Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The title of The Hamlet of Stepney Green might suggest that it is a modern Jewish reworking of the Shakespearean tragedy. It features a father who claims to have been poisoned by his wife while lying in a garden, a need for revenge, a hasty remarriage of the mother, a sense of unease on the youthful hero’s part, his bizarre behavior and the question of his insanity, and his rejection of the girl who loves him. The parallel plot details, however, are inexact; for example, Sam does not commission David to take revenge: David takes it upon himself. Also, Bessie marries after the ghost appears, and her marriage is sanctioned by the ghost.

Genre differences are much more significant than the plot differences. While Shakespeare’s Hamlet may be seen as a subversion of the revenge tragedy, it remains a tragedy. Kops, however, turns everything into comic fantasy. In fact, his plot is a deliberate reversal of tragedy: Revenge gives way to a celebration of life. Kops called his autobiography The World Is a Wedding (1963), basing his title on a Jewish saying. This love of life is the central theme of this play in which funerals give way to weddings.

There is, in fact, a considerable amount of autobiography in the play, as might be expected from a first work. For example, Sam is a poor Jewish immigrant who left Russia at the beginning of the century; Kops’s own family had similar origins. The conflict between Sam and David...

(The entire section is 530 words.)