly anti-Semitism." In the case of the "noble Jew" such an apology would seem to be unnecessary, but "noble Jews" have not been recognized in critical studies as stereotypes better avoided.

An 1897 dissertation by Herbert Carrington" describes the occurrence of the "noble Jew" in the drama of the second half of the eighteenth century, but unfortunately in this work plot summaries largely replace analysis. Alfred Wolff's discussion of several dramas in his 1915 book DerToleranzgedanke inderdeutschen Literatur zurZeitMendelssohns' demonstrates Wolff's own nationalistic feelings, which he shared with many of the German Jews of his time. This led him to overestimate the tolerance in the Germany of his own day as well as in that of Mendelssohn. He could never have envisioned the 1940 dissertation

The German Quarterly 64.2 (1991) 166

of the now-celebrated Germanist Elisabeth Frenzel, which is a virulently anti-Semitic treatise on Jewish figures in the drama of all periods in German literature. In her section on the eighteenth century she stresses the few anti-Jewish plays in this period and presents Lessing as a misguided "do-gooder" in his two classic Jewish portrayals. She did unearth many of the more obscure plays, adding to those already mentioned by Carrington and Wolff.8 jurgen Stenzel makes a valuable contribution in a short essay in which he tries to bridge the gap between philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism in the portrayal of eighteenthcentury Jewish figures. He limits himself to Gellert and Lessing in his article, which contains a valuable bibliography of recent work on the "noble Jew" in addition to an interesting and moving discussion of these figures. 9 Many other scholars, such as Hans Mayer and Karl

S. Guthke, have touched on this topic in conjunction with Lessing or in a more general context. Helmut Jentzsch has produced the most important work on eighteenth-century Jewish figures in his dissertation, published in 1974.10 Although he collected and analyzed all the relevant works, which makes his study indispensable, he bogs down in a quagmire of overzealous categorization. He tries at length to distinguish between "good Jews," "honest Jews," and "noble Jews" and then devotes too much of the discussion to the nuances in the characters themselves. Although much of his literary analysis is sound, he often fails to connect adequately the literary phenomenon with the historical situation from which it arose.

In my view, the Jewish characters in these plays are better categorized by their function in the play than by their degree of goodness. Figures with the depth we now see in Shylock do not appear during this era, with the exception of Nathander ~ise. Some figures, especiallyin parodies or travesties of this play, are portrayed rather unpleasantly. More typical are Jewish figures who provide crucial aid to the protagonist, thereby saving the day. During this period a Jewish character may also play the lead role in sophisticated dramas, but usually he appears in Possen. Jewish figures who provide comic relief are usually sympathetic characters. The minor figures almost invariably lack a family, a house, a hometown, or a name other than "Nathan" or "Baruch." A few have beautiful daughters who are enamored of a Christian suitor. Thus, in this period the Jew most typically plays the role of protagonist, comic relief, doting father, saver of the day, avaricious Christian-hater, or the lead in a travesty of Nathan der ~ise. Except in Lessing's plays, the Jew's economic function is inevitably more important than his religious beliefs, about which little is said in popular literature. The exceptional nature of most of these dramatic functions vis-a-vis what followed them becomes obvious in their literary-historical context.

Traditional male Jewish characters derive ultimately from the Passion plays of medieval times. At that time Jews were depicted as Christ-killers, as the incarnation of the antiChrist or, in other contexts, as ritual murderers of Christian children. With this beginning, their characterization could only improve. From these origins grew the Jewish usurer or huckster, a distortion of the real-life Jew who was largely restricted to certain types of business by ecclesiastical and civillaw. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Church forbade Christians to charge interest on loans. As the prohibitions were lifted and Protestants with no restriction entered into commercial roles, some Jews fellon hard times, subsisting on peddling or begging during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The Protestant Reformation also brought a renewed interest in the Old Testament and the Hebrews, and one can observe a certain confusion between modern-day Jews and ancient Hebrews. The stereotype did not disappear; indeed, it may have been heightened by Luther's own attitude toward Jews, which became increasingly negative when he realized that Jews would not be converted.

First seen in Fastnachtspiele was the comic Jew, also canny and greedy but at least not the object of ridicule. Hans Sachs and, later, Gryphius also created such characters.11

It was the Merchant of Venice (1586) that, in the person of Shylock, gave us the basis of the modern stage Jew, who was to prove a hardy breed. Because Jews had been banned from England since 1290, it is unlikely that ShakespeareknewanyJews, 12buthemayhave been familiar with the Mysteries and Miracle Plays of preceding centuries. 13 He was operating, it seems, on old stereotypes. As interpreted today, Shylock is not only a vindictive usurer but also a human figure who feels deeply about the abuse heaped on his people (III.i). However, Shakespeare's intention may well have been to write a comedy with Shylock as the target, with no saving grace. In most German and Austrian renditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Shylock was portrayed as the avaricious usurer, as demonstrated by Brentano's description in 1811.14 Shylock's Jessica also has been resurrected frequently in some form in later plays. Unlike the figure of "die schone Iudin," demure and sweet-natured, the passionate Jessica renounces her faith, absconds with her lover, and steals her father's money. She comes closer to the juivefatale-attractive, seductive, and willful. Both these types lived on in German and Austrian plays of the nineteenth century.

