The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Decoding the Matateh, Eretz-Israeli Satirical Theatre: An Outline of a DH Project

During the 1930`s and 1940`s the inhabitants of the Yishuv attended the performances of the Matateh, the Eretz-Israeli satirical theatre, in large numbers. This company performed in the largest theatre auditorium in Tel Aviv and regularly toured the country. It was the only Hebrew theatre of the Yishuv whose repertoire consisted mostly of original plays that were written especially for its performances. Despite the centrality of this theatre company in the Hebrew theatre scene of the Yishuv, the Matateh has barely been addressed by the research, and indeed, its performances set a challenge for scholarly analysis.

The satirical programs of the Matateh were ephemeral art-works, that related to the reality outside of the theatre and to everyday life that occupied its audience. They referred to major political events, inner Yishuv politics, ideological debates, consumption culture, trends and trifles. Whereas the audience of the Matateh took pleasure at identifying the stage references, link them with their reality, and rejoiced at the jokes performed on the stage, scholars who look at this theatre from a time distance can barely identify the references, and therefore– have limited capability in understanding its humor. The satire of the Matateh remains, therefore, as a sealed time capsule, that can be barely understood by external observers.

In this lecture I would like to delineate a research plan of DH project, that would address the challenge in decoding the Matateh plays. The project aims to identify and tag the various levels of reality events that were embedded in the performances of the Matateh. A systematic study of the events and art-works these satirical plays referred to, would turn the corpus of these plays into researchable texts. After creating a digital searchable ontology of the reality events and references in Matateh performances, we may be enlightened of how this theatre negotiated the traumatic events of the 1930`s and 1940`s, and assisted its audience to cope with this harsh reality.