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Deborah is a German play by Salomon Hermann (von) Mosenthal (1821-1877)[1]

The original text

Based on the story of the travails of the Jewess "Rebecca" in Sir Walter Scott's famous novel Ivanhoe, Mosenthal's German version was first performed in Budapest and Vienna in 1849 and in Berlin in 1850. Published in Pesth (Pest, Hungary) by Heckenast and in Leipzig by Wigand in 1850.

Translations and adaptations

Besides many other theatrical works based on Ivanhoe, there were a number of English, French and Italian works inspired by Rebecca's story and Mosenthal's play.

It was directly translated into French as Debora by Léon Halévy (published in 1860) and into Italian as Deborah by

The most famous and popular adaptation seems to have been Leah, the Forsaken, a play in five acts by Augustin Daly (1838-1899)[2] (also found as Leah the Forsaken, or The Jewish Maiden's Wrongs and often referred to simply as Leah). Daly, like Mosenthal, renamed the main character and tapped into the trappings of Victorian melodrama. His play is often billed as an original play and was first performed in New York in 1862, followed by a run in the Adelphi Theatre, London during 1863-4. It would become immensely popular, having been performed on occasion well into the 21st century[3].

Two other English versions of the Mosenthal play opened in 1864: Deborah, or The Jewish Outcast, written by an unnamed author, opened at the Grecian Theatre, Hoxton, in February while Deborah, the Forsaken, or The Jewish Maiden's Wrong! (on occasion Leah the Forsaken, or The Jewish Maiden's Wrongs), by Charles Smith Cheltnam (1823-1912)[], opened at the Princes Theatre Glasgow on 18 May 1863, then played at the Royal Victoria Theatre in Waterloo in July, becoming almost as well-known as Daly's version.

A play known simply as The Jewess, and performed in South Africa in 1901-2, may also have been a version of either Mosenthal's play (or one of the versions by Daly or Cheltnam), or else a version of Grillparzer's Die Jüdin von Toledo (1851)[4].

Performance history of all versions of the Rebecca/Deborah/Leah story in South Africa

1867: Daly's play was first performed in South Africa as Leah the Forsaken, or The Jewish Maiden's Wrongs by "Le Roy's Original Company" in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town on 18 and 25 February, with The Legend of St Croix ("A gentleman of Port Elizabeth").

1875: Performed as Leah, or The Forsaken by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 5 April, with Roebuck and Miss Berenger in the leading roles. Also played was The Illustrious Stranger (Kenney and Milligen).

1875: Performed as Leah, or The Forsaken by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 16 April, with Poor Pillicoddy (Morton).

1875: Performed as Leah by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 28 June, accompanied by Perfection, or The Lady of Munster (Bayly) and a recital of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven by Sutton Vane.

1875: Performed as Leah, or The Jewish Maiden by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 24 July. The afterpiece of the evening was apparently The Illustrious Stranger (Reece) , but the entry for this date in F.C.L. Bosman (1980:p.325) is rather confusing, giving the afterpiece as Brown and the Brahmins or Captain Pop and the Princess Pretty eyes (sic!) or The Illustrious Stranger" - i.e. giving the whole of the burlesque's pedigree.

1876: Performed as Leah on 22 June in the Theatre Royal, Burg Street, Cape Town, by the Disney Roebuck company, with Robert Macaire (Byron) and a ballet.

1877: Performed as Leah, the Forsaken in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, on 26 November by the Disney Roebuck company, with A Kiss in the Dark (Buckstone).

1878: Leah, the Forsaken performed on 30 and 31 August by the Smith and Thatcher Company in the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, with Ada Ward, Henry Smith and Richard Thatcher. (The second evening included a "screaming race" on the bill.)


Nadia Valman. 2007. The Jewess in Nineteenth-Century British Literary Culture, Cambridge University Press: p.34-39[5]

Jonathan M. Hess. 2018. Deborah and Her Sisters: How One Nineteenth-Century Melodrama and a Host of Celebrated Actresses Put Judaism on the World Stage, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Review: 'Leah, the Forsaken' is an 1862 Drama With Modern Resonance" New York Times, February 21, 2017 [6]

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.221-2, 323-340, 350, 359, 363, 372.

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