YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  KING SAUL                                                 

KING SAUL1, by Paul Heyse

(Yiddish: Shaul hameylekh)


Maurice Schwartz, as King Saul, and
Bella Bellarina, as Michal, one of his children.


 Anna Appel (lt.), as the Witch of Endor,
and Anna Teitelbaum, as her daughter.

New York
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Here is the cast from the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play when it opened at the Nora Bayes Theatre in New York City, on September 17, 1925 (listed in alphabetical order):

Julius Adler, Anna Appel, Ben Zwi Baratoff, Bella Bellarina, Izidore Casher, Miriam Elias, Lazar Freed, Jacob Mestel, Lia Rosen, Chaim Schneyer, Maurice Schwartz, Mark Schweid, Leonid Snegoff, Morris Strassberg, Abraham Teitelbaum and Anna Teitelbaum.

So, here is the synopsis of Heyse's "King Saul." The name of the actor or actress who portrayed a particular role is indicated in parentheses:



The present play is a dramatization of the first Book of Samuel, with certain minor departures from the biblical narrative. In his dedicatory letter to Johannes Volkelt, Heyse declares that the play is an attempt to portray the tragedy of old age, of which King Lear is the supreme example. But, says Heyse, whereas in Lear we see a man already grown old, whose heart is broken and whose mind is unhinged by the ingratitude of his children, in Saul we see a man growing old before our eyes, who bitterly resents the waning of his once great powers and vainly defies the natural law to which he must nevertheless submit. No one, continues Heyse, can watch this struggle without a poignant sense of tragedy; no one can withhold sympathy from the old hero, if in this hopeless fight he loses his dignity and nobility, and his once luminous spirit lapses into sin and impotence.

Paul Heyse--poet, novelist, short-story writer, and playwright--has been aptly described as "a cultured cosmopolitan of literature," in whose work there is much "to appeal to all wh9o are sensitive to the presentation of life in artistic form, with grace, charm, and power." He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1911.


The High Priest and his aides stand in front of the sacred Ark, praying for victory over the Philistines and their champion Goliath.


"There was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul." As the play begins, hostilities are in progress. Saul (Maurice Schwartz) is in camp with his forces but cannot take part in the fighting because of illness. He chafes at his inactivity and orders Abner (Julius Adler) to announce to the army that the king revokes his offer to give his daughter Michal (Bella Bellarina) to the man who slays Goliath, because he intends to fight the Philistine champion himself. Samuel (Chaim Schneyer) arrives and rebukes Saul for sparing the life of Agag (Leonid Snegoff), contrary to God's command. Saul defends his leniency toward the captive Agag on the ground of chivalry. The prophet orders Agag to be brought in and proceeds to kill him. He then tells Saul that because of his disobedience, God has rejected him from being king. Saul attributes the prophet's wrath to personal hatred and jealousy. Jonathan (Lazar Freed) leads in the bashful David (Mark Schweid), who has just vanquished Goliath. Saul sees in this victory a sign of divine favor and asks David what reward he desires. Jonathan reminds him that the reward has already been fixed. Saul balks at the idea of giving his daughter in marriage to a shepherd; the modest David himself thinks it improper; but Samuel insists that a king's pledge is irrevocable. The prophet departs and is escorted by Saul and Abner. Jonathan, David and Michal remain in the royal tent. David pleads for permission to return to his father's flocks, but gradually agrees to remain in the king's service on discovering that Michal loves him. Saul returns and expresses regret that it was not he who overcame Goliath. His troubled spirit is soothed by David playing the harp.


photo: Lazar Freed, as Jonathan.


