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Tom Stoppard

Born Tomáš Straussler
3 July 1937 (1937-07-03) (age 72)
Zlín, Czechoslovakia
Pen name William Boot
Occupation Playwright and screenwriter
Nationality United Kingdom
Genres Dramatic comedy

Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE, FRSL (born 3 July 1937) is a British playwright.[1] He has written plays such as The Coast of Utopia, Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Rock 'n' Roll. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love. He has won one Academy Award and four Tony Awards.[2]



Early years

Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler, in Zlín, a "Shoe Town", in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. He was the son of Eugen Straüssler, a doctor with the Bata shoe company, and Martha Beckova. Both parents were Jewish, though neither was a practising Jew [3]. The town's patron, Tomáš Baťa, helped re-post his Jewish employees, mostly physicians, to various branches of his firm all over the world - before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia [4][5]. On 15 March 1939, the day that the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the family fled to Singapore, one of the places Bata had a company. Before the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the two sons and their mother were sent to Australia. Stoppard's father remained on the island as a British army volunteer, knowing that, as a doctor, he would be needed in its defence [3]. From there, in 1941, when Tomas was five, the three were evacuated to Darjeeling in India. The boys attended the Mount Hermon American multi-racial school [6] where Tomas became Tom and his brother Petr became Peter. The father was to follow the family later. In the book Tom Stoppard in conversation, Stoppard tells how his father died in Japanese captivity, a prisoner of war[6] although Straussler is also commonly reported to have drowned on board a ship bombed by Japanese forces [3].

Their mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and neither brother knew what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia [7]. He discussed the disclosure in an interview (2008) with Maya Jaggi in The Guardian:

Only in the early 1990s, after "the communists fell and the blind went up" did Stoppard learn from distant Czech relatives that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in Terezin, Auschwitz and other camps, along with three of his mother's sisters. After his parents' deaths, he returned with his elder brother to Zlin in 1998, for the first time in almost 60 years. Writing in Talk magazine in 1999, he expressed grief both for a lost father and a missing past. But he has no sense of being a survivor, at whatever remove. "I feel incredibly lucky not to have had to survive or die. It's a conspicuous part of what might be termed a charmed life[8].

In 1945, his mother Martha, married British army major Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and, in 1946, after the war, moved the family to England.[1] In the Talk magazine article Stoppard says of his stepfather felt that "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life", telling his small stepson: "Don't you realise that I made you British?" [9]. The Guardian interview continues:

He, [Stoppard] once wrote ironically of his childhood self, that he was "coming on well as an honorary Englishman". The world may be more open now to layered identities, but his unease remains. "I fairly often find I'm with people who forget I don't quite belong in the world we're in", he says. "I find I put a foot wrong - it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history - and suddenly I'm there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket." His characters, he notes, are "constantly being addressed by the wrong name, with jokes and false trails to do with the confusion of having two names" [10].

Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in East Riding, Yorkshire. He left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for Western Daily Press in Bristol, never having received a university education [11]. He remained there from 1954 until 1958, when the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humor columnist, and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theatre. 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 [1].


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, staged in Hamburg, then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963.[1]

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 and Guildenstern Are Dead.[1] In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theatre, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966).

On 11 April 1967 — following acclaim at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival — the opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic 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 Václav 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.[12]

"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 [13]. Stoppard was voted the number 76 on the 2008 Time 100, Time magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.

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."[14] 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.[1] 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.[1] 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 André 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.[15]

In a 2007 interview, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian" [16]. In the year of Margaret Thatcher's election, Stoppard confided to Paul Delaney: "I'm a conservative with a small c. I am a conservative in politics, literature, education and theatre."[17]

Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch.[18]

Personal life

Stoppard has been married twice, to Josie Ingle (1965–1972), a nurse, and to Miriam Stoppard (née 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 [1]. In his early years, he wrote extensively for BBC radio, in many cases introducing a touch of surrealism. He has also adapted many of his stage works for radio, film and television winning extensive awards and honours from the start of his career.

Stoppard worked with George Lucas on the dialogue for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spielberg states that though Stoppard was uncredited, "he was responsible for almost every line of dialogue in the film" [19]. It is also rumoured that Stoppard worked on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, though again Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role [20][21]. He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow [22]

Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966). It is set in contemporary London and its cast includes not only the 18th-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.

