Shakespeare & Yiddish: An Online Course

Join us on Zoom every Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST from March 8–March 29, 2023 for a course about Shakespeare and Yiddish.

Course Description:  

Yiddish theater has had a long history of performing and taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s works. The 1892 production of Jacob Gordin’s The Yiddish King Lear is credited as the start of the great era of Yiddish theater in New York City. It was followed by Yiddish productions of Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. The Merchant of Venice was the first Shakespeare play published in Yiddish, and Jacob Adler received rave reviews as Shylock on Broadway in both 1903 and 1905. Playwrights like Jacob Gordin continued to adapt Shakespeare for Yiddish audiences, while actors such as Maurice Schwartz, Jacob Adler, and Solomon Mikhoels delivered legendary performances to rapt audiences worldwide. 

Why did Shakespeare’s plays become such a significant part of Yiddish theater? Join Yiddish scholar Ilan Stavans for this four-part course that will concentrate on the sonnets, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet. We will investigate the intimate relationship between Shakespeare and Yiddish language and cultural production and will explore the infinite variations on Shakespearean themes that the creative minds of the Yiddish stage wrote, produced, and performed. 


Course Instructor

Side profile of a man wearing glasses speaks with his hands out stretched

Ilan Stavans is the publisher of Restless Books and the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities, Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His books include On Borrowed Words, Spanglish, Dictionary Days, The Disappearance, and A Critic’s Journey. He has edited The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, the three-volume set Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, and dozens of other volumes. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Chile’s Presidential Medal, the International Latino Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award. Stavans’s work, translated into twenty languages, has been adapted to the stage and screen. A cofounder of the Great Books Summer Program at Amherst, Stanford, Chicago, Oxford, and Dublin, he is the host of the NPR podcast In Contrast

Cost: $75 Yiddish Book Center members / $100 nonmembers 

Course schedule: 

  • March 8, 7–8:30 p.m. EST 
  • March 15, 7–8:30 p.m. EST 
  • March 22, 7–8:30 p.m. EST 
  • March 29, 7–8:30 p.m. EST 

Registration closes March 1, 2023


Q: Do I need to know Yiddish or be well-versed in Shakespeare to take this course? 
A: This course is for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare and Yiddish, but no background knowledge is required. Several texts will be made available in their original Yiddish, but participants do not need to read or understand Yiddish to take this course.  

Q: Will this course be offered online or in person? 
A: Each session of this course will take place on Zoom. Participants must have access to a Zoom account in order to attend each session. Participants must also create a Google Classroom account, since course materials will be posted there. If you have any questions about Zoom or Google Classroom, you can reach out to us at [email protected].  

Q: Will classes be taught asynchronously or live? 
A: Each session will be taught live, from 7–8:30 p.m. EST on Zoom.  

Q: What if I cannot attend a class; will it be recorded? 
A: Each session will be recorded and made available to registered participants.  

Q: What can I expect during each of the four classes? 
A: Each class will begin with a 60-minute lecture given by Ilan followed by 30 minutes for questions and discussion. Participants can also expect to watch some film clips during class.  

Q: Will there be any required homework? 
A: There will be no graded assignments, however in order to get the most out of the course, participants will be responsible for an estimated 1–2 hours’ worth of prep in advance of each class, in the form of readings, films, and film clips.  

Q: Will I need to purchase any course materials or textbooks in advance? 
A: We encourage all participants to order a copy of Jacob Gordin’s The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America, translated by Ruth Gay. All other materials and readings will be made available to participants via Google Classroom.