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Tom Stoppard Biography

(1937– ), A Walk on the Water, Enter a Free Man, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon

play plays stage indian

British dramatist, born in Czechoslovakia, the son of a company doctor who was killed when the Japanese invaded Singapore; he came to England after the war, and took his British stepfather's name. Stoppard left school at 17 to become a journalist, seeing his first play, A Walk on the Water (later, the stage play Enter a Free Man), televised in 1963, and a novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon, published in 1965. In 1967 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead moved to the National Theatre from the Edinburgh Festival's Fringe, establishing him as a dramatist of rare wit and intellectual curiosity. His major stage plays since have included Jumpers (1972); Travesties (1974); Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), set in a Soviet mental hospital and simultaneously involving an authentic lunatic and a dissident pronounced mad by the authorities; Night and Day (1978), about the threat to freedom of restrictive practices in journalism; The Real Thing (1982), a comedy about love and adultery; Hapgood (1988), which brings together quantum physicists and secret agents for an elaborate dramatic exploration of the nature of reality; Arcadia (1993); and Indian Ink (1994; an expanded stage version of the earlier radio play In the Native State), which moves between 1930 and 1985, following the fortunes of a young poetess on a visit to India and showing her trip's long-term results, in the process raising questions about colonialism, culture, language, and nationality. Stoppard has written other pieces for radio and television, notably Professional Foul (televised in 1977), about the predicament of dissidents in his native Czechoslovakia. He has also adapted the work of European playwrights, notably Nestroy's Einen Jux will er sich machen into On the Razzle (1981), and Molnár's The Play at the Castle into Rough Crossing (1984). Some of Stoppard's more recent work has concerned the abuse of human rights, especially in Eastern Europe, but his most admired plays involve large and less specific matters, up to and including the moral nature of the universe and the significance of life itself. He has said that his aim is ‘to achieve the perfect marriage between ideas and farce or high comedy’, and his plays characteristically use parody, puns, conceits, visual jokes, and the bravura yoking together of apparently heterogeneous material in a fundamentally serious quest for truths which are felt always to be elusive. Stoppard has also said that he writes plays ‘because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself’, and that ‘the dislocation of an audience's assumptions’ is a major part of his purpose. What matters is intricately to pose, not definitively to answer, questions of cultural, ethical, and philosophic import. His work has sometimes been accused of being excessively cerebral, a slur that does, however, overlook his continuing and compassionate concern with human vulnerability. The complaint has become even harder to sustain since Arcadia and Indian Ink, both of which involve able, attractive, and highly sympathetic young women who die before being able wholly to fulfil their considerable talents.

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