Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

Colonization and Independence of India
Stoppard’s play takes place during a period of intense struggle on the part of Indians to gain national independence from British Imperial rule. India was a colony of the British Empire for almost a century, from 1858–1947. The history of India during this period, therefore, is one of expansion of British power in conflict with organizations, protests, rebellion, and terrorist activism among the peoples of India. Before 1848, India had been colonized and ruled by the East India Company, but power was transferred to the British crown in 1858. In 1876, Queen Victoria of England took on the additional title of Empress of India. Rebellion on the part of the Indians against European colonization was waged off and on throughout India’s history of colonization. However, the first nationally organized Indian effort at achieving independence was formed in 1885, with the first meeting of the Indian National Congress. Nevertheless, Britain continued to expand its region of power in the area. In 1886, the British conquered Burma, which it added to its Indian territory. In 1906, the British government instituted a series of reforms ostensibly to increase Indian political influence. With the advent of World War I in 1914, many Indians willingly fought on the side of the British, with the expectation that their loyalty in war would result in further concessions of British power to Indian selfrule; the disappointment of this expectation following the war only served to spark further protests. Throughout the inter-war years, Indian resistance to British rule continued, with the Indian National Congress inspired by the leadership of Gandhi. In 1947, when the British Parliament voted in the Indian Independence Act, British rule was finally ceded to Indian self-rule.

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Religions in India
In Stoppard’s play, the Indian characters attempt to explain elements of the Hindu religion to the British characters. Das explains to Flora some of the stories and mythology of Hinduism, as well as describing to her some of the classic Indian art that illustrates these stories. The major religions of India are Muslim and Hindu. During the years of protest against British rule, particularly in the inter-war period, Indians were internally divided in their political goals along these religious lines. Gandhi worked hard to unify the two religions in the cause for independence, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Thus, when the British ceded power in 1947, India was divided into two countries— Pakistan was to be Muslim, while India (to be called the Republic of India) would be Hindu. However, the process of instituting this national division was wracked by bloody civil war between Hindus and Muslims.

Languages of India
At various points in the play, Indian characters speak to one another in Hindi. At one point, an Indian character says something to a British character in Hindi, which he completely misunderstands. With the achievement of national independence in 1947, India officially recognized 14 different languages and dialects throughout the nation, but designated Hindi as the national language, while also maintaining English as the lingua franca for government transactions.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

The two historical and geographical settings in Stoppard’s play are central to the meaning of the play. One of the settings is Jummapur, India, in 1930, during a time of active rebellion among Indian nationalists against British imperial powers. Parts of the play are also set in this exact same location, but over fifty years later, during the mid- 1980s. Throughout the play, characters refer to significant events in the history of Indian nationalist...

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