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The popular/classic playwright: Tom Stoppard


The popular/classic playwright: Tom Stoppard Contemporary Literature in English Nat lia Pikli ELTE – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The popular/classic playwright: Tom Stoppard

The popular/classic playwright Tom Stoppard
  • Contemporary Literature in English
  • Natália Pikli
  • ELTE

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) double act
  • Czech/English
  • popular/classic
  • postmodernism / modernism
  • science / literature
  • a major minor playwright? international
    acclaim, Sir Tom Stoppard v. aesthetic value
  • adaptations
  • metatheatre
  • well-made play v. experimentational plays
  • special Stoppardian flair wit, humour,
  • multimediality theatre plays, films, radio and
    TV plays (interviews! a special genre)

Life double identity
  • Born Tomáš Straüssler, Zlin, 1937 (Czech
    Jewish discovered only later, in the 1990s)
  • Family escaped to Singapore in 1939, father died,
    India mother remarried Major Kenneth Stoppard
    moved to England
  • typical English education and wit (cf. Oscar
    Wilde) v. Eastern European humour and inclination
    towards the absurd
  • early 1960s struggling writer (cf. young
    Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love), Bristol
    Evening World offered Stoppard the position of
    feature writer, humour columnist, and secondary
    drama critic, novel Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon
  • breakthrough 1966/1967 Rosencrantz and
    Guildenstern Are Dead (Edinburgh Festival ?
    London National Theatre, Broadway)
  • Later 4 Tony Awards, countless other drama
    awards, Oscars, Golden Lion, etc. 1997
    knighted, 2000- Order of Merit a Czech refugee
    child honorary professor at Yale, Cambridge,
    Dublin with no university degree

Stoppardian wit comedy philosophy/science
  • late 1960s/1970s working for/with the National
    Theatre (Jumpers, Travesties) AND experimentation
    with Ed Bermans Doggs Troupe of Inter-Action
    (Doggs Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth inventing a
    new language, Wittgensteins language philosophy)
  • Late 1970s political interest (Squaring the
    Circle, Professional Foul TV plays, Every Good
    Boy Deserves a Favour play with an orchestra)
  • 1993. Arcadia 2011, Broadway Tony Award for
    Best Revival of a Play
  • 1998 Shakespeare in Love (film scipt with Marc
    Norman, 7 Oscars)
  • 2002/2008 The Coast of Utopia (a trilogy of
    plays), 2006 Rock n Roll
  • Films Brazil, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are
    Dead (director as well, Golden Lion), Shakespeare
    in Love, latest 2012 Anna Karenina (uncredited
    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Wars
  • Adaptations/free translations of plays by Mrozek,
    Schnitzler, Nestroy, Chekhov, Pirandello, Vaclav
    Havel, Rough Crossing - Ferenc Molnárs A Play in
    the Castle

General questions
  • What audience is targeted? highbrow education,
    erudition needed to appreciate the
    philosophy/science/intertextual elements
  • OR
  • Lowbrow humour, fun, entertainment
  • edutainment Stoppard explaining difficult
    scientific/philosophical concepts in comedys
  • Stoppard theatre is recreational first and
    foremost and a group effort (different textual
    versions of his plays)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  • Dan David Prize, 2008 Creative Rendering of the
    Past in Theatre
  • 1960s Stoppard a good age to be born in for a
    playwright (Brecht, Beckett, Pinter, Angry Young
  • a play based on Shakespeares Hamlet Hamlet
    inside-out what happens backstage overshadows
    the well-known tragedy
  • 2 minor characters (friends/spies) in Hamlet ?
    protagonists in a play that declares their death
    in its title
  • trapped in a text
  • three acts, episodic structure ambush after
  • Ros and Guils dialogue, Ros and Guil and the
    Player (s), Ros and Guil and characters of Hamlet
  • adaptation something old, something new the
    common set of two intersecting sets
  • Hamlet himself Shakespeares and modern James
    Bond in Act 3 (Beneath the re-tilted umbrella,
    reclining in a deckchair, wrapped in a rug,
    reading a book, possibly smoking, sits Hamlet.)

