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The Dance To Death - Act 5 Post by :eheyoka Category :Plays Author :Emma Lazarus Date :May 2012 Read :1933

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The Dance To Death - Act 5

ACT V

SCENE I.

(A Room in Susskind's House. LIEBHAID, CLAIRE, REUBEN.)


LIEBHAID.
The air hangs sultry as in mid-July.
Look forth, Claire; moves not some big thundercloud
Athwart the sky? My heart is sick.


CLAIRE.
Nay, Liebhaid.
The clear May sun is shining, and the air
Blows fresh and cordial from the budding hills.


LIEBHAID.
Reuben, what is 't o'clock. Our father stays.
The midday meal was cold an hour agone.


REUBEN.
'T is two full hours past noon; he should be here.
Ah see, he comes. Great God! what woe has chanced?
He totters on his staff; he has grown old
Since he went forth this morn.

(Enter SUSSKIND.)


LIEBHAID.
Father, what news?


SUSSKIND.
The Lord have mercy! Vain is the help of man.
Children, is all in order? We must start
At set of sun on a long pilgrimage.
So wills the Landgrave, so the court decrees.


LIEBHAID.
What is it, father? Exile?


SUSSKIND.
Yea, just that.
We are banished from our vexed, uncertain homes,
'Midst foes and strangers, to a land of peace,
Where joy abides, where only comfort is.
Banished from care, fear, trouble, life--to death.


REUBEN.
Oh horror! horror! Father, I will not die.
Come, let us flee--we yet have time for flight.
I'll bribe the sentinel--he will ope the gates.
Liebhaid, Claire, Father! let us flee! Away
To some safe land where we may nurse revenge.


SUSSKIND.
Courage, my son, and peace. We may not flee.
Didst thou not see the spies who dogged my steps?
The gates are thronged with citizens and guards.
We must not flee--God wills that we should die.


LIEBHAID.
Said you at sunset?


SUSSKIND.
So they have decreed.


CLAIRE.
Oh why not now? Why spare the time to warn?
Why came they not with thee to massacre,
Leaving no agony betwixt the sentence
And instant execution? That were mercy!
Oh, my prophetic father!


SUSSKIND.
They allow
Full five hours' grace to shrive our souls with prayer.
We shall assemble in the Synagogue,
As on Atonement Day, confess our sins,
Recite the Kaddish for the Dead, and chant
Our Shibboleth, the Unity of God,
Until the supreme hour when we shall stand
Before the mercy-seat.


LIEBHAID.
In what dread shape
Approaches death?


SUSSKIND.
Nerve your young hearts, my children.
We shall go down as God's three servants went
Into the fiery furnace. Not again
Shall the flames spare the true-believers' flesh.
The anguish shall be fierce and strong, yet brief.
Our spirits shall not know the touch of pain,
Pure as refined gold they shall issue safe
From the hot crucible; a pleasing sight
Unto the Lord. Oh, 't is a rosy bed
Where we shall couch, compared with that whereon
They lie who kindle this accursed blaze.
Ye shrink? ye would avert your martyred brows
From the immortal crowns the angels offer?
What! are we Jews and are afraid of death?
God's chosen people, shall we stand a-tremble
Before our Father, as the Gentiles use?


REUBEN.
Shall the smoke choke us, father? or the flame
Consume our flesh?


SUSSKIND.
I know not, boy. Be sure
The Lord will temper the shrewd pain for those
Who trust in Him.


REUBEN.
May I stand by thy side,
And hold my hand in thine until the end?


SUSSKIND (Aside).
What solace hast thou, God, in all thy heavens
For such an hour as this? Yea, hand in hand
We walk, my son, through fire, to meet the Lord.
Yet there is one among us shall not burn.
A secret shaft long rankling in my heart,
Now I withdraw, and die. Our general doom,
Liebhaid, is not for thee. Thou art no Jewess.
Thy father is the man who wills our death;
Lord Henry Schnetzen.


