Modena's L'Ester: a Venetian-Jewish Play in Early Modern Europe
This article discusses Modena’s 1619 dramatic adaptation of the biblical Book of Esther—L’Ester: Tragedia Tratta dalla Sacra Scrittura (Esther: A Tragedy Taken from the Holy Scripture)—both in terms of its integration of Jewish and Christian sources, and of the aspects of figuration and performance. It will be shown that Modena comprises an example of a “skilled cultural intermediary” between Venetian-Jewish culture and the Christian culture of early modern Europe. Thus, there are two primary issues of discussion. The first relates to the way both direct references (Herodotus' Histories; the Jewish Midrash) and recognizable allusions (the Italian poem Orlando Furioso; the Jewish Babylonian Talmud) are utilized together in the play to create, and comment on, dramatic characters and situations. The second issue relates to the way Modena utilizes a variety of tropes (simile, metaphor, symbol and allegory) and aspects of performance (language, costume), which not only connect it to these varied exegetical and literary sources, but also to European performative traditions. Finally, attention will be paid to Modena’s adaption and enactment of the “figuration of woman” evident in the biblical Book of Esther, with a specific focus on the figure of Vashti. Modena’s enactment of Vashti will be shown to raise complex issues concerning the inherent danger and compromises of maintaining a woman’s pride, independence and wisdom.
Keywords: Leon Modena; The Book of Esther; Italian-Jewish Renaissance; Orlando Furioso; Herodotus' Histories; Midrash; Babylonian Talmud
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