The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Hamlet of Stepney Green unfolds as Sam Levy, an invalid, has his bed pushed out into the garden by his old family friend Solly Segal and the latter’s daughter, Hava. The lower-middle-class Jewish milieu is discernible in the dialogue. Two conflicts are immediately apparent: Sam believes himself to be dying, while the other characters, including his wife, Bessie, believe that he is exaggerating; and Hava (recently returned from an Israeli kibbutz) is interested in David, the Levys’ son, but he ignores her. Sam’s main worry is whether David (Davey, as Sam calls him) will settle down to take over his small pickled-herring business. David himself has ambitions to be a famous crooner. “I want to hear my voice blaring from the record shops as I whizz by in my Jaguar,” he declares, and he appears to have no desire to satisfy his father in any way. This conflict emerges as the main issue in the first act, although the father and son are in no way antagonistic to each other. In fact, Sam’s values are revealed to be ambivalent as the play proceeds, for he vacillates between urging David to settle down and urging him to be adventurous. Sam is also concerned that Davey marry for love and suggests that his own marriage was a second-best affair. He goes so far as to claim, “I’ve been poisoned by someone or something. What’s the odds? By my life or by my wife . . . so my wife poisoned me.” Davey does not understand the life/wife play of words and takes his father literally, especially when his father then suddenly collapses and dies.

Act 2 is divided into two scenes, both set in the living room of the Levy house, a week apart. Sam’s funeral has just taken place, but Sam appears to David, who is sitting alone in the living room, waiting for the others to return from the service. Sam is now a ghost; he appears solid enough, but he tells David, “I live only in your mind and heart. No one else will see me; nobody else will want to.” Parallels with William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The parallels between The Hamlet of Stepney Green and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are particularly noticeable in the dramatic devices employed. There is a ghost who can be seen by only David, a fact that leads to charges of insanity. However, David’s behavior, like Hamlet’s, really does appear bizarre anyway, and he seems out to shock his family. There is also the question of how seriously the audience should take the ghost. In this play, though, the incongruities do not matter; it is all part of the joke.

Revenge by poison is another parallel device, though there is no accompanying duel. The poison is turned into a love potion—an unexpected twist by the playwright and one of the more successful. The three salesmen could be seen as acting as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Osric figures—petty courtiers now become salesmen. They are ordinary hommes moyen sensuels, ambitious in only a petty way, in contrast to David with his great dreams of glory. It could be equally well argued, though, that Kops simply enjoys crowding his stage—there seems to be little other reason for the Stones, a nondescript middle-aged couple. A final possible Shakespearean parallel is Bessie’s remarriage; the device of a parent’s remarriage features in other writings by Kops, for example, The Dream of Peter Mann (pr., pb. 1960) and Yes from No-Man’s Land (1965). This common theme may reflect his own father’s remarriage after his mother’s death.

Kops appears to have consciously reworked an aristocratic hero into a lower-class one. The guise of a teddy boy (the proletariat youth’s cult image of the 1950’s) is intended to shock David’s family, not to...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Dace, Tish. “Bernard Kops.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999.

Kops, Bernard. Shalom Bomb: Scenes from My Life. London: Oberon, 2000.

Lumley, Frederick. New Trends in Twentieth Century Drama: A Survey Since Ibsen and Shaw. 4th rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Taylor, John Russell. The Angry Theatre: New British Drama. Rev. ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969.

Wellwarth, George. Theatre of Protest and Paradox. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1965.