56 pages


Ein lustigs, auch kurtzes, und nicht minder nutzes Spiel von der Bußpredigt Jona des Propheten zu Ninive, Und wie alles Volck der Stadt, seinen Worten glaubt, und ernstliche Buß gethan habe

| 1578 | Germany
Prologus, Argumentator, Gott, Schiffknecht, Schiffherr, Schiffregent, Der gefangene Jude, Thorhüter, Epicurer, Amptknecht, Erster Knab, Ander Knab, Stadtvogt, Erster Bawer, Ander Bawer, Erste Jungfrau, Ander Jungfrau, Hoff Juncker, Hoffmeister, Canzler, König, Epilogus
Number of acts

This version of the story of prophet Jonas is the oldest puppet play whose text has come down to us. The front-page indicates that it was written by Balthasar Klein, a puppeteer and the manager of a travelling theatre, and Latinist Simon Roth, himself the author of a prior theatrical adaptation of the story of Jonas (Eine schöne Comedi von dem H. Propheten Jona). The play is in all likelihood an adaptation of Roth’s play, which dates back to the middle of the 16th century, but which is only known thanks to a 1641 edition. Both plays are closely linked with Hans Sachs's comedy Jonas der Prophet, published in 1561.

The subtitle, Ein lustigs, auch kurtzes, und nicht minder nutzes Spiel von der Bußpredigt Jona des Propheten zu Ninive, Und wie alles Volck der Stadt, seinen Worten glaubt, und ernstliche Buß gethan habe (An amusing play, and short, but useful nevertheless, of the call for penitence by Prophet Jonas at Nineveh, and how the whole population of the town believed his words and assiduously expiated their sins), probably aims to distinguish it from Roth's, as the puppet play is indeed slightly shorter. The speeches of the characters are condensed, and some episodes are represented instead of being told, such as the whale swallowing up Jonah, or the gourd’s magical growth. Contrary to Simon Roth’s comedy, where only God’s voice can be heard, Klein actually shows the figure of God, in the form of a puppet.

As was always the case at this time, Klein’s show was itinerant, as elements indicate that it was performed in several towns of Germany, notably in Augsburg in 1578, and then in Nördlingen, Schweinfurt, and Frankfurt during its Easter fair. The show was performed as an Himmelreich (kingdom of heaven) – a theatre with big puppets or with semi-automatons, most probably handled from below.

Plot summary

A prophet announces a punishment that will not come

Prologus addresses the spectators in order to get their attention. Argumentator then summarises the story that is about to be performed. Jonas enters and expresses his fear that God might punish Israel for it has wandered away from God and it now lives in sin. God appears and orders Jonas to go to the large city of Nineveh in order to tell its inhabitants that they must repent in the span of forty days, for God is prepared to punish them. Jonas refuses and explains that he has already tried in vain to set Israel back on the right path. He embarks on a boat but a tempest threatens to sink it. The sailors look for Jonas, who is asleep in the hold, and they ask him to pray to his god to save them. They draw lots and Jonas is chosen: he advises them to throw him overboard for he might be the cause of God’s wrath. A whale comes and swallows Jonas alive, and the boat sails away. The whale spits Jonas out. He thanks God for having been saved. God reappears and orders him to go preach in Nineveh again, adding that he forgives whoever he wants.

Samuel, a Jewish prisoner in Nineveh, laments his fate and the sins of the city. Jonas arrives and tells him about the mission God has entrusted him with - to exhort the inhabitants to repent if they do not want to be punished. Then, he tells him about his adventure at sea and how he was swallowed by a whale.

Once at the gate of Nineveh, Jonas is stopped by a guard who enquires about his intentions and tells him about the great size of the city. An Epicure appears and declares that one must eat, drink and live in constant pleasure. Jonas, standing in a square of the city, and encouraged by God, shouts three times at Nineveh, announcing the destruction of the city in forty days, should its inhabitants choose not to repent beforehand. Mean children come to mock him, but they are reprimanded by an employee of the city. The Bailiff makes enquiries about the situation; he takes Jonas’ prophecy seriously and orders the inhabitants of the city to repent and pray.

Two peasants appear. One of them believes in Jonas' prediction, while the other does not. The same contrast is found between two virgins, and then two worried nobles. A big gourd seedling grows above Jonas to protect him from the burning sun. The Chancellor and the King arrive and they reflect on what they should do. The king decides to issue an edict which would force his subjects to repent, then gives up on his royal insignia, dons a sackcloth, and sprinkles ashes on himself in order to expiate his sins.

On the fortieth day, the King presents himself before God who forgives them, moved by the sincerity of the repentance of the inhabitants of Nineveh. Jonas is angry about this turnaround, but he eventually submits to the divine decision. The play ends with an address to the audience which builds a link between Nineveh’s sins and those of the present, assuring that God will also forgive anyone who repents.

Related works
Book of Jonah (Old Testament)
Composition date

First performance

Augsburg, Germany, 1578 -

First performance which can be traced

Publications and translations


Jonas. Ein lustigs, auch kurtzes, und nicht minder nutzes Spiel von der Bußpredigt Jona des Propheten zu Ninive, Und wie alles Volck der Stadt, seinen Worten glaubt, und ernstliche Buß gethan habe, durch Simon Rothen und Balthasar Klein in einfeltige Reimen gestellt. Schweinfurt: Valentin Kröner, 1582.

Conservation place

Biblioteka Jagiellońska - Cracovie, Poland
Literary tones
Religious, Fantasy
Animations techniques
Giant marionette
Not specified
Public domain


Theatrical techniques


Written by

Didier Plassard