Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1026

Communication
Communication is the central theme of Dogg's Hamlet, and it provides a means for connecting this play to Cahoot's Macbeth. When the play begins, the schoolboys speak, using English words such as "Brick!" and "Cube," but they use them in ways that are unconventional for the presumably Englishspeaking audience. For example, when Abel tests the microphone, he says, "Breakfast, breakfast... sun—dock—trog . . .,’’ a phrase that, in English, means ‘‘Testing, testing ... one—two—three. For Stoppard's readers, he includes translations in brackets, converting these Dogg words into English. Stoppard's audience, however, does not receive these translations and so must pick up the meaning in context.

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This is also true for the character Easy, who becomes a representative for the audience. When Easy first arrives at the school to deliver building supplies and to help construct a platform for the stage, he only knows how to communicate in English. Like the audience members, who are also confused at first, Easy tries to understand what the schoolboys and Dogg, the headmaster, are saying. The schoolboys, who only understand Dogg, are equally as confused at the English. However, they have experienced at least one form of English—the Elizabethan English found in Shakespeare's plays— when practicing for their abbreviated version of Hamlet. Because of this, Baker tries to communicate with Easy at one point by quoting a line from Shakespeare: ‘‘By heaven I charge thee speak!’’ When they start building the platform, Easy is relieved to find that the schoolboys are using words in a context that he can understand—or so he thinks. When Dogg calls out "Plank!" a word that means "Ready'' in Dogg, Easy notices that Abel throws in a plank from the truck. When Dogg leaves and has Easy take over, he then naturally starts to call out the names of the building materials he needs—in English—and so is frustrated and surprised when he does not always receive what he asks for.

However, by the end of Dogg's Hamlet, Easy has picked up on Dogg and no longer speaks English, as he demonstrates when he says, ‘‘Cube ...’’ (‘‘Thank You’’) to the audience and walks off. However, even at this point, Stoppard tricks the audience somewhat, because he has Easy say"Cube'' while he is holding a cube, so the audience is left to wonder if he is speaking Dogg or English.

Censorship
In Cahoot's Macbeth, the ability to communicate in Dogg eventually becomes a tool for fighting censorship. The play is set in a woman's living room—a supposedly nonpublic location where the actors can perform their plays, without having to worry about being arrested. However, while the actors are performing their abbreviated version of Macbeth, a police inspector arrives and looks for reasons to arrest the actors and hostess. He walks around the room, saying, ‘‘Testing, testing—one, two, three ...,’’ which is, as Stoppard notes in the stage directions, an obvious sign that "the room is bugged for sound.’’ Stoppard provides other clues that the inspector is trying to set up an ambush, as when he talks to the ceiling, giving the phone number of the apartment to his partner who is recording the conversation: ‘‘Six seven eight one double one.'' Shortly after this, the phone rings, and the inspector answers it, acting like he does not know who it is: ‘‘Six seven eight one double one? Clear as a bell.'' This is an obvious test to see if the phone works so the inspector can communicate to his other officers outside, if necessary.

While the inspector acts like he is trying to hide his ambush at the beginning, as the play progresses, he becomes increasingly more vocal about the fact that he is there to arrest them for breaking the censorship rules, although he is willing to be lenient at first: ‘‘I don't want to spend all day taking statements. It's frankly not worth the candle for three years' maximum and I know you've been having a run of bad luck all round.’’ At this point, the inspector gives a laundry list of ways that artists have been persecuted: ‘‘jobs lost, children failing exams, letters undelivered, driving licenses withdrawn, passports indefinitely postponed—and nothing on paper.’’

Subversion
Later on in the same long speech about censorship, the inspector says that the police do not like Shakespeare's plays, which can have hidden meanings and be used as a protest—in the same way that Stoppard is using this play as a protest. Says the inspector: "The chief says he'd rather you stood up and said, 'There is no freedom in this country,' then there's nothing underhand and we all know where we stand.’’ However, later, the inspector lets them know what happens to people who speak out: ‘‘I arrested the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Persecuted for saying I unjustly persecuted the Committee for Free Expression, which I arrested for saying there wasn't any.’’

In the end, the actors are able to use subversive methods—the same type of subversion for which the inspector wants to arrest them—to defeat the inspector. When Easy, from the first play, arrives, he can at this point only understand Dogg, which he uses to tell them that he is delivering building materials. Says Easy, ‘‘Useless .. . useless .. . Buxtons cake hops ... artichoke almost Leamington Spa ...’’ The translation in English—‘‘Afternoon . . . afternoon . . . Buxtons blocks and that. . . lorry from Leamington Spa’’—is lost on most of the actors, who do not know how to speak Dogg. However, when Cahoot, one of the actors, comes in and hears Easy speaking in Dogg, he explains this fact to everybody, including the inspector. Pretty soon, all of the actors are speaking in Dogg, and even though the inspector knows that this is being used as a subversive language, he cannot do much about it. He and his officers are unable to understand Dogg. Says the inspector into the phone to the man recording the actors' language: "How the hell do I know? But if it's not free expression, I don't know what is!’’ In the end, the inspector cannot prosecute the actors for speaking what sounds like gibberish.

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