This Czech-language play, a work of communist agit-prop in the commedia dell'arte style, was written in the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto.
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Comedy about a Trap was written in the Terezín ghetto by a 23-year-old Czech Jew named Zdeněk Jelínek. According to documents preserved from the ghetto, including Jelínek’s own notes, he began writing the play shortly after he was deported to Terezín in July 1942 and it premiered in the ghetto in November 1942.
According to survivor František Miška, who performed in the Terezín production of Comedy about a Trap, Jelínek was inspired by the satirical play Fateful Game of Love, written by Czech authors Karel and Josef Čapek in 1910. The script parodies Italian commedia dell’arte, a type of folk theatre featuring traditional stock characters. The play’s critique, however, cuts deeper than mere parody. The decadent poet Gilles and the aggressive shopkeeper Trivalin compete for the hand of the lovely Isabella, but the scheming Brighella engages in various shady financial dealings to cheat them both and finally takes her for himself. Theatre historian Harold B. Segel interprets the play as 'a bleak commentary on the impact of capitalism on human relations’.
Unlike the satirical Fateful Game of Love, Jelínek’s play brims over with optimism and youthful idealism. He used traditional commedia dell’arte characters and poetic language to deliver an overtly political message. The braggart military officer Capitano and the miser Pantalone (representing fascism and capitalism) capture the loveable Harlequin (in this play, a bourgeois intellectual and individualist) in a trap they set and force him to work for them. Harlequin’s friend Columbina (like Harlequin, a ‘clever servant’ character) and a Communist agitator named Rarach, whose character is inspired not by commedia but by the comic devils of Czech fairy tales, convince him that collective action is the only way to get out of the trap. Finally Harlequin agrees. Capitano and Pantalone are defeated, Harlequin is freed, and Harlequin, Columbina and Rarach set off into the world to free others caught in the trap of capitalism and fascism.