Yet curiously, even with the inheritance of Shylock, there is no record of a German or Austrian drama with Jewish characters in almost the entire first half of the eighteenth century. This was probably attributable to the great popularity of the Wandertruppen, who often did not publish the texts of their dramas, some of which presumably contained Jewish characters. It was an era when Jewish affairs were just beginning to arouse the public's interest. The accession to the throne in 1740 of both Maria Theresa of Austria (ruled 17401780) and Frederick the Great of Prussia (ruled 1740-1786) brought mixed results for theirJewish subjectsduring theirlongreigns.

The concept of religious tolerance, crucial to the concept of the "noble Jew," had its origin in English and French deism of the seventeenth century. John Locke led the way in England, arguing in his Letters Concerning Toleration (1689-1693) that if the state is to be secular-as he thought it should be-and if the individuals in the state are to possess fullcivilrights, thenoneof theserightsshould be freedom of religion. As Locke stated: "If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the word of God, he does not thereby alter anything in men's civil rights.'?' John Toland, in his Reasons forNaturalizing the]ews (1714), specifically singled out the Jews as a group whose status could be improved. The writings of both Locke and Toland were known in Germany and Austria, but the influence of Voltaire was far greater and was not entirely positive. His attacks on Judaism and Christianity as religions full of superstitious dogma led him to outright anti-Semitism in both Le Dictionnaire philosophique and La traite delatolerance (1763). In addition, his personal papers contain vituperously anti-Semitic statements in connection with a failed-illegal-business venture with Hirschel, a German Jew. Voltaire's position at the court of Frederick the Great may even have stiffened the King's reluctance to improve the status of the Jews, especially the less wealthy ones." Nevertheless, Voltaire finally stated unequivocally in La traite de la tolerance that tolerance is the very essence of philosophy. 17 German philosophers of the Enlightenment often disagreed with this, as Carmely and Borinski have shown." In the Trivialliteratur of Germany and Austria the lofty ideal of tolerance was diminished in plays featuring a "noble Jew."

Philosophically, tolerance did find an advocate in Germany in the person ofJohann Christoph Gottshed, the literary pope whose proscriptions and prescriptions for literature were widely respected. But it was Christian Gellert who created the first sympathetic Jewish figure in German literature in his novel Das Leben der schwedischen Grdfin von G. (1747).19 One of the young German students who read Gellert's novel was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who drafted his comedy Die]uden two years later, then revised it until 1753. A review of the stereotype, in and outside literature, will show why Die]uden is one of the most remarkable plays of the century.

The especially insidious nature of stereotypes-learned generalizations about agroup outside one's own-in a dramatic setting becomes evident only when one understands the nature of stereotype. The characterization ofJews as "smart" is just as stereotypical and thus as much to be avoided as "stupid" Jews. Especially when dealing with a persecuted minority, the dramatist can ultimately do as much harm presenting ostensibly positive members of that group, in stereotypes, as he can by giving his audience stock stereotypes of the opposite. A pertinent example of stereotyping is the concept that the "Jews are an intelligent people." No one wants to be outsmarted by Jews or any other group, and no group wants to be inferior to another. Thus, what seems like a compliment to the "intelligent Jews" is potentially anti-Semitic and has indeed been used against them, if perceived as true. The "noble Jew" conjures up the "ignoble Jew," a stock stage character for centuries, which may have rendered the stereotyped "noble Jew" an unrealistic or still negative caricature to audiences of the eighteenth century.


Minority groups like the Jews, degraded physically and sometimes morally as a consequence of their ghetto life and their enforced attachment to business, clearly were prime targets for stereotypes in Germany and Austria from the Passion Plays onward. Their religion, often perceived as mysterious and fundamentally different from Christianity, was ill-understood by Gentiles, and a hostility toward Christians was often imputed to Jews. Lessing attempted to revise these perceptions radically when he wrote Die [uden.

The one-act comedy deals with a gentleman traveler who helps a German baron fend off an attack by two thieves posing as Jews. The traveler subsequently unmasks the two thieves, who are Christians working for the baron. The baron, himself anti-Semitic, offers the traveler his friendship and the hand of his daughter, only to renege when the traveler

reveals himself to be Jewish; in the last scene the mortified baron offers the Jew half his estate as a consolation prize. Courteous to a fault, the traveler declines the offer and continues his journey. Not content to make his Jewish traveler an honest and straightforward person-already contrary to previous portrayals of Jews in German literature-Lessing has his traveler bend over backward in scrupulous, almost compulsive fairmindedness and love of humanity. Only once, when he is alone, does a bit of resentment seem to creep into the traveler's words. After hearing one despicable thief denounce the Jews, the traveler muses: "Wenn ein Jude betriegt, so hat ibn, unter neun Malen, der Christ vielleicht siebenmal dazu genotiget" (382). The traveler also notes that the Christian religion must be faulted for actually subscribing to antiJewish dogma. Recalling the contemporary Jewish stereotype, the baron has already made clear his position on Jews: "Ein Yolk, das auf den Gewinst so erpicht ist, fragt wenig darnach, ob es ibn mit Recht oder Unrecht, mit List oder Gewaltsamkeit erhalt" (388). Claiming that he can recognize the deceptiveness and selfishness of a Jew by his facial appearance, the baron proceeds to declare that, in contrast to the Jews, the traveler has an"aufrichtige, groBmiitigeundgefalligeMiene" (388). Significantly, the traveler reveals his own background only when he is forced to state why he cannot marry the baron's daughter. Given the social conventions of mideighteenth-century Germany -and much of the nineteenth as well-it would be surprising if the baron were not an anti-Semite. Knigge, for example, in his popular book of social manners Ober den Umgang mit Menschen, published in 1788, flatly assumes that the majority of Jews are not to be trusted. 20 Given the dishonest business practices of some Jews, recognized by Lessing and others, Knigge surely was justified in some cases for his warning. Lessing tries to educate the characters in his play, as wellas the spectators or readers, who might easily identify with the baron. Except for the 1raveler, allthe characters are basicallytypes-stereotypes ofordi

nary people-chosen to serve Lessing's intention to promote jewish emancipation by being believable. He emphasizes this by giving most of the characters titles but not proper names andbyentitlingtheplayinthe pluralhe means all jews. The traveler is the first "noble jew" on the stage, but he is not a stereotype because he is unrecognizable as jewish. Yet even the traveler, an imaginary jew, convinces no one in the play that antiSemitism is wrong. Consequently, this "comedy" does not have the mandatory happy ending.

