Tom Stoppard Dogg's... & Cahoot's...

by Tom Stoppard

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Critical Overview

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Stoppard's quirky Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth has an even more quirky creation history. The play began as a one-act play, entitled Dogg's Our Pet, which was performed in 1971 in London. In 1976, Stoppard wrote a different play, The 15 Minute Dogg's Troupe Hamlet. In 1979, this play was combined with Dogg's Our Pet, and the two plays were revised to create Dogg's Hamlet. In the same year, Dogg's Hamlet was combined with Cahoot's Macbeth, and the two have usually been performed together ever since.

Critical reaction to this set of plays has generally been mixed. In 1979, Brendan Gill noted in the New Yorker that Stoppard is an "ingenious author'' and that the audience is ‘‘amused and instructed.’’ However, he also stated that the plays lack substance: "The Master Juggler has left us nothing to do but laugh, and that is a welcome but insufficient activity.’’ In a 1980 review in the Theatre Journal, however, Gerlad M. Berkowitz found little fault with the two plays, calling the first ‘‘a delightful curtain-raiser’’ and commenting that the second demonstrates that ‘‘an artist's imagination is itself his greatest weapon against tyranny.’’

Critics have generally commented on the language of the plays. Wrote Felicia Hardison Londré in her 1993 entry on Stoppard for Contemporary Dramatists: ‘‘Stoppard makes fun of the arbitrariness of language by having some of his characters speak Dogg's language, which is composed of English words used to mean different things.’’ On a similar note, in her 1993 essay, ‘‘Stoppard's Theatre of Unknowing,'' Mary A. Doll noted that the two plays juxtapose "traditional theatre with its expectations of top-down authority and elevated blank verse alongside post-Absurdist theatre with its confusion in rank ordering and idiomatic speech.’’ In other words, Shakespeare, traditional theater that is considered high-brow for its formal conventions, is in this set of plays performed alongside more modern theater—which does not always adhere to these traditional artistic conventions.

When discussing Cahoot's Macbeth, most critics have noted Stoppard's obvious political commentary. Stated Benedict Nightingale, in his 1979 review for the New Statesman, Cahoot's Macbeth is ‘‘fresh evidence that its author is becoming a sort of one-man Amnesty International, with a special interest in his native Czechoslovakia.’’ Still, as in other mixed reviews, Nightingale noted that the play degrades into a sort of ‘‘nuthouse lingo.’’ Similarly, in her 1999 chapter on Stoppard's minor stage plays in Twayne's English Authors Series Online, Susan Rusinko noted that in both plays "plot mechanisms and ideas vie equally with each other for audience attention, sometimes distractingly.

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Essays and Criticism