LIEBHAID.
Look at me! your eyes
Are sane, correcting your distracted words.
This is Love's trick, to rescue me from death.
My love is firm as thine, and dies with thee.


CLAIRE.
Oh, Liebhaid, live. Hast thou forgot the Prince?
Think of the happy summer blooms for thee
When we are in our graves.


LIEBHAID.
And I shall smile,
Live and rejoice in love, when ye are dead?


SUSSKIND.
My child, my child! By the Ineffable Name,
The Adonai, I swear, thou must believe,
Albeit thy father scoffed, gave me the lie.
Go kneel to him--for if he see thy face,
Or hear thy voice, he shall not doubt, but save.


LIEBHAID.
Never! If I be offspring to that kite,
I here deny my race, forsake my father,--
So does thy dream fall true. Let him save thee,
Whose hand has guided mine, whose lips have blessed,
Whose bread has nourished me. Thy God is mine,
Thy people are my people.


VOICES
(without).

Susskind von Orb!


SUSSKIND.
I come, my friends.

Enter boisterously certain Jews.


1ST JEW.
Come to the house of God!


2D JEW.
Wilt thou desert us for whose sake we perish?


3D JEW.
The awful hour draws nigh. Come forth with us
Unto the Synagogue.


SUSSKIND.
Bear with me, neighbors.
Here we may weep, here for the last time know
The luxury of sorrow, the soft touch
Of natural tenderness; here our hearts may break;
Yonder no tears, no faltering! Eyes serene
Lifted to heaven, and defiant brows
To those who have usurped the name of men,
Must prove our faith and valor limitless
As is their cruelty. One more embrace,
My daughter, thrice my daughter! Thine affection
Outshines the hellish flames of hate; farewell,
But for a while; beyond the river of fire
I'll fold thee in mine arms, immortal angel!
For thee, poor orphan, soon to greet again
The blessed brows of parents, I dreamed not
The grave was all the home I had to give.
Go thou with Liebhaid, and array yourselves
As for a bridal. Come, little son, with me.
Friends, I am ready. O my God, my God,
Forsake us not in our extremity!

(Exeunt SUSSKIND and JEWS.)

 

SCENE II.

(A Street in the Judengasse. Several Jews pass across the stage, running and with gestures of distress.)


JEWS.
Woe, woe! the curse has fallen!

(Exeunt.)

(Enter other Jews.)


1ST JEW.
We are doomed.
The fury of the Lord has smitten us.
Oh that mine head were waters and mine eyes
Fountains of tears! God has forsaken us.

(They knock at the doors of the houses.)


2D JEW.
What, Benjamin! Open the door to death!
We all shall die at sunset! Menachem!
Come forth! Come forth! Manasseh! Daniel! Ezra!

(Jews appear at the windows.)


ONE CALLING FROM ABOVE.
Neighbors, what wild alarm is this?


1ST JEW.
Descend!
Descend! Come with us to the house of prayer.
Save himself whoso can! we all shall burn.
(Men and women appear at the doors of the houses.)


ONE OF THE MEN AT THE DOOR.
Beseech you brethren, calmly. Tell us all!
Mine aged father lies at point of death
Gasping within. Ye'll thrust him in his grave
With boisterous clamor.


1ST JEW.
Blessed is the man
Whom the Lord calls unto Himself in peace!
Susskind von Orb and Rabbi Jacob come
From the tribunal where the vote is--Death
To all our race.


SEVERAL VOICES.
Woe! woe! God pity us!


1ST JEW.
Hie ye within, and take a last farewell
Of home, love, life--put on your festal robes.
So wills the Rabbi, and come forth at once
To pray till sunset in the Synagogue.


AN OLD MAN.
O God! Is this the portion of mine age?
Were my white hairs, my old bones spared for this?
Oh cruel, cruel!


A YOUNG GIRL.
I am too young to die.
Save me, my father! To-morrow should have been
The feast at Rachel's house. I longed for that,
Counted the days, dreaded some trivial chance
Might cross my pleasure--Lo, this horror comes!