At the royal palace.  From the conversation of Manoah (Morris Strassberg) and Phalti (Abraham Teitelbaum), we learn that ever since David's triumph over Goliath, Saul has been dejected, morose and suspicious. At first David's playing gave him relief, but soon he forbade him to play and sent him on perilous campaigns against the Philistines. David and Jonathan enter, and the servants withdraw. David reports another victory over the Philistines and explains that the reason he returned alone, instead of at the head of his troops was that he id not wish to arouse the anger of the king, who is sure is bent on destroying him. This Jonathan refuses to believe. Michal rushes in, and when David tells her of his intention to resume the life of a shepherd, she agrees to follow him everywhere. Hearing the king's footsteps, David and Michal withdraw, while Jonathan remains to sound his father on his attitude to David. Saul enters, and Jonathan tells him of David's latest victory. Saul is visibly disappointed but agrees to receive David. While Jonathan goes to fetch him, Saul wonders whether it can be God's will that a powerful tree, which has stood for fifty years in a green field and yielded abundant fruit and shade, to be overshadowed by a mere stripling that grows next to it and robs it of the sun's light. Abner enters and reports that Samuel is dead, and that ten days before his death the prophet secretly anointed David king. Jonathan returns with David and presently Michal joins them. At first Saul restrains himself, but soon gives way to anger. Jonathan and Michal vainly try to quiet him. They persuade him to let David play to him. At the end of the song, however, cries are heard outside: "Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands." Saul is furious, and when David admits that Samuel anointed him, though against his will, Saul tries to kill him. David withdraws and is followed by Michal and Jonathan. "I have nothing now," Saul observes, "except my spirit, my pride, and my courage."


Scene 1-- Saul and his army, pursuing the elusive David, are encamped in the mountains. Jonathan, who has remained with his father, attempts to plead with his father on behalf of David. Saul cannot understand why Jonathan should take the part of a man who would rob him of his birthright: the throne. Jonathan replies that he is willing to step aside in favor of a better man. Abner arrives and reports that David has been observed in the vicinity. Saul orders the execution of Ahimelech the priest for having supplied David with food, then he retires to the royal tent. Abner also departs. Presently David and Michal steal into the camp and surprise Jonathan. David is determined to face the king, even at the risk of death rather than lead the life of a hunted animal. He goes into Saul's tent and soon emerges with the skirt of the king's robe, which he cut off as proof that he had the king in his power, yet refrained from doing him harm. David and Michal slink away. Saul emerges from his tent and relates to his son a nightmare that troubled his sleep. Michal and David appear on a mountain nearby, and David calls out to Saul and tells him how he had him at his mercy yet spared him. Saul considers this another attempt to humiliate him, yet he promises to abandon his campaign against David.

Scene 2-- The king disguises himself, and accompanied by Amri (Izidore Casher) visits the Witch of Endor (Anna Appel). He overcomes her fears and persuades her to bring up the ghost of Samuel. When the ghost appears, Saul remarks that he envies Samuel the rest that he enjoys. The prophet replies that soon Saul, too, will find rest. Saul implores Samuel to tell him whether it was the voice of God, or that of personal hatred, that said: "I have rejected my servant Saul." Samuel assures him that he never hated him, but on the contrary always mourned his fall from divine grace. The ghost vanishes. Jonathan and Abner rush in to report that the Philistine army is drawing near.


The battle is about to begin. A priest offers a sacrifice, and Saul invokes God's aid. Abner reports that David and his men are helping the Philistines, and Saul vows to seek out David and settle scores with him at last. The bugles sound, and all join in the battle. The Witch of Endor and her daughter (Anna Teitelbaum) appear on the scene and help themselves to the meat of the sacrificial lamb on the deserted altar. A band of Philistines sweep past and are pursued by David and his men. Saul staggers in, wounded. Fearing capture, he begs Amri to kill him. The armor bearer refuses and Saul kills himself. Presently David and Michal, followed by many warriors, approach the still conscious Saul and inform him that the enemy is completely routed, and that he can now rule securely. Saul answers that the kingdom he is going to has but one ruler: death. The body of the slain Jonathan is carried in, and David laments the death of Saul and Jonathan.


1 -- From the playbill for "King Saul", Yiddish Art Theatre, Nora Bayes Theatre production. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

2 -- Synopsis prepared by Maximilian Hurwitz.





Photographs courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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