Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE (born 3 July 1937) is a British screenwriter playwright. He is famous for plays such as The Coast of Utopia, Arcadia, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Rock 'N' Roll, and also for co-writing screenplays for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love.
Born Tomáš Straussler
, Stoppard moved to Singapore
with other Jews on 15 March 1939, the day the Nazis
invaded. In 1941, the family was evacuated to Darjeeling
, India, to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His father, Eugene Straussler, remained behind as a British army volunteer, and died in a Japanese prison camp after capture.
In India, Stoppard received an English education at the Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling. In late 1945, his mother Martha married a British army major named Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and moved the family with him to England after the war, in 1946. Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in Yorkshire.
Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for Western Daily Press in Bristol. Thus, he never received a university education. He remained there from 1954 through 1958. In 1958, the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humor columnist and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theater. At the Bristol Old Vic (at the time a well-regarded regional repertory company), Stoppard formed friendships with director John Boorman and actor Peter O'Toole early in their careers. In Bristol, he became known more for his strained attempts at humor and unstylish clothes than for his writing.
By 1960, he had completed his first play A Walk on the Water
, which was later re-packaged as 1968's Enter a Free Man
. Stoppard noted that the work owed much to Robert Bolt
’s Flowering Cherry
and Arthur Miller
’s Death of a Salesman
. Within a week after sending A Walk on the Water
to an agent, Stoppard received his version of the "Hollywood-style telegrams that change struggling young artists' lives." His first play was optioned, later staged in Hamburg
, and then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963.
From September 1962 until April 1963, Stoppard worked in London as a drama critic for Scene magazine, writing reviews and interviews both under his name and the pseudonym William Boot (taken from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop). In 1964, a Ford Foundation grant enabled Stoppard to spend 5 months writing in a Berlin mansion, emerging with a one-act play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, which later evolved into his Tony-winning play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theater, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966). The 1967 London opening of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at the Vic Theatre made Stoppard an overnight success.
Over the next ten years, in addition to writing some of his own works, Stoppard translated various plays into English, including works by Slawomir Mrozek, Johann Nestroy, Arthur Schnitzler, and Vaclav Havel. It was at this time that Stoppard became influenced by the works of Polish and Czech absurdists. He has been co-opted into the Outrapo group, a far-from-serious French movement to improve actors' stage technique through science.
"Stoppardian" has become a term used to refer to works in which an author makes use of witty statements to create comedy while addressing philosophical concepts.
Stoppard was voted the number 76 on Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World 2008.
Human rights activism
In his early works, Stoppard had avoided political and social issues, once going so far as to declare, "I must stop compromising my plays with this whiff of social application. They must be entirely untouched by any suspicion of usefulness. However, by 1977, Stoppard had become concerned with human rights
issues, in particular with the situation of political dissidents in Central
and Eastern Europe
. In February 1977, he visited the Soviet Union
and several Eastern European countries with a member of Amnesty International
. In June, Stoppard met Vladimir Bukovsky
in London and travelled to Czechoslovakia (then under communist
control), where he met dissident playwright and future president Václav Havel
. Stoppard became involved with Index on Censorship
, Amnesty International, and the Committee Against Psychiatric Abuse
and wrote various newspaper articles and letters about human rights. He was also instrumental in translating Havel's works into English.
The Tom Stoppard Prize was created in 1983 (in Stockholm, under the Charter 77 Foundation) and is awarded to authors of Czech origin. In August 2005, Stoppard visited Minsk to give a seminar on playwriting and to learn first-hand about human rights and political problems in Belarus.
Stoppard's passion for human rights influenced several of his works. He wrote Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977) based on a request by Andre Previn; it was inspired by a meeting with a Russian exile. In Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979) and Squaring the Circle (1984), he attacks the oppressive old regimes of Eastern Europe.
In a 2007 interview, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian".
Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch.
Stoppard has been married twice, to Josie Ingle (1965–1972), a nurse, and to Miriam Stoppard
Stern and subsequently Miriam Moore-Robinson, 1972–1992), whom he left to begin a relationship with actress Felicity Kendal
. He has two sons from each marriage, including the actor Ed Stoppard
and Will Stoppard, who is married to violinist Linzi Stoppard
Stoppard's plays deal with philosophical issues while presenting verbal wit and visual humour. The linguistic complexity of his works, with their puns
, jokes, innuendo
, and other wordplay
, is a chief characteristic of his work. Many also feature multiple timelines.
- 1966: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is one of Stoppard's most famous works—a comedic play which casts two minor characters from Hamlet as its leads, but with the same lack of power to affect their world or exterior circumstances as they have in Shakespeare's original. Hamlet's role is similarly reversed in terms of his stage time and lines, but it is in his wake that the heroes drift helplessly toward their inevitable demise. Rather than shaping events, they pass the time playing witty word games and pondering their predicament. It is similar to Samuel Beckett's absurdist Waiting for Godot, particularly in the main characters' lack of purpose and incomprehension of their situation.
