Tom Stoppard in the 1985 documentary What is Brazil?
Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE (born Tomáš Straussler on July 3, 1937) is a British playwright. Born in Czechoslovakia, he is famous for plays such as The Real Thing and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and for the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.
Stoppard was born in Zlín, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), into a Jewish family. To avoid persecution, the Strausslers fled Czechoslovakia to Singapore with other Jewish doctors on March 15, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded. However, in 1941 the family had to be evacuated to India to avoid the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His father, Eugene Straussler, remained behind and was killed.
In India, Stoppard received an English education. His mother Martha married a British army major named Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boy his English surname. The family eventually moved to England in 1946.
Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for Western Daily Press. By 1960 he had completed his first play A Walk on the Water, which was later produced as Enter a Free Man. From September 1962 until April 1963, Stoppard worked in London as a drama critic for Scene, writing reviews and interviews both under his name and under the pseudonym William Boot (taken from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop).
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 Soviet Union 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 Václav Havel, at that time a dissident playwright. 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. Stoppard 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 various human rights and political problems in Belarus.
He was appointed CBE in 1978 and knighted in 1997. He has been co-opted into the Outrapo group. He has been married twice, to Josie Ingle (1965–72), a nurse, and to Miriam Moore-Robinson, (1972–92), whom he left to begin a relationship with actress Felicity Kendal. He has two sons from each marriage.
Work for the theatre
Stoppard's plays are plays of ideas that deal with philosophical issues, yet he combines the philosophical ideas he presents with verbal wit and visual humor. His linguistic complexity, with its puns, jokes, innuendo, and other wordplay, is a chief characteristic of his work. Many also feature multiple timelines.
- (1967) 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 the hows, wheres, whys and whos of their predicament. It is similar in many ways to Samuel Beckett's absurdist Waiting for Godot, particularly in the main characters' lack of purpose and comprehension of their situation.
- (1968) Enter a Free Man
- (1968) The Real Inspector Hound is one of his best-known short plays. In it two theatre critics are watching a Country House Murder Mystery, and become involved in the action by accident. The viewer is watching a play within a play. In a particularly Stoppardian touch, he based the cheesy 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) couldn't 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 which manages to place the characters, through perfectly rational means, into situations worthy of a Magritte painting. It features a husband-and-wife dance team, 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. Jumpers raises questions such as what do we know? Where do values come from? It is set in an alternate reality where some British astronauts have landed on the moon and "Radical Liberals" (read Communists) have taken over the British government.
- (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 Zurich, 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). There are clear relationships between Joyce's literary work and Tzara's dada art. The relation to Lenin's ideas is less well explained.
- (1976) Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land combines two works. Dirty Linen is a farce that portrays a special committee of the House of Commons, appointed to investigate reports that a large number of Members of Parliament have been having sex with the same woman. Naturally 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 one of Stoppard's acquaintances), and contains an imaginative rhapsody about America.
- (1977) Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is one of Stoppard's most unusual works. It 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, but also a full orchestra, which 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.
- (1979) Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth are two works. In Dogg's Hamlet we find the actors speaking a language called Dogg, which consists of ordinary English words but with meanings completely different from the ones we 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 esteemed Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler.
- (1981) On the Razzle is a comedic farce based on a play by 19th-century Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, Einen Jux will er sich machen (which is the source for Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker and the musical Hello, Dolly as well).
- (1982) The Real Thing examines the nature of love, and makes extensive use of 'play within a play'.
- (1984) Rough Crossing
- (1986) Dalliance
- (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. He also compares the dual nature of light (is it a wave that sometimes seems like particles, or vice versa) with a double agent who is not sure which side he is "really" working for.
- (1993) Arcadia follows the fortunes of a pair of present day researchers investigating an early 19th century literary mystery, whilst simultaneously showing what really happened during the incident they are investigating.
- (1995) Indian Ink is based on his 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 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 and Alexander Herzen. The work consists of three plays: "Voyage," "Shipwreck," and "Salvage."
- (2006) Rock 'n' Roll which 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 surprising 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 TV ad for Young's Fish Pie he had done many years before. First public performance (preview) 3 June, 2006 at the Royal Court Theatre.
Work for radio, film, and TV
In his early years Stoppard wrote extensively for BBC radio, in many cases introducing a touch of surrealism. Some of his better known radio works include: If You're Glad, I'll Be Frank; Albert's Bridge; The Dog it was that Died; and Artist Descending a Staircase, a story told by means of multiple levels of nested flashback. He returned to the medium for In the Native State (1991), a story set both in colonial India and present-day England, and examines the relationship of the two countries. Stoppard later expanded the work to become the stage play Indian Ink (1995).
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.
He has also adapted many of his own plays for film and TV, notably the 1990 production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Tom Stoppard has written extensively for film and television. Some of his better-known scripts and adaptations include:
- (1975) Three Men in a Boat (adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's novel for BBC Television)
- (1975) The Boundary (co-authored by Clive Exton, a 30 minute BBC television play written, rehearsed and performed within a week)
- (1977) Professional Foul (Dedicated to fellow playwright Václav Havel)
- (1985) Brazil (co-authored with Terry Gilliam, script nominated for an Academy Award)
- (1987) Empire of the Sun
- (1990) The Russia House
- (1998) Shakespeare In Love (co-authored with Marc Norman, script won an Academy Award)
- (2001) Enigma
- (2005) His Dark Materials (a draft screenplay, subsequently rejected)
- (2007) The Bourne Ultimatum (in pre-production)
It is rumored that Stoppard assisted George Lucas in polishing up some of the dialogue for both Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, though Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role. He is also rumoured to be writing the script for the 22nd James Bond film, currently under the title of Bond 22. 
- 1967: Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright
- 1968: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award Best Play of the Year, Prix Italia, Antoinette Perry Award for Best Play, Plays and Players Award for Best New Play
- 1972: Jumpers - Evening Standard Award for Best Play, Plays and Players Award for Best New Play
- 1974: Travesties - Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year
- 1976: Travesties - Tony Award for Best Play, Antoinette Perry Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Play
- 1978: Night and Day - Evening Standard Award for Best Play
- 1982: The Real Thing - Evening Standard Award for Best Play
- 1984: The Real Thing - Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Foreign Play, Antoinette Perry Award for Best Play
- 1993: Arcadia - Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year
- 1994: Arcadia - Laurence Olivier/BBC Award for Best New Play
- 1997: The Invention of Love - Evening Standard Award for Best Play
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.