Critical Context

Ezra contributes to the growing body of work analyzing what Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil.” Because Bernard Kops’s Ezra Pound is a man of charm who combines with his erudition and poetic gifts the products of popular culture—Walt Disney’s films, hit songs, The Wizard of Oz (1939)—his anti-Semitism takes on a run-of-the-mill or commonplace character seductively acceptable in this grandfatherly man-next-door. That he is clever gives the evil he spouts and espouses a disarming claim to respectability, exactly the sort of attractiveness that can lead to such revolting historical aberrations as the Holocaust.

Since Pound is an actual figure from American history, Kops can, and does, employ the facts of the poet’s life as they appear in his biographies. The playwright sets Ezra’s peregrinations (or his memories and fancies about them) in the appropriate Italian settings—such locations as Genoa, Bologna, Rapallo, Verona, and Naples. Moreover, culling many of Ezra’s lines from the historical record, Kops employs portions of Pound’s actual radio broadcasts to American troops as well as remarks made by attorneys and psychiatrists during his trial and the pleas for his release made by other famous men, many of them fellow poets.

Ezra resembles other historical plays or docudramas only in such grounding in fact. Its protagonist brings to mind such classical titans as Ahab or Lear—obsessive, crack-brained old men who unwittingly destroy themselves—far more than he does some dry rendering from a historical tome.

Ezra’s imaginative construction, leaping about in time and across geography without so much as a scene break while combining characters from different centuries, is recognizably the product of the author of such futuristic fantasies as The Dream of Peter Mann (pr., pb. 1960), Home Sweet Honeycomb (1962), and The Lemmings (1964). Like the latter two an indictment of fascism, Ezra resembles the teleplays Moss (1975) and Rocky Marciano Is Dead (1976) as well as several of Kops’s stage plays and novels in its choice of an aging man as its protagonist. Although Ezra’s outlook is bleaker than that of Kops’s more joyous, life-affirming work, the zany, colorful central character is vintage Kops, as is the madcap comic extravaganza that eventually shifts to an anguish that may move audiences to tears.