Portrait bust

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 Center at the University of Texas at Austin.[23] The terracotta remains in the collection of the artist in London.[24] The correspondence file relating to the Stoppard bust is held in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.[25]

Selected Awards

Selected Honours

Works: Theatre

  • 1964: A Walk on the Water
  • 1965: The Gamblers
  • 1966: Tango, adapted from Slawomir Mrozek's play and Nicholas Bethell translation, premiered at the Aldwych Theatre
  • 1966: Rosencrantz and 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 who 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
  • 1969: Albert's Bridge premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
  • 1969: If You're Glad I'll Be Frank premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
  • 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
  • 1971: Dogg's Our Pet premiered at Almost Free Theatre
  • 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 [26]
  • 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
  • 1973: The House of Bernarda Alba, the play by Federico García Lorca and translation by Katie Kendall and it premiered at the Greenwich Theatre.
  • 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 getting the historical facts mixed up with the plot of The Importance of Being Earnest, which Carr performed in at the time). Like such later plays as Arcadia and Invention of Love, one of the work's overt concerns is the distinction between the artist of minor significance (Tzara) and the canonical artist (Joyce)
  • 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 theatre 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 (which was 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
  • 1983: The Love for Three Oranges, originally an opera by Sergei Prokofiev
  • 1984: Rough Crossing is based on a classic farce by Ferenc Molnár 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
  • 1987: Largo Desolato, a play originally by Václav Havel
  • 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 afterlife 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. As with Travesties, this play examines the artist as "outlaw" (Wilde's term in the play), the figure who breaks through the ideological conventions of society to create art of such visionary quality that it creates new artistic paradigms and expectations
  • 1997: The Seagull, a play originally by Anton Chekhov
  • 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.[27] 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)

Original works for radio

  • 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
  • 1965: A Separate Peace, a short play, lasting 35–40 minutes. It was first performed, on British television, in August 1966. 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.[28]
  • 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"

Selected television plays

  • A Separate Peace
  • Teeth
  • Another Moon Called Earth (which contained some of the same dialogue and situations he would later incorporate into his play Jumpers)
  • Neutral Ground (a loose adaptation of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
  • Professional Foul
  • Squaring the Circle

Selected film and television adaptation of plays

Further reading

  • Bloom, Harold, ed Tom Stoppard Bloom's Major Dramatists. New York: Chelsea House, 2003
  • Corballis, Richard Stoppard. The Mystery and the Clockwork Oxford, New York, 1984
  • Delaney, Paul Tom Stoppard: The Moral Vision of the Plays London, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990
  • Fleming, John Stoppard's Theater: Finding Order Amid Chaos Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001
  • Hunter, Jim About Stoppard: The Playwright and the Wor. London: Faber and Faber, 2005
  • Kelly, Katherine E., ed The Cambridge Companion to Tom Stoppard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001
  • Londré, Felicia Hardison Tom Stoppard Modern Literature Series. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1981.
  • Südkamp, Holger Tom Stoppard's Biographical Drama. Trier: WVT, 2008


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Amy Reiter (13 November 2001). "Tom Stoppard". Retrieved 9 October 2008. 
  2. ^ Staff writers (11 June 2007). "Stoppard play sweeps Tony awards". BBC News. Retrieved 5 October 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c Profile of Tom Stoppard in The Guardian by Stephen Moss 22 June 2002, accessed 2010-02-10
  4. ^ Theresienstadt memorial archive 'Tom Stoppard Discloses his Past
  5. ^ Profile of Tom Stoppard The Guardian 22 June 2002 accessed 2010-02-10
  6. ^ a b Tom Stoppard, Paul Delaney (1994) Tom Stoppard in conversation p91 University of Michigan Press
  7. ^ Theresienstadt memorial archive websiteTom Stoppard Discloses his Past
  8. ^ Guardian interview with Stoppard 6 September 2008 You can't help being what you write accessed 2010-02-2010
  9. ^ Guardian interview with Stoppard 6 September 2008 You can't help being what you write accessed 2010-02-2010
  10. ^ Guardian interview with Stoppard 6 September 2008 You can't help being what you write accessed 2010-02-2010
  11. ^ Tom Stoppard at the complete review
  12. ^ von Bariter, Milie. "L'acteur cérébral". Contrainte du moment. Outrapo. Retrieved 6 September 2008. 
  13. ^ Tom Stoppard. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Summary and Study Guide - Tom Stoppard". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  14. ^ R+G Historical Context at
  15. ^ "Tom Stoppard (1937 - )". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  16. ^ Time Magazine article Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007
  17. ^ Kelly, Katherine E. (2001) The Cambridge Companion to Tom Stoppard, Cambridge University Press pp. 136-7 [1]
  18. ^ Tom Stoppard. "ONLINE ONLY: Speech at the Standpoint Launch | Standpoint". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "Empire: Features". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  20. ^ Internet Movie Database accessed 2010-02-19
  21. ^ Rolling Stone magazine article accessed 2010-02-19
  22. ^ Guardian article 30 November 1999 accessed 2010-02-19
  23. ^ "Inventory of Tom Stoppard papers and location of bronze head". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  24. ^ "image of Stoppard bust by sculptor Alan Thornhill". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  25. ^ "HMI Archive". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  26. ^ "Artist Descending a Staircase". Retrieved 8 July 2009. 
  27. ^ Bassett, Kate (9 May 2004). "Madness - it's just another act". The Independent. Retrieved 7 September 2008. 
  28. ^ Kelly (2001: 79)

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Thomas Stoppard (born 1937-07-03) British dramatist and screenwriter; born Tomáš Straussler in Czechoslovakia.