A BRIDE.
Oh love! oh thou just-tasted cup of joy
Snatched from my lips! Shall we twain lie with death,
Dark, silent, cold--whose every sense was tuned
To happiness! Life was too beautiful--
That was the dream--how soon we are awake!
Ah, we have that within our hearts defies
Their fiercest flames. No end, no end, no end!


JEW.
God with a mighty hand, a stretched-out arm,
And poured-out fury, ruleth over us.
The sword is furbished, sharp i' the slayer's hand.
Cry out and howl, thou son of Israel!
Thou shalt be fuel to the fire; thy blood
Shall overflow the land, and thou no more
Shalt be remembered--so the Lord hath spoken.

(Exeunt omnes.)

 

SCENE III.

(Within the Synagogue. Above in the gallery, women sumptuously attired; some with children by the hand or infants in their arms. Below the men and boys with silken scarfs about their shoulders.)


RABBI JACOB.
The Lord is nigh unto the broken heart.
Out of the depths we cry to thee, oh God!
Show us the path of everlasting life;
For in thy presence is the plenitude
Of joy, and in thy right hand endless bliss.

(Enter SUSSKIND, REUBEN, etc.)


SEVERAL VOICES.
Woe unto us who perish!


A JEW.
Susskind von Orb,
Thou hast brought down this doom. Would we had heard
The prophet's voice!


SUSSKIND.
Brethren, my cup is full!
Oh let us die as warriors of the Lord.
The Lord is great in Zion. Let our death
Bring no reproach to Jacob, no rebuke
To Israel. Hark ye! let us crave one boon
At our assassins' hands; beseech them build
Within God's acre where our fathers sleep,
A dancing-floor to hide the fagots stacked.
Then let the minstrels strike the harp and lute,
And we will dance and sing above the pile,
Fearless of death, until the flames engulf,
Even as David danced before the Lord,
As Miriam danced and sang beside the sea.
Great is our Lord! His name is glorious
In Judah, and extolled in Israel!
In Salem is his tent, his dwelling place
In Zion; let us chant the praise of God!


A JEW.
Susskind, thou speakest well! We will meet death
With dance and song. Embrace him as a bride.
So that the Lord receive us in His tent.


SEVERAL VOICES.
Amen! amen! amen! we dance to death!


RABBI JACOB.
Susskind, go forth and beg this grace of them.

(Exit Susskind.)

Punish us not in wrath, chastise us not
In anger, oh our God! Our sins o'erwhelm
Our smitten heads, they are a grievous load;
We look on our iniquities, we tremble,
Knowing our trespasses. Forsake us not.
Be thou not far from us. Haste to our aid,
Oh God, who art our Saviour and our Rock!

(Reenter SUSSKIND.)


SUSSKIND.
Brethren, our prayer, being the last, is granted.
The hour approaches. Let our thoughts ascend
From mortal anguish to the ecstasy
Of martyrdom, the blessed death of those
Who perish in the Lord. I see, I see
How Israel's ever-crescent glory makes
These flames that would eclipse it, dark as blots
Of candle-light against the blazing sun.
We die a thousand deaths,--drown, bleed, and burn;
Our ashes are dispersed unto the winds.
Yet the wild winds cherish the sacred seed,
The waters guard it in their crystal heart,
The fire refuseth to consume. It springs,
A tree immortal, shadowing many lands,
Unvisited, unnamed, undreamed as yet.
Rather a vine, full-flowered, golden-branched,
Ambrosial-fruited, creeping on the earth,
Trod by the passer's foot, yet chosen to deck
Tables of princes. Israel now has fallen
Into the depths, he shall be great in time.*
Even as we die in honor, from our death
Shall bloom a myriad heroic lives,
Brave through our bright example, virtuous
Lest our great memory fall in disrepute.
Is one among us brothers, would exchange
His doom against our tyrants,--lot for lot?
Let him go forth and live--he is no Jew.
Is one who would not die in Israel
Rather than live in Christ,--their Christ who smiles
On such a deed as this? Let him go forth--
He may die full of years upon his bed.
Ye who nurse rancor haply in your hearts,
Fear ye we perish unavenged? Not so!
To-day, no! nor to-morrow! but in God's time,
Our witnesses arise. Ours is the truth,
Ours is the power, the gift of Heaven. We hold
His Law, His lamp, His covenant, His pledge.
Wherever in the ages shall arise
Jew-priest, Jew-poet, Jew-singer, or Jew-saint--
And everywhere I see them star the gloom--
In each of these the martyrs are avenged!

