The Tragedy That Dare Not Speak Its Name: A Reading of Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad


  • Fiorenzo Iuliano



Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1962) has received so far limited scholarly attention, and the studies on the play have mostly focused on the text’s psychoanalytic overtones. The play features the relationship between its bizarre protagonist, Mme. Rosepettle, and her son Jonathan, who is completely subjected to her despotic and repressive will. The Oedipal complex foreshadowed in the play, however, does not exhaust the complex matter of the text, whose references to Cuba and South American countries strongly ask for a political reading.
This article paper, consequently, reads the play as instancing the impossibility of an American national tragedy in the Cold War era. The play, in fact, assaults the US chauvinist and anti-communist ideology of the 1950s, and displays its consequences upon individuals and society. The post-war paranoia is acted out in the hidden corpse of Mr. Rosepettle, which Mme. Rosepettle preserves in her closet. The corpse, as a fetishistic object (for Mme. Rosepettle) and a source of fear and anxiety (for Jonathan), signals the impossibility, for the US of the time, to identify with tangible models and positive values (despite the materialistic ethos of the culture of the 1950s, as witness Mme. Rosepettle’s obsessive need for fun and self-gratification). On the contrary, only death and loss, as overhanging threats and macabre horizon of collective expectation, paradoxically provide the nation with a unifying sense of identification. The Cold War, as a conflict that was never directly waged or fought, but nevertheless informed American identity, politics and culture, thus functions as the ‘void center’ of the play. By instancing the lack (or the loss) as a site of affirmative identification, this fantasmatic war is what turns the play into an impossible tragedy.


Burgoyne Dieckman, Suzanne, and Richard Brayshaw. “Wings, Watchers, and Windows: Imprisonment in the Plays of Arthur Kopit.” Theatre Journal 35.2 (1983): 195-211.
Engler, Bernd. “Antidrama-Metadrama-Artistic Program? Arthur Kopit’s The Hero in Context.” Connotations 3.3 (1993): 279-290.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. New York: Vintage, 2004.
Gilderhus, Mark T., David C. LaFevor and Michael J. La Rosa. The Third Century. U.S.–Latin American
Relations since 1889. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Kopit, Arthur. Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition. 1960. Three Plays. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997. 1-79.
---. “Preface.” Three Plays. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997. IX-XV.
Ótott, Márta. “Encountering the Father in Arthur L. Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad: A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition.” Americana. E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary IX.2 (2013).
Paller, Michael. “The Escape that Failed: Tennessee and Rose Williams.” In The Magical Muse: Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams. Ed. Ralph Voss. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. 70-90.
Shewey, Don. “Arthur Kopit: A Life on Broadway.” The New York Times 29 April 1984. Last visited December 12, 2017.
Simon, John. “Theater Chronicle: Kopit, Norman, and Shepard.” The Hudson Review 32.1 (1979): 77-88.
Szilassy, Zoltán. “Yankee Burlesque or Metaphysical Farce? (Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad [...] Reconsidered).” Angol Filológiai Tanulmányok / Hungarian Studies in English 11 (1977): 143-147.
Wilmeth, Don B., and Christopher Bigsby, eds. The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Volume Three: Post-World War II to the 1990s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.






Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture