Jewess of Toledo

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JEWESS OF TOLEDO , the central figure in a legendary love affair of King Alfonso viii of Castile (1155–1214), which has furnished material for innumerable plays, poems, and novels in Spanish and other languages. The essential story is that Alfonso falls in love with Fermosa (Span. hermosa), a beautiful Jewish girl of Toledo, and as a result of his infatuation is accused of neglecting his royal duties. To remove this "nefarious" influence, Alfonso's nobles (in some versions, urged on by the queen) conspire together and murder the unfortunate Jewess. The story must be considered legendary, since the earliest references to it (in reworkings of Alfonso x's Crónica general and of the Castigos é documentos para bien vivir attributed to Sancho iv) are several generations removed from Alphonso viii.

The earliest purely literary work dealing with the theme is a ballad by Lorenzo de Sepúlveda (1551). Lope de Vega, whose treatment of the Jews was almost invariably hostile, first mentions the Jewess in his long poem Jerusalén Conquistada (Madrid, 1609). He later developed the theme in his play Las paces de los reyes y judía de Toledo (1617; ed. by J.A. Castañeda, 1962 Madrid). This work is loosely constructed and the characters are shallow. Though a woman of lax morals, Raquel, as the Jewess is now called, sincerely loves the king and, in her dying words, confesses her belief in Christianity – undoubtedly an attempt by the author to gain more sympathy for her. The nobles who kill her are presented as vicious murderers. The next dramatic treatments are Antonio Mira de Amescua's La desdichada Raquel (1635; published Amsterdam, 1726); and La Judía de Toledo (Madrid, 1667), a reworking of Amescua's play by Juan Bautista Diamante. In the former, Raquel is presented as an ambitious woman and the character Rubén, her mentor, is a scheming rabbi. Diamante, on the other hand, makes Raquel almost a second Esther and he also presents her father in a favorable light. Other treatments in the 17th century were poems by Paravicino and Luis de Ulloa.

The verse tragedy La Raquel (1778, published 1814), by Vicente García de la Huerta (1734–1787) was the only really successful and popular theatrical work of 18th-century Spanish neoclassicism. Raquel is here a more complex character, astute and proud, but in love with the king. The villain is Rubén; perfidious and cowardly, he kills Raquel in an attempt to save his own life. Various works in the 19th century indicate that the theme was still popular, but the treatment betrays a decadence in artistic technique.

From Spain the legend passed to other countries. A French version was Jacques Cazotte's short story Rachel ou la belle juive (in Oeuvres badines et moules, 1776–88), which radically modified the traditional elements of the story. The tale was more popular in Germany. The earliest German version was the three-act drama, Rahel, die schoene Juedin (1789), by Johann Christian Brandes (1735–1799) who imitated Huerta's work. Gottlieb Konrad Pfeffel treated the theme poetically in Alphons und Rahel (1799). The most famous version of the legend in German is that by the Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, Die Juedin von Toledo (1873). Here Raquel is impetuous and flighty and her father unscrupulously seeks advancement through his daughter's beauty. The main character is the king, and the real interest of the play lies in his inner conflict between love and duty – always the dramatic situation in Grillparzer's works – but the most sympathetic and noble character is Raquel's sister, Esther. That the theme has retained vitality is clear from its reappearance in Lion *Feuchtwanger's historical novel Spanische Ballade (1955; Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo, 1956). This is the most sympathetic treatment of Raquel and the Jews. She is portrayed as a devoted and loving woman and her father is presented as a man of heroism and integrity. The Spanish composer Tómas Bretón used Grillparzer's drama as the basis for his opera Raquel, first performed in Madrid in 1900.


S. Aschner, in: Euphorion, 19 (1912), 297ff.; E. Lambert, in: Jahrbuch der Grillparzer Gesellschaft, 19 (1910), 61–84; Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada, 62 (1928), 415–6.

[Kenneth R. Scholberg]

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Jewess of Toledo

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