Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth are two one-act plays by Tom Stoppard, which are often performed together as Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth. First published together in England in 1979, the two plays were inspired by separate sources. Dogg's Hamlet is an expanded version of two earlier, similar plays. The play is based on a section of the philosophical investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who explored how people use language to communicate. The play introduces an alternate language, called Dogg, which uses English words that have different meanings in Dogg. This inconsistency leads to confusion on the part of the play's characters, who try to communicate in their respective languages, English and Dogg. By the end of this first play, the English-speaking character, Easy, is speaking Dogg.
Cahoot's Macbeth, which is more political in nature, was dedicated to a Czechoslovakian playwright, Pavel Kohout. Because censorship in his country prevented public theatrical productions, Kohout wrote an abbreviated version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, which he performed in people's living rooms. Stoppard's play features a similar living-room theatre production of Macbeth, which gets broken up by an inspector, who threatens to arrest the actors and audience members for breaking the censorship rules. However, Easy, the English-speaking character from the first play, arrives and teaches the actors Dogg. When the inspector comes back a second time and catches them speaking entirely in Dogg, he cannot arrest them because he does not understand what they are saying. Both plays are united in their use of a common invented language, but they also explore how manipulations of language—a characteristic technique of Stoppard' s drama—can be used in various political and nonpolitical ways. A current copy of Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth can be found in The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays, which was published by Grove Press in 1998.
Dogg's Hamlet begins on an empty stage when Baker, a schoolboy, says, "Here," asking another boy to throw him a football. However, since he says it in "Dogg," a language that uses English words with unconventional meanings, what he really says is "Brick.'' From this point on, most of the characters in Dogg's Hamlet speak Dogg, which, to anybody who does not know it, sounds like gibberish. For the reader, Stoppard initially provides translations from Dogg to English in brackets, but audience members have no such aid and must learn Dogg as the play goes on. Baker joins Abel on the stage, and together they test the microphone, which is dead. Charlie and Abel fight over the football, and Dogg, the headmaster, arrives and takes it from them, hitting Abel in the process.
They make idle conversation with Dogg, who tells them that a lorry, or truck, is about to arrive. Dogg leaves, and the three boys eat their lunches, then Abel and Baker start rehearsing their lines for Hamlet, the school play they are acting in later that day. The play is in English, and the boys say their lines tonelessly, as if they are speaking a foreign language they do not quite understand. The lorry-driver, Easy, arrives with the materials needed to build the stage for the school play. He speaks in English, and the boys are confused. Baker tries to communicate by reciting one of the English lines from Hamlet, but it does not work. Dogg enters, and Easy wishes him a good afternoon, which is an insult in Dogg. Dogg threatens Easy, who is now very confused. Dogg looks at Easy's construction plans and positions everybody to start building the stage. Dogg starts off the construction by calling out "Plank," a word that means "Ready." Easy notes that the boys throw Dogg a plank, the first item they need to start building the stage, and he thinks everybody is finally speaking English. Easy calls for two more planks, and they are thrown to him. Dogg leaves, and the next time Easy calls for a plank, a block is thrown instead.
Easy is confused and passes the block back. This happens several times; then Easy walks offstage and hits Abel, thinking Abel is giving him a hard time. The language confusion continues as they build the stage, and the audience hears Easy hit Abel again. Charlie has a radio, which broadcasts sports scores in Dogg. Dogg comes by when the platform is finished, and looks at the wall that the boys have built. Easy stands admiring the wall, which is composed of lettered blocks that spell out the words, "MATHS OLD EGG,’’ three seemingly harmless words. Dogg reads the words and knocks Easy through the wall, offended. The words the boys have spelled out are an insult, written in Dogg, although Easy does not know this. The boys rebuild the wall twice more, each time creating seemingly harmless words that are actually insults in Dogg. Each time, Dogg takes offense at the words and throws Easy into the wall, knocking it down, although Easy dutifully throws himself through the wall the last time.