See also: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (film) and Shakespeare in Love



Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966)

  • Revolution is a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering; the capacity for self-indulgence changes hands.
    • Ch. I: Dramatis Personae and Other Coincidences
  • Since we cannot hope for order let us withdraw with style from the chaos.
    • Ch. I: Dramatis Personae and Other Coincidences
  • My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • When someone disagrees with you on a moral point you assume that he is one step behind in his thinking, and he assumes that he has gone one step ahead. But I take both parts, O'Hara, leapfrogging myself along the great moral issues, refuting myself and rebutting the refutation towards a truth that must be the compound of two opposite half-truths. And you never reach it because there is always something more to say.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • I agree with everything you say, but I would attack to the death your right to say it.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • The House of Lords, an illusion to which I have never been able to subscribe — responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch throughout the ages.
    • Ch. 6: An Honourable Death
    • This is a reference to a quote of Rudyard Kipling, "Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages," which became widely known after being quoted by prime minister Stanley Baldwin in a speech of 1931-03-17.

Artist Descending a Staircase (1972)

  • Donner: Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

Jumpers (1972)

  • There is presumably a calendar date — a moment — when the onus of proof passed from the atheist to the believer, when, quite suddenly, secretly, the noes had it.
    • George, Act I
  • It was precisely this notion of infinite series which in the sixth century BC led the Greek philosopher Zeno to conclude that since an arrow shot towards a target first had to cover half the distance, and then half the remainder, and then half the remainder after that, and so on ad infinitum, the result was, as I will now demonstrate, that though an arrow is always approaching its target, it never quite gets there, and Saint Sebastian died of fright.
    • George, Act I
  • It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.
    • Dotty, Act I
  • How the hell do I know what I find incredible? Credibility is an expanding field... Sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.
    • George, Act I
  • Dotty: Archie says the Church is a monument to irrationality.
    George: ... The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality! — and so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover's favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one gigantic field of soya beans!
    • Act I
  • Language is a finite instrument crudely applied to an infinity of ideas, and one consequence of the failure to take account of this is that modern philosophy has made itself ridiculous by analysing such statements as, "This is a good bacon sandwich," or, "Bedser had a good wicket."
    • George, Act II

Travesties (1974)

  • An essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognized.
    • Carr, Act I
  • Bennett seems to be showing alarming signs of irony. I have always found that irony among the lower orders is the first sign of an awakening social consciousness. It remains to be seen whether it will grow into an armed seizure of the means of production, distribution and exchange, or spend itself in liberal journalism.
    • Carr, Act I
  • Tzara: Causality is no longer fashionable owing to the war.
    Carr: How illogical, since the war itself had causes. I forget what they were, but it was all in the papers at the time. Something about brave little Belgium, wasn't it?
    Tzara: Was it? I thought it was Serbia...
    Carr: Brave little Serbia...? No, I don't think so. The newspapers would never have risked calling the British public to arms without a proper regard for succinct alliteration.
    • Act I
  • To be an artist at all is like living in Switzerland during a world war. To be an artist in Zurich, in 1917, implies a degree of self-absorption that would have glazed over the eyes of Narcissus.
    • Carr, Act I
  • War is capitalism with the gloves off and many who go to war know it but they go to war because they don't want to be a hero. It takes courage to sit down and be counted.
    • Tzara, Act I
  • I had no idea Gwendolen knew any foreign languages, and I am not sure that I approve. It's the sort of thing that can only broaden a girl's mind.
    • Carr, Act I
  • When I was at school, on certain afternoons we all had to do what was called Labour — weeding, sweeping, sawing logs for the boiler-room, that sort of thing; but if you had a chit from Matron you were let off to spend the afternoon messing about in the Art Room. Labour or Art. And you've got a chit for life? Where did you get it? What is an artist? For every thousand people there's nine hundred doing the work, ninety doing well, nine doing good, and one lucky bastard who's the artist.
    • Carr, Act I
  • An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist's touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships — and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer.
    • Joyce, Act I
    • Stoppard called this "the most important" speech in the play.
  • I learned three things in Zurich during the war. I wrote them down. Firstly, you're either a revolutionary or you're not, and if you're not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can't be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary. ... I forget the third thing.
    • Carr, Act II