  • The Hamlet-myth, Hamlet as a cultural icon the
    intellectual hero, Renaissance man, to be or not
    to be
  • RosGuil Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and The
    Player in the foreground (20th century language,
    the law of diminishing returns maths,
    philosophy) Hamlet in the background
  • Ros and Guil travelling through the narrative of
    Hamlet talking and waiting/ passivity
  • Shakespeare As You Like It, Jacques
  • All the world's a stage, And all the men and
    women merely players They have their exits and
    their entrances And one man in his time plays
    many parts,

Shakespeare - Beckett- Eliot
  • Tom Stoppard There are certain things written
    in English which make me feel as a diabetic must
    feel when the insulin goes in. Prufrock and
    Beckett are the twin syringes of my diet, my
    arterial system.
  • Becketts Waiting for Godot
  • - SD Two ELIZABETHANS passing time in a place
    without any visible character.
  • - the feeling of the absurd passing the time
    waiting and talking circularity, no escape
  • - Didi and Gogo Guil and Ros, intellect/body,
    belonging together, identities confused, no
    memories, tragicomedy, Beckettian dialogue (see
    next slide)

  • GUIL Are you there?
  • ROS Where?
  • GUIL (bitterly) A flying start....
  • (Pause.)
  • ROS Is that you?
  • GUIL Yes.
  • ROS How do you know?
  • GUIL (explosion) Oh-for-God's-sake!
  • ROS We're not finished, then?
  • GUIL Well, we're here, aren't we?
  • ROS Are we? I can't see a thing.
  • GUIL You can still think, can't you?
  • ROS I think so.
  • GUIL You can still talk.
  • ROS What should I say?
  • GUIL Don't bother. You can feel, can't you?
  • ROS Ah! There's life in me yet!
  • GUIL What are you feeling?
  • ROS A leg. Yes, it feels like my leg.

T.S. Eliot The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
cf. Prufrocks persona and Ros/Guil
  • There will be time, there will be time
  • To prepare a face that meet the faces that you
  • There will be time to murder and create
  • I am no prophet and heres no great matter
  • I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
  • And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat
    and snicker,
  • And in short, I was afraid.
  • No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be
  • Am an attendant lord, one that will do
  • To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
  • Advise the prince no doubt, an easy tool

The Player - life as theatre
  • PLAYER We do on stage things that are supposed
    to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity if
    you look on every exit being an entrance
    somewhere else.
  • STRUCTURE of the play
  • PLAYER You dont understand the humiliation of
    it to be tricked out of the single assumption
    which makes our existence viable that somebody
    is watching
  • players existence/existential problem is
    God/Godot there watching?
  • PLAYER We're more of the blood, love and
    rhetoric school well, I can do you blood
    and love without rhetoric, and I can do you blood
    and rhetoric without love, and I can do you all
    three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do
    you love and rhetoric without blood. Blood is
    compulsory - they're all blood, you see.
  • Player art is prostitution (Albert
    boy-actor)/serving the audience

Player metatheatrical questions
  • death portrayed or real death on stage? Cf.
    Coleridges the willing suspension of disbelief
  • GUIL (fear, derision) Actors! The mechanics of
    cheap melodrama! That isn't death! (More
    quietly.) You scream and choke and sink to
    your knees, but it doesn't bring death home to
    anyone-it doesn't catch them unawares and start
    the whisper in their skulls that says-One day
    you are going to die. (He straightens up.) You
    die so many times how can you expect them to
    believe in your death?
  • PLAYER On the contrary, it's the only kind
    they do believe. They're conditioned to it. I
    had an actor once who was condemned to hang
    for stealing a sheep-or a lamb, I forget
    which-so I got permission to have him hanged in
    the middle of a play-had to change the plot a bit
    but I thought it would be effective, you
    know-and you wouldn't believe it, he just
    wasn't convincing! It was impossible to suspend
    one's, disbelief-and what with the audience
    jeering and throwing peanuts, the whole thing
    was a disaster!-he
  • did nothing but cry all the time-right out of
    character-just stood there and cried... Never
  • - characters no memory, no future only the
    present moment actors?