*The vine creeps on the earth, trodden by the passer's foot, but its fruit goes upon the table of princes. Israel now has fallen in the depths, but he shall be great in the fullness of time.--TALMUD


RABBI JACOB.
Bring from the Ark the bell-fringed, silken-bound
Scrolls of the Law. Gather the silver vessels,
Dismantle the rich curtains of the doors,
Bring the Perpetual Lamp; all these shall burn,
For Israel's light is darkened, Israel's Law
Profaned by strangers. Thus the Lord hath said:*
"The weapon formed against thee shall not prosper,
The tongue that shall contend with thee in judgment,
Thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage
Of the Lord's servants and their righteousness.
For thou shalt come to peoples yet unborn,
Declaring that which He hath done. Amen!"

*Conclusion of service for Day of Atonement.

(The doors of the Synagogue are burst open with tumultuous noise. Citizens and officers rush in.)


CITIZENS.
Come forth! the sun sets. Come, the Council waits!
What! will ye teach your betters patience? Out!
The Governor is ready. Forth with you,
Curs! serpents! Judases! The bonfire burns!

(Exeunt.)

 

SCENE IV.

(A Public Place. Crowds of Citizens assembled. On a platform are seated DIETRICH VON TETTENBORN and HENRY SCHNETZEN with other Members of the Council.)


1ST CITIZEN.
Here's such a throng! Neighbor, your elbow makes
An ill prod for my ribs.


2D CITIZEN.
I am pushed and squeezed.
My limbs are not mine own.


3D CITIZEN.
Look this way, wife.
They will come hence,--a pack of just-whipped curs.
I warrant you the stiff-necked brutes repent
To-day if ne'er before.


WIFE.
I am all a-quiver.
I have seen monstrous sights,--an uncaged wolf,
The corpse of one sucked by a vampyre,
The widow Kupfen's malformed child--but never
Until this hour, a Jew.


3D CITIZEN.
D' ye call me Jew?
Where do you spy one now?


WIFE.
You'll have your jest
Now or anon, what matters it?


4TH CITIZEN.
Well, I
Have seen a Jew, and seen one burn at that;
Hard by in Wartburg; he had killed a child.
Zounds! how the serpent wriggled! I smell now
The roasting, stinking flesh!


BOY.
Father, be these
The folk who murdered Jesus?


4TH CITIZEN.
Ay, my boy.
Remember that, and when you hear them come,
I'll lift you on my shoulders. You can fling
Your pebbles with the rest.

(Trumpets sound.)


CITIZENS.
The Jews! the Jews!


BOY.
Quick, father! lift me! I see nothing here
But hose and skirts.

(Music of a march approaching.)


CITIZENS.
What mummery is this?
The sorcerers brew new mischief.


ANOTHER CITIZEN.
Why, they come
Pranked for a holiday; not veiled for death.


ANOTHER CITIZEN.
Insolent braggarts! They defy the Christ!

(Enter, in procession to music, the Jews. First, RABBI JACOB-- after him, sick people, carried on litters--then old men and women, followed promiscuously by men, women, and children of all ages. Some of the men carry gold and silver vessels, some the Rolls of the Law. One bears the Perpetual Lamp, another the Seven-branched silver Candlestick of the Synagogue. The mothers have their children by the hand or in their arms. All richly attired.)