In 1754, j. D. Michaelis, the Orientalist from Gottingen-father of Caroline Schlegel -bitterly criticized the characterization of the traveler in Die ]uden, asserting that the existence of so noble aIew was close to impossible." Lessing parried this charge with the assertion that such a noble figure as the traveler is as rare among Christians as it is amongjews.22 One year afterthe finalversion of Die]uden had been written (1754), Lessing met Moses Mendelssohn, an excellent example to demonstrate that an educated and noble jew was indeed possible. Had Michaelis questioned the likelihood of encountering a fully assimilated jew in the Germany of 1750, his objection would have been well taken. Lessing's traveler is free of almost all indications of his jewish background-indeed, of any background. Aside from a brief mention by his servant of the "Alfanzereien'' (413) that accompany meals, the traveler dresses and speaks as if he had never seen the ghetto or shtetl where most German jews were born, went to school, lived, and died. Not allowed to attend German schools, jewish boys were usually educated in the Talmud by the rabbi. Yiddish was generally their mother tongue, as it was for Moses Mendelssohn; a IudeoGerman dialect was used to communicate with Gentiles in business affairs. In the cities, where a minority of jews lived at that time, the jews were locked into their ghetto at night, a ghetto that until the fourteenth century had been simply a jewish quarter. The caftan was still a typical mode of dress, especially for the men who ventured out of the ghetto to sell goods or make loans. As noted, jewishmenwere stillforbiddenbylawinmost German and Austrian areas to enter professions other than certain low-levelcommercial ones, causing some to be obsessed with money. Money was the only leverage they had outside the ghetto walls or outside their village. Even just to conduct business outside their area, they needed written permission to cross the borders of German lands, and they had to pay for it.

Lessing's traveler is decidedly not a jew in the usual terms of mid-eighteenth-century Germany. He is an educated, over-conscientious German gentleman and good Samaritan who says he is jewish-to the astonishment of all. Perhaps unwittingly, Lessing has projected the problems of jews in Germany into the future. It is the nineteenth-centuryjewish intelligentsia-with its notables like Borne, Heine, Marx, and many others-who faced the problems portrayed in Die]uden: a social anti-Semitism in addition to the economic and religious varieties, as well as the hitherto unthinkable possibility of intermarriage. In the early eighteenth century intermarriage was forbidden by law and custom on both sides; it simply was not the issue that it became subsequently. The problems in Die ]uden were not well understood in the eighteenth century because they reach all the way into our own century, when many German and Austrian jews came to the brink of full assimilation.

As Hans Mayer has pointed out, in his reply to Michaelis in 1754 Lessing made a definite distinction between those jews who, through wealth and education, were able to become asmilated and the "Hausierer aus dem Ghetto" who congregated around the marketplace. 23 These unfortunate jews provided fodder for those wedded to anti-Semitic stereotypes before, during, andafterthe "noble jew"reigned on the stage. Lessing finally conceded to Michaelis that a jew like the traveler could exist, but only if there were less prejudice against jews and if he were a rich jew who would not need to engage in petty business dealings.24 Like the Prussian official C. W. von Dohm, Lessing clearly viewed the petty money lenders and hucksters as groups to be raised to a higher level, if possible. Moses Mendelssohn was Lessing's "exception." Lessing has been criticized for concentrating on the emancipation of the individual Jew rather than the general civilemanicipation of allJews. An examination of Lessing's intent is crucial to the understanding of the comedy.

Critics have viewed Lessing's intent in Die ]uden quite differently. Dunkle sees the play as an "experiment in propagandizing against the suppressionoftheJews,"withoutelaborating." But Jentzsch takes the view that "[vJon einem politischen Engagement im engeren Sinn kann nicht gesprochen werden.

. . ."26

Guthke's careful and comprehensive analysis of both the play and Lessing's statements, however, support his conclusion that Die]uden "spitzt sich zu auf eine Polemik gegen die bestehende Gesetzgebung, auf ein Pladoyer fur die biirgerliche Emanzipation der 'Nation' der Iuden insgesamt innerhalb eines deutschen Staatswesens.?" In many of the lesser plays treated below, Lessing's didactic intention is subordinated to the dramatists' desire to entertain.

Because he had nothing identifiablyJewish about him, the protagonist in Die ]uden remained atypical of the positive Jewish portrayals in the eighteenth century. The play was much read but not imitated. However, during the 1770s, even before Nathan der Weise, a plethora of "noble Jews" began to appear on the German and Austrian stage. By then the growing bourgeoisie in Germany and Austria had become more receptive to this trend. Many had been influenced by a large number of weekly magazines that consistently preached tolerance. In his journalDer Teutsche Merkur, 28 Wieland called for fairness to Jews. As early as the 1770s, assimilated Jews were in evidence in Vienna and Berlin. Although Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa were hardly pro-Semitic, they permitted-and in some cases encouraged-the growth ofprosperous Jewish communities because of the role they hoped Jews would and actually did play in the development of industry, where their expertise was valuable.