  • Ross one long monologue musings on what it
    feels like lying in a coffin
  • Guils intellectual speculations
  • Guils and the Players passionate debate on
    real/feigned death on stage cf. Ros and Guils
  • ROS All right, then. I don't care. I've had
    enough. To tell you the
  • truth, I'm relieved. (And he disappears from
    view. GUIL does not notice.)
  • GUIL Our names shouted in a certain dawn
    ... a message ... a
  • summons... there must have been a moment, at
    the beginning, where we
  • Could have said-no. But somehow we missed it. (He
    looks round and sees he
  • is alone.)
  • Rosen--?
  • Guil--? (He gathers himself.)
  • Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see
    me, now you - (And disappears.)
  • Their existence no dead bodies on stage no
    substance confirmed only theatrical/literary

Postmodern and non-postmodern concerns
  • mistrust in language and truth GUIL Words,
    words. They are all we have to go on.
    questions-game the eternal questioners
  • PLAYER Everything has to be taken on trust
    truth is only that which is taken to be true,
    Its the currency of living. There may be nothing
    behind it, but it doesnt make any difference so
    long as it is honoured. One acts on assumptions.
    What do you assume?
  • PLAYER You understand, we are tied down to a
    language which makes up in obscurity what it
    lacks in style.
  • clichés/intertextuality Give us this day our
    daily clue (Lords Prayer)
  • it is written text reality
  • V.
  • Real art miracle cf. Guils unicorn v. horse
    with an arrow in its head
  • Victims or traitors hoist by their own petard?
    Is moral choice possible?
  • GUIL Our names shouted in a certain dawn
    ... a message ... a
  • summons... there must have been a moment, at
    the beginning, where we could have said-no. But
    somehow we missed it.

Monkey at a typewriter v. Shakespeare how to
make drama out of a mathematical/philosophical
  • A monkey randomly hitting the keys of a laptop
    over an infinite period of time may well
    eventually produce the complete works of
    Shakespeare Infinite Monkey Theorem
  • In the early 20th century, Émile Borel and Arthur
    Eddington used the theorem to illustrate the
    timescales implicit in the foundations of
    statistical mechanics (earlier Aristotle,
    Cicero, Pascal, Swift)

  • GUIL (musing) The law of probability, as it
    has been oddly asserted,
  • is something to do with the proposition that
    if six monkeys (he has
  • surprised himself)... if six monkeys were...
  • ROS Game?
  • GUIL Were they?
  • ROS Are you?
  • GUIL (understanding) Games. (Flips a
    coin.) The law of averages,
  • if I have got this right, means that if six
    monkeys were thrown up in the
  • air for long enough they would land on their
    tails about as often as they
  • would land on their -
  • ROS Heads. (He picks up the coin.)
  • 85 times heads in a coin tossing game free
    will or determinism? Fate or choice? Cf. Ros and
    Guils situation can they make a choice?
  • Free will or determinism? the postmodern
    answer if reality is just one narrative among
    many, pastiche/parody/fiction might be equal to

RG A Tom Stoppard Film, 1990
Spagetthi western, Sergio Leone, trilogy
1964-66 For a fistful of dollars, For a Few
Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
metatheatre (film)
Arcadia, 1993
  • Tom Stoppard a thriller and a romantic tragedy
    with jokes
  • sex/love/art/death/idyll/science
  • chaos AND order not excluding each other but in
  • TITLE Arcadia Greek idylls ? Virgils
    eclogues, nature and art and man in harmony
    young shepherds and shepherdesses in love (also a
    type of garden)

The setting
  • Sidley Park a country estate with a garden in
    1809/1812 and Present day Coverly family
  • Idyllic landscape garden in the process of
    transformation (18th-century rational mastering
    of nature toGothic/Romantic garden with ruins,
    hermit, etc.)/ as the subject of research in the

N. Poussin Et in Arcadia ego (Arcadian
shepherds), 1636-39
  • Et in Arcadia ego
  • I too am in Arcadia
  • I too am/lived here (dead person)
  • Even here I am (death)
  • et too/even
  • Cf. Thomasina, a young girls death
  • Love tragedy Th. dead, Septimus becomes a mad
    hermit in the Gothic garden designed by Richard

