High Treason and Low Comedy is the first in-depth treatment in English of E. E. Kisch's work as a playwright, a phase of his life to which he devoted considerable effort during the years 1920–1925.The translations of his two most successful works for the cabaret stages of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia form the basis of discussions that fit them into several intersecting streams: biographical, historical, and cultural. The plays are Die Hetzjagd, which describes the last day on earth of the infamous traitor, Colonel Alfred Redl, and Die Himmelfahrt der Tonka sibenice (Galgentoni), which presents the comical, coarse, and, at times, pathetic efforts of a Prague prostitute to argue her way into heaven. The plays are a portal into the world of Kisch's youth as an enterprising journalist and into his thinking and writing just before he became “the raging reporter” and the star of international reportage. While they reflect the Prague milieu of his youth during the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they also illustrate Kisch's lifelong critical attitude toward the conservative authorities of society, their derelictions of duty, and their indifference to the welfare of the common man and woman.
The book also examines the long afterlife of both of these stories as they were re-created by artists in stage, film, novelistic, and television adaptations, illustrating the theme of what happens when historical materials are transformed into art.
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