Night and Day (1978)

  • A foreign correspondent is someone who lives in foreign parts and corresponds, usually in the form of essays containing no new facts. Otherwise he's someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks that the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it.
    • Wagner, Act I
  • I never got used to the way the house Trots fell into the jargon back in Grimsby — I mean, on any other subject, like the death of the novel, or the sex life of the editor's secretary, they spoke ordinary English, but as soon as they started trying to get me to join the strike it was as if their brains had been taken out and replaced by one of those little golf-ball things you get in electric typewriters... "Betrayal"... "Confrontation"... "Management"... My God, you'd need a more supple language than that to describe an argument between two amoebas.
    • Milne, Act I
  • Wagner: There were printers getting more than journalists!
    Milne: Yes, I know, but you make it sound as if the natural order has been overthrown. Fish sing in the streets, rivers run uphill, and the printers are getting more than the journalists. Okay — you're worth more than a printer. But look at some of this — "We find the vanishing vicar of Lovers' Leap!" "Sally Smith is a tea lady in a Blackpool engineering works, but it was the way she filled those C-cups which got our cameraman all stirred up!" It's crap. And it's written by grown men earning maybe ten thousand a year. If I was a printer, I'd look at some of the stuff I'm given to print, and I'd ask myself what is supposed to be so special about the people who write it — is that radical enough for you — Dick?
    • Act I
  • The media. It sounds like a convention of spiritualists.
    • Ruth, Act I
  • Milne: No matter how imperfect things are, if you've got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
    Ruth: I'm with you on the free press. It's the newspapers I can't stand.
    • Act I
  • Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.
    • Milne, Act I
  • I know the British press is very attached to the lobby system. It lets the journalists and the politicians feel proud of their traditional freedoms while giving the reader as much of the truth as they think is good for him.
    • Mageeba, Act II
  • Mageeba: Do you know what I mean by a relatively free press, Mr. Wagner?
    Wagner: Not exactly, sir, no.
    Mageeba: I mean a free press which is edited by one of my relatives.
    • Act II

The Real Thing (1982)

  • The days of the digitals are numbered. The metaphor is built into them like a self-destruct mechanism.
    • Henry, Act I, scene I.
    • Often misquoted as "The days of the digital watch are numbered."
  • I'm showing an interest in your work. I thought you liked me showing an interest in your work. My showing. Save the gerund and screw the whale.
    • Max, Act I, scene I
  • Public postures have the configuration of private derangement.
    • Henry, Act I, scene II
  • Buddy Holly was twenty-two. Think of what he might have gone on to achieve. I mean, if Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at twenty-two, the history of music would have been very different. As would the history of aviation, of course.
    • Henry, Act II, scene V
  • This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. it's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it
    • Henry, Act II, scene V
  • I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.
    • Henry, Act II, scene V

Arcadia (1993)

  • Chater: You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening!
    Septimus: You are mistaken. I made love to your wife in the gazebo. She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander.
    • Act I
  • We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?
    • Septimus, Act I
  • Oh, you're going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I'll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don't confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There's no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle's cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God's crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can't think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars - big bangs, black holes - who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money?
    • Bernard, Act II
  • I'd push the lot of you over a cliff myself. Except the one in the wheelchair, I think I'd lose the sympathy vote before people had time to think it through.
    • Bernard, Act II
  • It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them.
    • Lady Croom, Act II
  • It's the wanting to know that makes us matter.
    • Hannah, Act II

The Invention of Love (1997)

  • I will take his secret to the grave, telling people along the way. Betrayal is no sin if it is whimsical.
  • Miss Frobisher smiles, with little cause that I know of. If Jesus of Nazareth had had before him the example of Miss Frobisher getting through the Latin degree papers of the London University Examinations Board he wouldn’t have had to fall back on camels and the eyes of needles, and Miss Frobisher’s name would be a delightful surprise to encounter in Matthew, Chapter 19; as would, even more surprisingly, the London University Examinations Board. Your name is not Miss Frobisher? What is your name? Miss Burton. I’m very sorry. I stand corrected. If Jesus of Nazareth had had before him the example of Miss Burton getting through the... Oh, dear, I hope it is not I who have made you cry.
    • Housman, Act I

The Coast of Utopia: Voyage (2002)