Finally, the letters on the wall are arranged correctly, reading ‘‘Dogg's Hamlet.’’ Easy introduces the play, speaking Dogg, and Dogg's fifteen-minute version of Hamlet begins, with the three boys acting their parts and several others acting the other standard parts of Hamlet, in this highly abbreviated version of the play. Although the play is shortened, the lines are still borrowed directly from Shakespeare's original play. At the conclusion of the play, the actors come out for an encore, in which they act out the play again using Shakespeare's lines, although this time the play is cut down even more, and the actors fly through the dialogue in only a couple of minutes. Easy thanks the audience, in Dogg, and walks out.
Cahoot's Macbeth takes place in a living room across town, although when the play starts, there is such little light on the stage that the audience does not know this. Unlike the previous play, this play starts out in English, with several actors acting out an abbreviated performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth. As in the earlier play, the lines are borrowed directly from Shakespeare's play. At a certain point in the play, a police siren is heard in the background, followed by a knocking noise at the door. These disturbances are incorporated into the dialogue of the play. The hostess goes offstage and lets a police inspector in to what is now an empty living room. He is surprised to find that the hostess is hosting a play in the living room of her home and references the audience—the audience who is watching Stoppard's play. Landovsky, the actor playing Macbeth, comes back into the room. The actors and the inspector talk about how public acting has been censored, and the inspector takes a seat in the audience, intending to watch the rest of the Macbeth production. The actors are wary, however, because they do not want to be arrested by the inspector for breaking censorship laws, which forbid acting.
The inspector tells them that they had better continue their acting for his pleasure and that if he does not like it, he is going to arrest them. The nervous actors reluctantly finish acting out the interrupted scene from their abbreviated version of Macbeth, and the inspector is not impressed, saying that the police do not like Shakespeare. The inspector says that the police would rather have people say that there is no freedom outright, instead of acting it out in cryptic plays. One of the actors, Cahoot, a banned writer, suddenly falls to his hands and knees and acts like a dog. The inspector asks him to make a statement, and Cahoot speaks in Shakespearean language. The inspector tells him that he cannot get around the law by quoting verse at him, then lists the various freedom-fighting organizations he has persecuted. Cahoot growls, which Macbeth says is due to the fact that he has been made a nonperson.
The inspector leaves, telling everybody else to go as well. However, the actors resume their play as soon as he is gone. After the play has progressed somewhat, Easy, the lorry-driver from the first play, arrives on stage, speaking Dogg. The actors continue to speak their lines from Macbeth, while Easy appears at various places on and around the stage, trying to get their attention. Macbeth starts to incorporate these appearances into the play, as if Easy were a ghostly apparition. Finally, the hostess stops the production so they can talk to Easy. In Dogg, he tries to tell them that he has a load of materials for them. He opens the shutters and shows them his truck, and they start to understand him. The actors resume their acting.
Once again, the inspector arrives. Easy tries to talk to him in Dogg, and the hostess explains that Easy does not understand English. Cahoot enters and starts to speak to Easy in Dogg. Cahoot tells the others that Easy only speaks Dogg, a language that is caught, not learned. Easy starts speaking Dogg to the other actors, who are picking up on the language. The hostess tells the inspector to leave the stage so they can perform the final act of Macbeth, and the inspector warns her that the place is bugged and that the recording will be used against the actors at their trial. The actors resume acting Macbeth, although now they say all of their lines in Dogg. The phone rings, and the inspector answers it. His partner outside says that they cannot understand the words on the recording. The inspector is flustered and gets more so as the actors continue acting in Dogg, while Easy and some of the actors build steps on the stage, talking in Dogg as they work. The inspector finally blows up and calls in other policemen, who use the building materials to start walling up the stage—hiding the actors from the audience. The phone rings, and Easy answers it. As he talks into the mouthpiece to somebody, his language slowly changes from Dogg back into English. His last line is completely in English, and he says that it has been a funny week but that he expects he will be back by Tuesday.