Although Israel Zangwill’s fame rests on his fiction dealing with Jewish themes, just three of his twenty-one plays directly involve Jews. Two of the three (Children of the Ghetto and The King of Schnorrers) are based on previously published stories; only The Melting-Pot, dealing with religious and ethnic intermarriage, is an original work. Zangwill’s early successes described the pathos and comedy of ghetto life. As he concentrated on playwriting, he became more didactic and turned to universal themes—his dramas now dealt with political problems, social and economic issues, war and peace, and the nature of true religion.
Despite the significance of the ideas he dramatized, few critics consider Zangwill a major playwright. Too often the plays deteriorate into sentimental melodramas, with stereotypical characters and unrealistic dialogue that detract from the serious themes he explored.
Merely Mary Ann
Lancelot, a handsome and snobbish young composer, at first scorns a naïve but pretty serving girl, then begins to find her attractive, despite her coarse manners, and falls in love with her. When Mary Ann inherits a fortune from her brother in the United States, Lancelot decides he is not good enough for her, and the two part. The short story on which the play was based ended on this note, but for the stage version, Zangwill added a happy ending. Six years later, Lancelot, now a famous composer, returns to London and is reunited with his love. Despite the improbability of both the separation and reunion of the lovers, Zangwill’s sentimental melodrama won praise from critics and attracted larger audiences than any of his serious plays.
David Quixano, an orphaned young Jewish immigrant composer whose parents were murdered in Russia during the Kishinev massacre of Jews, lives with his uncle and great-aunt in New York City. To the horror of his orthodox great-aunt, David no longer observes the Sabbath nor the rituals of Judaism. He hopes to write an American symphony celebrating the United States as God’s crucible, welcoming all creeds and nationalities in order to blend them into a greater, all-inclusive humanity.
When David meets Vera...
(The entire section is 928 words.)