  • 1809/1812 Byron at Sidley Park
  • sex Mrs Chater/Septimus/Captain Brice, Septimus
    Hodge/Lady Croom (mother of Thomasina) Lady
    Croom/Byron (ghost)/Count Zelinsky
  • love Thomasina Coverly ? Septimus
  • Present day
  • sex Bernard Nightingale/Chloe Coverly /Hannah
  • love Chloe?Bernard, Valentine Coverly and Gus
    Coverly ? Hannah
  • The present day characters doing research on the
    characters of the past Valentine on Thomasinas
    mathematical discoveries, Hannah on the hermit,
    Bernard Nightingale, a university don on
    Byron/Chater (cf. Byatt Possession, 1990)
  • In the final scenes the two timelines (so far
    running parallel/consecutively) converge present
    day characters in early 1800s costumes with
    characters of the past final dance/waltz
    (Thomasina and Septimus, Hannah and Gus)

Enlightenment v. Romanticism love and science
in interaction
  • It is a defect of God's humor that he directs
    our hearts everywhere but to those who have a
    right to them. love frustrated/Romantic
  • Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing
    one's arms around a side of beef. sexual
    attraction/ rationale of the Enlightenment, the
    cynical present day
  • The universe is deterministic all right, just
    like Newton said, I mean it's trying to be, but
    the only thing going wrong is people fancying
    people who aren't supposed to be in that part of
    the plan. Its the attraction that Newton left
  • SCIENCE Newtons physics age of reason, the
    universe is predictable, reversibility and order
    rule our world
  • ? Thomasina rice pudding experiment the jam
    once stirred cannot be unstirred modern science
    the law of entropy/ the second law of
    thermodynamics (tea never gets hot by itself only
    colder - well all end up at room temperature)
    corresponds to Romantic pessimism
  •  Thomasina a mathematical genius/free mind
    adolescent girl science and love (opposites
    meet in one)

Chaos theory free will and determinism
  • The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold
    together to make everything the way it is.
  • Fractal geometry iterated algorhytms (Thomasina
    with a pencil, Val with a laptop) produce order
    in seeming disorder the Mandelbrot set/The
    Coverly set
  • Cf. shapes of snowflakes, snowstorms, weather

The Mandelbrot set
  • Garden of Eden Arcadia Sidley Park
    (God/Nature/Manmade paradise)
  • Gothic/Romantic garden Salvator Rosa (Richard
  • Gus (15, mute) offering an apple to Hannah, as a
    love gift the truth (hermit Septimus) cf. tree
    of knowledge
  • Garden of Eden free will or determinism
  • the original sin wanting to know cf. the
    rational Hannahs passion for pursuing knowledge

Arcadia the waltz
  • Byron The Waltz (muse of motion, voluptuous
  • introduced in England in 1812, a fashion
  • carnal embrace
  • steps based on a triangle fractals order in
  • Music/piano/Pan in Greek Arcadia
  • harmony AND tragedy Thomasina dies that night,
    Septimuss moral choice (I will not) her death

Theatrical virtuosity
  • Order in chaos one place, two timelines, chaos
    of sexual attraction/love
  • Final scene desk at the centre accumulating
    objects from both timelines (seeming entropy
    order for the spectator)
  • mute Gus, adolescent characters (Augustus Gus,
    Thomasina) focus on them/sexuality, innocence
    v. experience
  • investigation popular genre - play the

Academia and afterlife
  • Tom Stoppard Prize was created in 1983 (in
    Stockholm, under the Charter 77 Foundation) and
    is awarded to authors of Czech origin
  • The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas,
    Austin, USA
  • http//
  • Hungary
  • RosGuil first translation by István Vas, 1967!
  • Tom Stoppard Drámák (Európa,2002)
  • Árkádia, transl. Várady Sz.,
    (Hungarian electronic library)
  • Performances of RosGuil and Arcadia, 1990s Katona
    J. Theatre, 2012 MU Theatre, etc. - now RG at