DerEigensinnige, a Viennese playby Gottlieb Stephanie, published in 1774,29 reflects the changed status ofJews on the stage. The story line in this drama is simple: stubborn Baron Tronk is misled into potential financial disaster by a devious and colorful-but none too bright -Italian (perhaps also a stereotype). All the other characters in the play, including the Jew Nathan, try to save the baron. After five acts they finally succeed in foiling the Italian in his attempt to steal most of the baron's money. In earlier plays the Jew rather than the Italian might well have been the villain. Here Nathan is not a wealthy educated gentleman, but he does manage one of the baron's factories. Nathan speaks in a very slight Judeo-German dialect, in contrast to the Italian, who fractures the German language in a very amusing way. The author specifically leaves it to the director to decide how he wouldwantNathanclothedandhowstrongly the stereotyped accent and gestures should be emphasized, if at all.30 Actually, almost half the Jewish characters in the drama of this period do deviate from standard German in their speech as written, which becomes less realistic as the century wears on." Like the traveler in Die ]uden, Nathan educates the overseer of Baron Tronk's property, who initially called Nathan "Mauschel." The overseer is won over by Nathan's sincere concern for the baron's interests. But in contrast to Lessing's traveler, Nathan has a small role to play, which is typical of the plays of the era.

Nathan's role is larger, however, than that of the Jew in Pauersbach's Der redliche Bauer und grossmutige [ud," which appeared in 1774, also in Vienna. There, the Jew appears only in two or three scenes of a full-length play. The Jew Isak in von Nesselrode zu Hugenpoett's Der adlige Tagelohner (1774)33 is poor but honest, claiming a larger role than that of the Jew in Pauersbach's Posse. Isak saves the day by testifying for the victims of a cruel official. After Isak states firmly that, as God decrees, it is better to be dead than unjust, he tells his story to the judge." In Heinrich Leopold Wagner's play of 1775, Die Reue nach der That," the Jew appears for comic relief in an otherwise melodramatic plot. There is no sign of prejudice against him, only enjoyment for all-includingthe Jew. By this time, the stereotype of the "noble Jew" has already been established.

Initially it may seem incongruous to compare Lessing's Nathan der Weise (1779) to these plays from Trivialliteratur. Yet Nathan is in some ways similar to the stereotype of the "noble Jew" that had evolved, thereby immeasurably strengthening and prolonging the impact of the "noble Jew." The play has a well known origin: Lessing had been embroiled in a theological dispute with a certain Pastor Goeze, which centered partly around the question of whether Christianity should be considered the only true religion. Lessing strongly dissented from this view, believing that a deity might well have created religions that are different but equally valid. Muzzled by the censors from continuing his dialogue with Goeze, Lessing instead wrote Nathan derWeise, intending it to illustrate his ecumenical and relativistic views, which were considered radical among German theologians. Set in Jerusalem in the twelfth century, the playdoes not claimto be historicallyaccurate; it is largely allegorical. The Moslem ruler Saladin, the Christian Knight Templar and his Patriarch, and the rich and wise Jew Nathan function as representatives of their respective religions. Nathan gains the respect and admiration of Saladin with his answer to Saladin's question as to which of the three religions is the "true" religion. As his answer Nathan tells the now famous parable of a special ring that has been traditionally passed from the father of a certain family to the most beloved and deserving son. This ring has the power to make its bearer loved by man and God. In the context of the play Nathan appears to be the obvious bearer of the fictitious ring; and yet, Judaism is not proclaimed as a superior religion, because all humane religions are equal in Lessing's view: there is no special ring. Even Nathan superficially resembles the stereotype developed centuries earlier. It is Nathan's sagacity and patience that raise him above the initially parochial Knight and the somewhat bumbling Saladin. Since both men expect Nathan to have the stereotypical traits of deviousness and avarice, they are astounded when he does not, especially given his success in business. He is an older Jew with no familyexcept a beautiful daughter. As in other plays of the period, the non-Jews expect him to cheat, but he shows them by his own example how erroneous it is to stereotype Jews in this manner. The other characters view Nathan as an "exception" to the average Jew, as is the case in other dramas. Even Lessing himself considered Nathan and Moses Mendelssohn to be exceptions. Of course, this Nathan does not speak a IudeoGerman dialect in Lessing's blank verse. Although more of a Jew than Lessing's traveler; Nathan seems likewise unhindered by orthodox religious ritual. In 1779 this degree of assimilation was more likely than in 1749; no one can argue that it fits the twelfth century. Nevertheless, even in the allegorical setting, NathantowersoverotherJewish stagefigures in the eighteenth century, and this prototype encouraged less thoughtful dramatists to produce "noble Jews" for public consumption. Howmanyreaders or spectatorsfoundNathan believable is a moot question; Lessing's intention was to base the character of Nathan on Moses Mendelssohn.

Although didactic in intent, Nathan der Weise does not show political motivation, as did DieJuden. Critics agree that the later play is theologically based" and combats religious prejudice by showing that the morality so highly prized in the Enlightenment is not exclusive toChristianity.Atthe closeofthe playNathan is a saver of the day, like many of his lesser counterparts. The literary and philosophical worth of Nathan der Weise, not treated here, is of course far greater than that of the other plays treated in this paper; most of which pay little attention to religion and philosophy Although Lessing expected Nathan derWeise to remain a Lesedrama, it was successfully performed in 1801 when Schiller staged the play in Weimar, and it remained part of the classic repertoire until 1933.37 Even the Kulturbund, consisting of Jews unable to emigrate from Germany after 1933, performed Nathan der Weise at least once." It was a symbol of the German-jewish heritage to which they remaineddevoted andofwhichtheywere proud.