- 1968: Enter a Free Man examines a fabulist's world, which at the end collapses into the reality of a mundane and unfulfilled life. It was developed from a 1963 television play A Walk on the Water and first performed on the stage on 28 March 1968 with Michael Hordern in the leading role.
- 1968: The Real Inspector Hound depicts two theatre critics that are watching a Country House Murder Mystery, and later become involved. The viewer is watching a play. In a particularly Stoppardian touch, he based the whodunnit the critics are watching very closely on Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, knowing full well that the producers of that play (still running in London's West End) could not complain without drawing attention to the very thing they want to conceal, that Stoppard's play (even its title alone) gives away their "surprise" ending.
- 1970: After Magritte is a surreal piece that places its characters, through perfectly rational means, into situations worthy of a Magritte painting. It features a husband-and-wife dance team, the rather confused mother of one of them, a detective named Foot and a constable named Holmes; Stoppard notes that it is frequently performed as a companion piece to The Real Inspector Hound.
- 1972: Jumpers explores the field of academic philosophy, likening it to a highly skilful competitive gymnastics display. The play raises questions such as "What do we know?" and "Where do values come from?" It is set in an alternative reality where British astronauts have landed on the moon and "Radical Liberals" (i.e., Communists) have taken over the British government.
- 1972: Artist Descending a Staircase imitates the disjointed style of the Marcel Duchamp painting (Nude Descending a Staircase) after which it is named. The scenes, which switch between 1972, 1914, and several other years, focus on a group of three artists who were members of the avant-garde movements of the 1910s and 1920s. Now old, the artists are still experimenting with their styles, but conflict ensues when one of them falls (or is pushed) down the stairs. The play, meant for radio, turns into something of a murder mystery.
- 1973: Born Yesterday, the play by Garson Kanin, sidelined Stoppard into the director's chair during a play season at The Greenwich Theatre, London. The part of Billie Dawn was played by Lynn Redgrave. This was his first and last attempt at stage directing.
- 1974: Travesties is a parody of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. The play starts from the fact that Tristan Tzara, Vladimir Lenin, and James Joyce were all in Zürich, Switzerland, in 1917 (in fact they were there at slightly different times, but Stoppard gets round this by telling the story through the memory of a confused old man, Henry Carr - hence also the facts getting mixed up with the plot of The Importance of Being Earnest, which Carr performed in at the time).
- 1976: Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land combines two one act plays written to celebrate the British naturalisation of Ed Berman, founder of London's Almost Free Theatre, where the work was first performed on 6 April 1976 as part of the theatre's season celebrating the American bicentennial. The work is a farce that portrays a special committee of the House of Commons appointed to investigate reports that a large number of MPs have been having sex with the same woman. It contains implied commentary on the government, its workings, its members, and its relationship to the press and to the public. New-Found-Land is a brief interlude in which two government officials try to decide whether to give British citizenship to an eccentric American (based on Berman) and contains an imaginative rhapsody about America.
- 1977: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was written at the request of André Previn and was inspired by a meeting with Russian exile Viktor Fainberg. The play calls for a small cast, and also a full orchestra; the latter not only provides music throughout the play but also forms an essential part of the action. The play concerns a dissident under an oppressive regime (obviously meant to be taken for a Soviet-controlled state) who is imprisoned in a mental hospital, from which he will not be released until he admits that his statements against the government were caused by a (non-existent) mental disorder.
- 1978: Night and Day is about journalism. Set in a fictional African country governed by the tyrant Mageeba, the plot involves the interactions of two British reporters and a British photographer and the family of a British mine owner during a period of unrest in the country. The playbill for a Chicago theater company's 1996 performance of this play stated that it was based on Evelyn Waugh's 1938 novel Scoop.
- 1979: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth are two works. In Dogg's Hamlet the actors speak a language called "Dogg", which consists of ordinary English words but with meanings completely different from the ones normally assign them. Three schoolchildren are rehearsing a performance of Hamlet in English, which is to them a foreign language. Cahoot's Macbeth is usually performed with Dogg's Hamlet, and shows a shortened performance of Macbeth carried out under the eyes of a secret policeman who suspects the actors of subversion against the state.
- 1979: 15-Minute Hamlet The entire play of Hamlet, only in fifteen minutes. An excerpt from Dogg's Hamlet, it is often performed and published on its own.
- 1979: Undiscovered Country is an adaptation of Das Weite Land by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler.
- 1981: On the Razzle is a comedic farce based on Einen Jux will er sich machen, a play by 19th century Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy; this work is also the source for Thornton Wilder's plays "The Merchant of Yonkers" and The Matchmaker and the musical Hello, Dolly!
- 1982: The Real Thing examines love and fidelity, and makes extensive use of play within a play.
- 1984: Rough Crossing is based on a classic farce by Molnar and takes place aboard a ship as two playwrights struggle to finish a musical comedy and rehearse it before docking in New York. It contains references to famous musical comedies such as those produced by Gilbert and Sullivan.
