The Jewess of Toledo Further Critical Evaluation of the Work - Essay

Franz Grillparzer

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Although THE JEWESS OF TOLEDO was first performed in 1872, the five-act tragedy had been completed in the 1850’s, and the idea dated back to 1824, when Grillparzer read Lope de Vega’s LA JUDEA DE TOLEDO, upon which THE JEWESS OF TOLEDO is closely based. Into it he wove not only his own experience of an overpowering sensual love, but also his observation of a major political scandal of the day, the passion of King Ludwig I of Bavaria for the Spanish dancer, Lola Montez, which ended in her banishment and his abdication. The play is thus doubly motivated, and has been criticized as falling into two pieces: a love tragedy and a political tragedy.

In fact, the two are inseparably intertwined. The fortunes of the state are inextricably bound up with the personal fate of the naive king, just awakening to the power of the senses. His English wife, Eleanor, is coldly virtuous, though not above jealousy, but it is Rachel to whose charms he succumbs so utterly as to neglect his duty as king. Rachel is a creature of impulse, not of deep emotion, and embodies the absence of moral obligation. Queen Eleanor places duty above all, but lacks warmth and sensuality. It is the king’s tragedy and the tragedy of the state, that this division of attributes plad the tragedy ofnd his duty in conflict. His tragedy is, therefore, personal and political. The throne is as good as vacant as the king forgets his divinely ordained role, and the nobles and the queen have no choice but to act to restore the order of the state. In this play, all incur guilt, not so much legal as moral. Rachel pays with her life, and in a sense, so do the king and nobles, as the king embarks upon a crusade against the Moors to atone his guilt by committing his life to the judgment of God in defense of his state.