As early as 1782, a spate of imitations, parodies, and travesties followed Nathan der Weise, none of which has emerged from its welldeserved obscurity. They emphasize that Lessing's larger-than-life Nathan became the basis for his own stereotype. In 1784, Heinrich von Reinicke published his Nathan der Deutsche oderNeider sind wahre Verschnittene." Despite the chauvinistic-and parodisticsounding title, the three-act play seriously presents a Nathan so perfect that he is obviously bound for glory. Tender, good-hearted, intelligent, generous, charitable, and principled, Reinicke's Nathan Bieder-as his name implies-is decent, but he lacks the depth and wisdom of Lessing's figure. Bieder has an adopted son who plays a lesser role than does Lessing's Recha. Yet Bieder has the didactic manner of Lessing's Nathan and instructs his son as well as his servants to deal fairly with the world. Finally, Bieder helps to prevent his friend's daughter, Klementine Rosentau, from running away with a former officer, a scoundrel who plans to steal Klementine's fortune and then abandon her. This play is so philo-Semitic that it lacks all credibility and oversteps the bounds of the ludicrous.

Contrary to the presentations of "noble jews" by German and Austrian playwrights (everyone a Christian) during the years under consideration, the jewish population of the 1780s and 1790s was not a monolithic group, eager to become assimilated. Large orthodox congregations in Germany and Austria tried to preserve traditional jewish culture and religion. They foresaw and feared the end of traditional Judaism." jews wrote no German plays because most spoke Yiddish or JudeoGerman and wrote in Hebrew. Refusing to accept the Enlightenment concept ofjudaism as a "Vemunftsreligion,?" orthodox jews in Germany may not have supported a pioneering proposal by Christian Wilhelmvon Dohm who, among other things, was the attorney for Alsatian jews claiming rights in France. Dohm wanted to abolish all restrictions on jews in Prussia." Like Lessing and his friend Mendelssohn, Dohm believed that usury and peddling kept most jews poor, uneducated, and morally corrupt. He wanted the state to undertake the educationofallchildren,jewish and German, so that they could enter the mainstream on an equal footing. His ideas did not prevail until 1812 and then were rescinded in 1815.

The Austrian Emperor joseph II, a product of the Enlightenment, had considerably more power than Dohm. In his united realm, with the largest segment of mostly poor jews concentrated in outlying areas such as Galicia, he tried by decree beginning in 1781 to bring jews into new occupations. In some casessuch as farming-he had little success, but at least he succeededinrelocatingmanyjews. His order that alljewish children must attend German-speaking schools was resented by many jews, while at the same time it aided many. joseph II's motivation was not so much concern for the jews per se but rather his desire toensurethateverycitizenofhisrealm was productive. Although all of his reforms may not have been well thought out, they did serve to break the substantial barrier between Christian and jew. His policies were not continued by the more conservative monarchs who succeeded him after his death in 1790; it was not until after 1848 that significant break-throughs gave Austrian jews most of their rights. But already by 1790 the ideas of assimilation and conversion were gaining ground in both Austria and Germany, and those jews bent on assimilationwere gratified by the message sent by Dohm and joseph II. As 1800approached, the number ofjews migrating to large cities, especially Berlin and Vienna, increased proportionally with the movement of non-jewish Germans and Austrians.

The principal exception to the jewish groups were the so-called "Court jews," who had made themselves indispensable to princes in finance, sometimes provisioning armies and making victory possible. They were not subjects for the stage in this era. By 1750 the notorious Suss Oppenheimer was already a legend, but the Rothschilds, the most famous of the latter-day Court Jews, had not yet become prominent. There was an increasing number of well-to-do Jews who mixed freely with non-Jews at the various courts throughout Germany and in Vienna. It was this tradition of Court Jews in absolutist Prussia that made Berlin the earliest center of assimilation in Germany. And thus it is no accident that this is where Lessing met Moses Mendelssohn in 1754. It had taken Lessing five years to encounter a Jew who could approximate his traveler and whom he could honor in Nathanderlteise. An exception to the current Jewish stereotype, Mendelssohn was a selfeducated man who spoke accented German as his second language to Yiddish and who, through self-education, was conversant in the theology and philosophy of the time. To support himself, he owned and ran a silk factory in Berlin. Yet Mendelssohn experienced great prejudice and discrimination on every level, not the least from Frederick the Great, who would not allow the Jew Mendelssohn to take his seat in the Prussian Academy of Letters.

No one was an exception for this monarch.

An anonymous Austrian Posse, undated but probably written after 1790, appears from its title to be an anti-Semitic parody: Nathan der Dumme," In this one-act play, however, there is only one scene in which NathanderWeise is even mentioned. The wife of a distracted and harassed man, Nathan Plutzer-"Plutzer" being a derogatory Austrian term for "head" -introduces him to a friend who happens to be reading Nathan der Weise. When the wife discovers what her friend is reading, the wife utters the key words of the farce in a pure Viennese dialect:

"So? 'Nathan der Weise!' Na, i hab' a ein'

Nathan z' Haus das is aber, Nathan der


Proving that Plutzer is a Dummkopf and that the original title of Lessing's play has become a household word (and this is all that the play proves) Nathan derDumme reaches the intellectual nadir of Nathan imitations; it is evident why the author did not sign his name. The positive or ambiguous attitudes toward Jews in Nathan derDeutsche and Nathan der Dumme were different in tone from other Nathanimitations that appeared later.