- 1986: Dalliance An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Liebelei set in 1890s Vienna, the play depicts a man who learns that the life of simple mutual love is better than that of a bon vivant. He learns this only in the last days before he dies in a duel.
- 1988: Hapgood mixes the themes of espionage and quantum mechanics, especially exploring the idea that in both fields, observing an event changes the nature of the event. It also compares the dual nature of light (in that it is both a wave and particles) with a double agent that is not sure which side he is really working for.
- 1993: Arcadia alternates between a pair of present day researchers investigating an early 19th century literary mystery and the real incident that they are investigating. It touches on mathematics, thermodynamics, literature, and landscape gardening as it examines the quest for knowledge.
- 1995: Indian Ink is based on Stoppard's radio play In The Native State, and examines British rule in India from both sides.
- 1997: The Invention of Love investigates the life and death of Oxford poet and classicist A. E. Housman, especially his repressed homosexual love for his friend Moses Jackson, contrasting Housman with Oscar Wilde's public fall from grace.
- 2002: The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy about the origins of modern political radicalism in 19th century Russia. The central figures in the action are Michael Bakunin, Vissarion Belinsky, and Alexander Herzen. The work consists of three plays: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage.
- 2004: Enrico IV is a play written by Luigi Pirandello in Italian. Stoppard's translation Henry IV is noted for its colloquial dialogue. It was presented at the Donmar Theatre, London, in April 2004.
- 2006: Rock 'n' Roll spans the years from 1968 to 1990 from the double perspective of Prague—where a rock 'n' roll band comes to symbolise resistance to the Communist regime—and of Cambridge, where the verities of love and death are shaping the lives of three generations in the family of a Marxist philosopher. Stoppard gives the character Max Morrow a significant number of lines relating to fish pie, thought to be a way of teasing Brian Cox (who played Morrow in the first performances) about an embarrassing television advertisement for Young's Fish Pie he had done many years before. Its first public performance was a 3 June 2006 preview at the Royal Court Theatre. The play was a controversial addition to the Royal Court's 50th anniversary season, due to the left-leaning nature of much of the Royal Court's work and the anti-communist nature of much of Stoppard's work (including "Rock 'n' Roll" itself).
Radio, film, and TV
In his early years, Stoppard wrote extensively for BBC
radio, in many cases introducing a touch of surrealism. His original works for radio are:
- 1960: A Seperate Peace, a short play, lasting 35-40 minutes. It was first performed on british television. The subject of the work being a man who talks his way into paying for residence in a hospital to escape the chaos of the outside world.
- 1964: The Dissolution of Dominic Boot, a 15 minute play in which Dominic travels around London in a taxi trying to raise the money for the mounting fare.
- 1964: ‘M’ is for Moon amongst Other Things
- 1966: If you’re Glad I’ll be Frank; bus-driver Frank attempts to liberate his wife Gladys who is trapped as the voice of the speaking clock.
- 1967: Albert's Bridge, in which Albert finds solace in his never-ending task as a solitary bridge painter.
- 1968: Where are They Now?, written for schools radio, the play intercuts a 1969 Old Boys' dinner with the same characters' 1945 school dinner.
- 1972: Artist Descending a Staircase, a story told by means of multiple levels of nested flashback from the present to 1914 and back again.
- 1982: The Dog it was that Died
- 1991: In the Native State, set both in colonial India and present-day England, examining the relationship of the two countries. Stoppard later expanded the work to become the stage play Indian Ink (1995)
- 2008) "On Dover Beach", a 15 minute dialogue between two of Matthew Arnold's moods as he recalls the writing of his much-anthologised poem Dover Beach.
Stoppard has also adapted many of his stage works for radio.
In his television play Professional Foul (1977), an English philosophy professor visits Prague, officially to speak at a colloquium, unofficially to watch a football international between England and Czechoslovakia. He meets one of his former students and is persuaded to smuggle the student's dissident thesis out of the country.
Stoppard has adapted many of his plays for film and televison:
Stoppard assisted George Lucas in polishing up some of the dialogue for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and was responsible for almost every line of dialogue in the film. It is also rumoured that Stoppard worked on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, though Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role. He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow.
Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon
(1966). It is set in contemporary London and its cast includes not only the eighteenth century figure of the dandified Malquist and his ineffectual Boswell
, Moon, but also a couple of cowboys with live bullets in their six-shooters, a lion (banned from the Ritz
) and a donkey-borne Irishman claiming to be the Risen Christ.
Honours and awards
Stoppard sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill
, and a bronze head is now in public collection, situated with the Stoppard papers in the reading room of the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas
. The terracotta remains in the collection of the artist in London. The correspondence file relating to the Stoppard bust is held in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation
's Henry Moore Institute
Responding to the award, Stoppard paid tribute to the Critics' Circle itself, explaining that with his literal mind "your organisation is perhaps the original circle that cannot be squared.
He was appointed CBE in 1978, knighted in 1997 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000.