  • Alexander: I myself was educated in Italy. My doctorate in philosophy is from the University of Padua.
    Renne: Really? Philosophy?
    Alexander: My dissertation was on worms.
    Renne: Worms the philosopher?
    Alexander: No, just worms.
    Renne: Ah, the philosophy of worms.
    Alexander: Not at all. Worms have no philosophy, as far as is known.
  • Alexander: No spunk, simple as that! Your brother's an army deserter!
    Michael: Oh yes, I've resigned my commission.
    Alexander: He's refusing to return to duty.
    Michael: On grounds of ill health, Papa. I'm sick of the Army.
    Alexander: No discipline, that's the problem!
    Michael: No, it's riddled with discipline, that's the problem. That and Poland.
  • Michael: "March here, march there, present arms, where's your cap?" — you've no idea, the whole Army's obsessed with playing at soldiers.
  • Alexander: How the world must have been changing while I was holding it still.

The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck (2002)

  • Herzen: Marx is a bourgeois from the anus up.
    Natalie : Alexander! I won't have that word...
    Herzen: Sorry, middle-class.
  • Bakunin: Act first! The ideas will follow, and if not — well, it's progress
  • Turgenev: The names for things don't come first. Words stagger after, hopelessly trying to become the sensation.

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage (2002)

  • Their coarseness is the sinew of some kind of brute confidence which is the reason England is home to every shade of political exile. They don't give asylum out of respect for asylum-seekers, but out of respect for themselves. They invented personal liberty, and they know it, and they did it without having any theories about it. They value liberty because it's liberty.
    • Herzen
  • Bakunin: Left to themselves people are noble, generous, uncorrupted, they'd create a completely new kind of society if only people weren't so blind, stupid and selfish.
    Herzen: Is that the same people or different people?
    Bakunin: The same people.
  • Wake me up for breakfast, if I'm not dead.
  • (Falls down in a drunken stupor): Let's sit down.
    • Ogarev

Interviews and profiles

  • I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself.
  • I began my talk by saying that I had not written my plays for purposes of discussion. At once, I felt a ripple of panic run through the hall. I suddenly realised why. To everyone present, discussion was the whole point of drama. That was why the faculty had been endowed — that was why all those buildings had been put up! I had undermined the entire reason for their existence.
    • "Tom Stoppard," profile by Kenneth Tynan, The New Yorker (1977-12-19)
  • I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.
    • Interview, The Guardian (London, 1988-03-18)
  • When Harold Pinter was lobbying to have London's Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theatre, Stoppard wrote back: "Have you thought, instead, of changing your name to Harold Comedy?"
    • William Langley, "Profile: Sir Tom Stoppard," The Telegraph (2006-11-06) [1]


  • It is better of course to know useless things than to know nothing.
    • Source: Seneca , Epistle 88, as seen in the following: "You may sweep all these theories in with the superfluous troops of 'liberal' studies; the one class of men give me a knowledge that will be of no use to me, the other class do away with any hope of attaining knowledge. It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing. One set of philosophers offers no light by which I may direct my gaze toward the truth; the other digs out my very eyes and leaves me blind." Seneca: Epistle 88
  • My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
    • Source: Hermann Weyl as quoted by Freeman Dyson: "Characteristic of Weyl was an aesthetic sense which dominated his thinking on all subjects. He once said to me, half-joking, 'My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.'" - Freeman Dyson, "Obituary of Hermann Weyl," Nature (1956-03-10), pp. 457-458
  • Beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it.
    • Source: Georges Bataille, Erotism (1962) [City Lights Books, 1991, trans. Mary Dalwood, ISBN 0872861902], part I, ch. XIII, p. 144
  • If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
    • Source: Abraham Sutzkever (born 1913), quoted in "Yiddish Poet Celebrates Life with His Language" by Joseph Berger, The New York Times (1985-03-17), Section 1, page 38
  • If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.
    • Source: Margaret Mead, quoted in "Growing Old in America: An Introduction with Margaret Mead" by Grace Hechinger, Family Circle (1977-07-26), p.27
  • Responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them.
    • Source: Elbert Hubbard, "J.B. Runs Things," Short Stories and Index: Elbert Hubbard's Selected Writings, Part 14 (1923) [Kessinger Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0766103978], p. 278
  • A movie camera is like having someone you have a crush on watching you from afar— you pretend it's not there.
  • We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.
    • Source: William R(ounseville) Alger, American clergyman and writer [1822-1905]
  • From principles is derived probability, but truth or certainty is obtained only from facts.
    • From principles is derived probability, but truth is obtained only from facts. - Jesse Olney (1798 - 1872), The National Preceptor (Goodwin, 1830), Lesson LXXXV: "Select Sentences," rule # 19 (p. 171)

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