Julius von Voss, later notorious for his antiSemitic farces, produced a rather carefully crafted but crude and sneering two-act Posse, Der travestierte Nathan der lteise (1804),45

which illustrates the movement awayfrom the "noble Jew." Written in blank verse, this play parodies all the main characters, especially Nathan himself. Voss's Daja describes him as "ein[en] hollverdammtjen] Mauschel.?" and, as Voss portrays him, she is quite accurate. Because Nathan speaks a very thick JudeoGerman laden with Yiddish and Hebrew words, Voss uses footnotes to enable his nonJewish readers to follow the text. Whether this play was actually produced is unclear; Nathan's words would have had to be translated. Nathan himself is the old stereotype incarnate, Shylock without any redeeming traits: dishonest, avaricious, obsessed with business, sly. When he hears of the fire in Recha's quarters, he is first concerned about damage to his house. During a visit to Saladin, who is in need of funds, philosophy is not the order of the day. Nathan cleverly proposes a state lottery into which many would pay and fewwouldwin, allowingSaladinan easyprofit. Recha is fascinated with what she hears about fashion and popular literature back in Berlin, but inexplicably she also reads Kant. These anachronisms remain unexplained. The Knight Templar, when he views Nathan's heavily weighted camels, tells the rich Nathan he wishes to convert to Judaism to marry Recha, whom he loves passionately. These odd characteristics of materialism and opportunism are more comprehensible when the familyconstellation is revealed: Nathan is Recha's true father, having had a brief relationship with a woman named Stauffen. As crude sexual innuendos abound, Saladin-although revolted to find that he is Nathan's brother-in-law-sreveals that Stauffen had offered herself to Saladin and thereafter bore the Knight Templar. The latter is not greatly disturbed to lose Recha; the Knight recalls "[ajuch roch sie wie mir schien.?" This is Voss's happy ending, unencumbered by notions of religious tolerance and the family of man.

This exceedingly nasty farce, contrasting with the presentation of a wise and magnanimous Jew in Nathan der Weise, was resented by the Jewish community in Berlin, where Voss was well known. Attempting to retain a Jewish audience and readership, he wrote to them that the figure of Nathan was actually based on their grandfathers' ways, not their own." In his apology he demonstrated his misunderstanding of those sophisticated Berlin Jews: as newcomers to German society, they were trying to overcome the century-old image of their forefathers and could never support its perpetuation in literature." Voss later tried to redeem himself to the Berlin Jewish community. After the initial success of a scandalously anti-Semitic farce Unser Verkehr (1813) by Karl Sessa, Voss supported the Jewish point of view with Euer Verkehr (1816).50 From his anti-Semitic record, however, one can conclude that he saw a possible profit in his play but that he had not changed his views on Jews.

The "noble Jew" was still being seen on the stage prior to Voss's travesty, if seldom afterward. More substantive than Voss's farces and still holding to the Enlightenment view of morality are the plays of August von Kotzebue" and Wilhelm Iffland. These German dramatists were celebrated for their rather melodramatic works, which often included sympatheticJewish figures. Ifflandfrequently playedJewish roles himself, stillinthe traditional caftan, even though Jews-without caftans-were at the center of cultural life in Berlin and Vienna. The caftan actually persisted on the stage for fifty more years, and the stage Jew continued into the twentieth century. Nevertheless, Iffland presented his audiences with upstanding, ethical Jews, albeit largely money-lenders. His five-act play Dienstpflicht (1800)52 introduces the usurer Baruch, who plays a minor but crucial role.

Agreeing to retrieve an incriminating paper for the righteous-sounding but villainous Court Secretary Falbing, Baruch haggles for a large payment. When Baruch learns that Falbing is cheating the realm out of large amounts of money and intends to destroy the honor of an honest family by burning the incriminating document, he balks. Even when Falbing threatens him with a gun, Baruch calmly refuses the bribe. Pointing heavenward, he explains his action to the surprised Prince of the realm, declaring he will be repaid "Hundert von Hundert," by "[djer grollmachtige Handelsherr da droben,"?' Baruch, another noble Jewish stereotype, has saved the day and has provided the resolution of the plot. Moreover, by depicting Baruch as unfazed when threatened by a loaded pistol at point-blank range, Iffland helps to deflate the then-common belief that Jews are physical cowards.


In Iffland's time, the close of the eighteenth century, assimilation was well under way among upper-class Jews in Germany and Austria. From a legal standpoint, Emperor Joseph II's Edict of Tolerance probably encouraged assimilation more than it aided the Austrian economy. Prussian reforms did not come until 1812, while Napoleon was occupying the country. After the Wars of Liberation and the Congress of Vienna, most governments in Germany and Austria rescinded the emancipatory acts. As we have seen, the reforms had been based only partially on humanitarian grounds; the benefits of an emancipated Jewry to the state and to the economy had been paramount, but they were no longer viewed as necessary.