CITIZENS.
The misers! they will take their gems and gold
Down to the grave!


CITIZEN'S WIFE.
So these be Jews! Christ save us!
To think the devils look like human folk!


CITIZENS.
Cursed be the poison-mixers! Let them burn!


CITIZENS.
Burn! burn!

(Enter SUSSKIND VON ORB, LIEBHAID, REUBEN, and CLAIRE.)


SCHNETZEN.
Good God! what maid is that?


TETTENBORN.
Liebhaid von Orb.


SCHNETZEN.
The devil's trick!
He has bewitched mine eyes.


SUSSKIND
(as he passes the platform).

Woe to the father
Who murders his own child!


SCHNETZEN.
I am avenged,
Susskind von Orb! Blood for blood, fire for fire,
And death for death!

(Exeunt SUSSKIND, LIEBHAID, etc.)

(Enter Jewish youths and maidens.)


YOUTHS (in chorus).
Let us rejoice, for it is promised us
That we shall enter in God's tabernacle!


MAIDENS.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Zion,
Within thy portals, O Jerusalem!
(Exeunt.)


CITIZEN'S WIFE.
I can see naught from here. Let's follow, Hans.


CITIZEN.
Be satisfied. There is no inch of space
For foot to rest on yonder. Look! look there!
How the flames rise!


BOY.
O father, I can see!
They all are dancing in the crimson blaze.
Look how their garments wave, their jewels shine,
When the smoke parts a bit. The tall flames dart.
Is not the fire real fire? They fear it not.


VOICES WITHOUT.
Arise, oh house of Jacob. Let us walk
Within the light of the Almighty Lord!

(Enter in furious haste PRINCE WILLIAM and NORDMANN.)


PRINCE WILLIAM.
Respite! You kill your daughter, Henry Schnetzen!


NORDMANN.
Liebhaid von Orb is your own flesh and blood.


SCHNETZEN.
Spectre! do dead men rise?


NORDMANN.
Yea, for revenge!
I swear, Lord Schnetzen, by my knightly honor,
She who is dancing yonder to her death,
Is thy wife's child!

(SCHNETZEN and PRINCE WILLIAM make a rush forward towards the flames. Music ceases; a sound of crashing boards is heard and a great cry--HALLELUJAH!)


PRINCE WILLIAM and SCHNETZEN.
Too late! too late!


CITIZENS.
All's done!


PRINCE WILLIAM.
The fire! the fire! Liebhaid, I come to thee.

(He is about to spring forward, but is held back by guards.)


SCHNETZEN.
Oh cruel Christ! Is there no bolt in heaven
For the child murderer? Kill me, my friends! my breast
Is bare to all your swords.

(He tears open his jerkin, and falls unconscious.)

(Curtain falls.)

 

Note:

The plot and incidents of this Tragedy are taken from a little narrative entitled "Der Tanz zum Tode; ein Nachtstuck aus dem vierzehnten Jahrhundert," (The Dance to Death--a Night-piece of the fourteenth century). By Richard Reinhard. Compiled from authentic documents communicated by Professor Franz Delitzsch.

The original narrative thus disposes, in conclusion, of the principal characters:--

"The Knight Henry Schnetzen ended his curse-stricken life in a cloister of the strictest order.

"Herr Nordmann was placed in close confinement, and during the same year his head fell under the sword of the executioner.

"Prince William returned, broken down with sorrow, to Eisenach. His princely father's heart found no comfort during the remainder of his days. He died soon after the murder of the Jews--his last words were, 'woe! the fire!'

"William reached an advanced age, but his life was joyless. He never married, and at his death Meissen was inherited by his nephew.

"The Jewish cemetery in Nordhausen, the scene of this martyrdom, lay for a long time waste. Nobody would build upon it. Now it is a bleaching meadow, and where once the flames sprang up, to-day rests peaceful sunshine."


(THE END)
Emma Lazarus's play: Dance to Death

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