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...

(The entire section is 825 words.)