Socially and culturally the Jewish avantgarde of Germany and Austria emerged around 1800 in Berlin and Vienna and began to make its mark with literary and social contributions. Benchmarks were the openings of the renowned social salons of Henriette Herz, Rahel Varnhagen, and Sarah Levy. Jews in this social milieu were often descendents of Court jews who had been granted special privileges years earlier. jewish authors like Michael Beer, brother of the composer Meyerbeer, and Rahel's brother Ludwig Robert, as well as Heine and Borne mixed with archnationalists such as Achim von Arnim. This resulted in intellectual benefit to both groups, but it brought about little reduction in antiSernitism." Dramatists, especially those of the late Romantic school, generally rejected or were indifferent to the premises ofreligious tolerance, on which emancipation of the jews was based. Unless converted, jews were considered beyond the pale. jewish figuressuch as Lessing's traveler, Isak, Baruch, and NathanBieder-werelargelyabsentfromthe nineteenth-century stage, with the exception of Nathan der Weise, the "Young German" Gutzkow's Uriel Acosta (1847), and several other characters in plays by jewish authors. Minor characters were usually negative, although the comic peddler continued to appear. The stereotype did undergo changes, however. The jewish huckster, who cheated his customer on small purchases, began to appear as the salonjewvainlytrying tohidehisjewish origin, or emerged as the jewish banker, a parvenu as deceitful as the earlier huckster.

The "noble jew," a stereotype in itself, was not usually a complete reverse stereotype as in Die]uden -and therein lies part of its fallibility. The many "savers of the day" we have examined, including Nathan der Weise, might wear the caftan as late as 1795, might speak Iudeo-German, and were usually clever enough to solve the problem far more quickly than the Gentiles they wanted to save. The Enlightenment prompted one change: the noble stage jew appeared inevitably on the side of morality. That neither spectators nor popular dramatists were convinced of this change to perfect goodness is demonstrated not only by the contrary behavior of the human race-jew or Gentile-but also by the sudden and total abandonment of the "noble Jew" when anti-Semitism gained strength in nationalistic circles in both Austria and Germany after 1805. Part of this reversal back to the traditional stage jew can also be attributed to dramatists' overuse of what was in the 1770s a novel phenomenon.

Any didactic impact of the "noble jew" on the spectator cannot be measured; however, it can be safely assumed that anti-Semites seldom changed their beliefs as a result of going to the theater and viewing an amusing and/or less-than-believable jew on the stage. In the last analysis, with the possible exception of Lessing's inventive and philosophical plays, the "noble jew" on the popular stage probably did not have any significant impact on reinforcing the concept of tolerance in Germany and Austria. It did serve to keep stereotypical jews in the public eye. These amiable but antiquated figures could hardly have helped the overallimageofjewsinthe process of assimilation, although the Enlightenment itselfdidhaveamajoreffect through the beginnings of political change in jewish policy. In the early nineteenth century, "tolerance unlimited" became "limited tolerance"; Shylock and his imitators stepped forward to replace the "noble jew," who disappeared, exhausted, from the stage.



Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Die [uden in Werke, ed. Herbert G. Gopfert, in cooperation with Karl Eibl, et. al (Munich: Hanser, 1970), I. Page numbers cited in the text refer to this edition.


Lessing, Nathan der Weise in Werke, II: 205-347.


Helmut Ientzsch, "Iudische Figuren in deutschen Buhnentexten des 18.Jahrhunderts," diss., Hamburg, 1974.


In 1804, Julius von Voss issued a statement to the Jews of Berlin in which he tried to put his anti-Semitic imitation of Nathan der Weise into a more favorable light (see p. 175 of this paper).

;) See Robert G. Holub, "Raabe's Impartiality: A Reply to Horst Denkler," GQ 60 (1987): 617-22.


Herbert Carrington, "Die Figur des Juden in der dramatischen Litteratur des XVIII. Jahrhunderts," diss., Heidelberg, 1897.


Alfred Wolff, DerToleranzgedanke inderdeutschenLitteraturzur Zeit Mendelssohns (Berlin: Mayer & Milller, 1915).


Elisabeth Frenzel, j udengestalten auf der deutschen Buhne: 700JahreRollengeschichte (Munich: Deutscher Volksverlag, 1942).

~ Iurgen Stenzel, "Idealisierung und Vorurteil: Zur Figur des 'edlen Juden' in der deutschen Literatur des 18. Jahrhunderts," Juden in der deutschen Literatur; ed. Stephane Moses and Albrecht Schone (Frankfurta.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986) 114-26.

10 jentzsch (see n. 3).

11 Hans Sachs, Der Teufel nahm ein all Weib zu der Ehe in Werke, ed. E. Goetze (Halle, 1887), VII.26; Andreas Gryphius, Horribilicnbrifax. Scherzspiel (Halle: Niemeyer, 1876).


EdwardCalish,Thejew inEnglishLiterature, asAuthor and as Subject (1909; Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1968) 18.


M. j. Landa, Thejew inDrama (1926; Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1968) 11.


ClemensBrentano, "Der Philister,vor,inundnachder Geschichte. Eine scherzhafte Abhandlung," Werke, ed. Friedheim Kemp (Munich: Hanser, 1963), II: 995.


john Locke, "Letters ConcerningToleration," The Enlightenment: TheProperStudy ofMankind, ed. Nicolas Capaldi (New York: Capricorn, 1967) 75.


Arthur Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the jews (New York: Columbia U~ 1968).


Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. F. Koeller and j. Pettlegrove (Boston: Beacon, 1955) 169.


Klara Carmely. "Wie 'autgeklart' waren die Aufklarer im Bezug auf die juden?" Humanitiit und Dialog. Lessing und Mendelssohn in neuerSicht. Beiheftzum Lessingjahrbuch (Detroit: Wayne State U~ 1982)177-88; Ludwig Borinski, "Antijudaistische Phanomene in der Aufklarung," Wolfenbiitteler Studien zur Aufkliirung (Bremen: jacobi, 1977), IV: 122-48.


ChristianF. Gellert, DasLebenderschwedischen Grafin von G. in Werke, ed. Gottfried Honnefelder (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1979), II.


Adolf Freiherr von Knigge, Oberden Umgangmit Menschen (1788; Hannover: Hahn, 1967) 140-46.


j. D. Michaelis's critique and Lessing's reply cited in Lessing, Werke, I: 638. Originally printed in the Giittingischen Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen (Gottingen, 1754).


Lessing, Werke, I: 639.


Hans Mayer, Auj3enseiter (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1975) 335.


Lessing, Werke, I: 640.


Harvey I. Dunkle, "Lessing's 'Die Iuden': An Original

Experiment," Monatshefte 49 (1957): 122.


Ientzsch 97.


Karl S. Guthke, "Lessings Problemkomodie Die [uden," Wissen aus Erfahrungen: Festschrift Herman Meyer, ed. AlexandervonBormann(Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1976) 122-34. For a discussion of Die juden as an example of Lessing's "Rettung" plays, see Wilfried Barner, "Vorurteil, Empirie, Rettung. Der junge Lessing und die Iuden," Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts 69 (1984): 29-51, and his essay "Lessings Die juden im Zusammenhangseines Friihwerks,"Humanitiit und Dialog 189-209(see n. 18).

2H Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) edited the journal from 1733to 1810.


Gottlieb Stephanie der Iungere, Der Eigensinnige

(Vienna, 1774).

;mStephanie 28.

:11 See Mark H. Gelber, "Das judendeutsch in der deutschen Litertur," juden in der deutschen Literatur 162

76. In the nineteenth-century portion of this essay, Gelber uses the plays discussed in Charlene A. Lea,

Emancipation, Assimilation and Stereotype: The Image of thejew in German and Austrian Drama (1800-1850)

(Bonn:Bouvier, 1978).Manyselectionsmorepertinent to his linguistic study are available. A nearly comprehensive catalogue has since been published by Horst Denkler, "'Lauter juden,' Zum Rollenspektrum der Juden-Figuren im popularenBiihnendramader Metternichschen Restaurationsperiode (1815-1848)," Conditio judaica, judentum,Antisemitismusunddeutschspnuhige Literatur vom 18. j ahrhundert bis zum ersten Weltkrieg, ed. H. Horch and H. Denkler (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1988), I: 149-63.

:12 Josef von Pauersbach, DerredlicheBauerund dergroj3mutigejudoderDerglucklichej ahrtag(Vienna, 1774).


J. G. von Nesselrode zu Hugenpoett, Der adlige Tage

LOhner (Frankfurt a.M., 1774) 29. :14 von Nesselrode 42.

:IS Heinrich Leopold Wagner, Die Reue nach der That (Frankfurt a.M., 1775).


Ientzsch 105; Guthke 134.

:17 Ferdinand Piedmont, "Unterdriickt und rehabilitiert: Zur Theatergeschichte von Lessings Nathan der weise von den ZwanzigerIahren bis zur Gegenwart," Lessing Yearbook 19 (Munich: Huber, 1987)85-94.

;~ Informationfrom a paper on the Kulturbund delivered bySilvia Schlenstedton13April1989at SmithCollege, Northampton, MA.


Heinrich von Reinicke, Nathan derDeutsche in Fortsetzungen, Nachahmungen und Travestien von Lessings

Nathan der Weise, ed. Heinrich Stiimcke (Berlin: Gesellschaft fur Theatergeschichte, 1904), IV:


Jacob Katz, "Variantendes judischenAufklarungserlebnisses," Conditiojudaica 6-7 (see n. 31).

41 Arno Herzig, 'Assimilationsprobleme aus judischer Sicht,"Conditiojudaica 13-14 (see n. 31). Herzig identifies numerous differing Jewish viewpoints.


ChristianWilhelm Dohm, Oberdieburgerliche Verbesserung derjuden (Berlin & Stettin: Nicolai, 1781).

4:1 Anon., Nathan der Dumme (Vienna: Fritz, n.d.).


Nathan der Dumme 13. 45 Julian von Voss, Der travestierte Nathan der weise in Fortsetzungen 131-218 (see n. 39).


Voss 133.


Voss 149.


Heinrich Stiimcke, "Die Nachwirkungen von Lessings Nathandichtung in der dramatischen Literatur,"Fortsetzungen, XLIV (see n. 39).


See Charlene A. Lea, "Ludwig Borne: Jewish Emancipationist or Jewish Anti-Semite?" Seminar XVI (1980): 224-34 for an evaluationof one Jewish writer's attempt to solve his own dilemma in the nineteenth century.

so Karl Borromaus AlexanderSessa, UnserVerkehr. Eine Posse in einem Aufzug (Leipzig: Reclam, 1813); Julius von Voss, Euer Verkehr inPossen und Marionettenspiele zur Erheiterungin trubenStunden (Berlin: Schiippel, 1816).


August Kotzebue, Der Opfertod (Vienna: Lechner, 1833), and DasKind derLiebein Deutsche Schaubuhne 7 (1791) n.p.


August Wilhelm Iffland, Dienstpflicht (Leipzig: Goschen, 1800).



:>4 Charlene A. Lea, "The Christlieh-Deutsche Tischgesellschaft: Napoleonic Hegemony Engenders Political Anti-Semitism," Festschrift fur PeterHeller (1990, unpub.).

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