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.

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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Setting 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 struggles. The other setting is in the private garden of an English woman in London. Setting is central to the structure and staging of the...

(This entire section contains 538 words.)

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play as well, since the two main historical/geographic sets are often juxtaposed almost simultaneously. The stage is set so that the play unfolds as a series of ‘‘flashbacks’’ from the 1980s to 1930. Dialogue and scenes between characters in the 1980s often leads in to, is juxtaposed against, or even interspersed with, dialogue and scenes between characters in 1930.

Dialogue Stoppard employs a variety of dialogue techniques in this play. Each scene is based primarily on dialogue between two characters, one Indian, and one English: Flora and Das, Mrs. Swan and Anish, Pike and Dilip—as well as between the two English characters Pike and Mrs. Swan. Some of the dialogue, however, is presented as Mrs. Swan, in England in the 1980s, reads various letters Flora wrote her from India in 1930. For example, the play opens with Flora sitting on a train; Flora’s words open the play, but they are presented on stage as the character of Flora quoting from her own letter to her sister, even though she is not shown actually writing the letter during this sequence. In a film, the quotation of a letter over the action of the character who has written the letter would be presented as a ‘‘voice-over.’’ Stoppard uses clever staging techniques to achieve on the live stage an effect similar to that of the cinematic voice-over. In other scenes, a character’s voice is actually prerecorded, and played over the action to create an effect closer to the cinematic voice-over. Stoppard also employs unique staging of dialogue during scenes in which characters in a 1980s setting seem to be in direct dialogue with characters in a ‘‘flashback’’ 1930 setting. In other scenes, the dialogue of Pike, the literary scholar who is researching Flora’s stay in India, functions as a series of ‘‘footnotes’’ to the action in a flashback. In these scenes, the action and dialogue in a 1930 setting unfolds while Pike interjects with a series of facts or explanations about Flora’s life that are meant to explain what is transpiring in the ‘‘flashback.’’

Allusions Stoppard’s characters make reference to many historically real literary and artistic figures and works of literature and art. The list of writers includes H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion), Robert Browning, Tennyson, Dickens (Oliver Twist),Macaulay (Lays of Ancient Rome),Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), E. M. Forster (A Passage to India), Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling (‘‘Gunga Din’’), Ovid, and Virgil. A familiarity with these writers and their works provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the significance of these references to central themes of Stoppard’s play..

Media Adaptations

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Indian Ink is adapted from Stoppard’s original radio play In the Native State, which was broadcast by the BBC in 1991.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Billington, Michael, ‘‘Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon,’’ in Critical Essays on Tom Stoppard, edited by Anthony Jenkins, G. K. Hall, 1990, pp. 35–43, p. 38–39.

Doll, Mary A., ‘‘Stoppard’s Theatre of Unknowing,’’ in British and Irish Drama Since 1960, edited by James Acheson, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1993, pp. 117–29.

Gussow, Mel, ‘‘Happiness, Chaos and Tom Stoppard,’’ in American Theater, Vol. 12, No. 10, December, 1995.

Kaplan, Laurie, ‘‘In the Native State/ Indian Ink: Footnoting the Footnotes on Empire,’’ in Modern Drama, Vol. 41, Issue 3, Fall, 1998.

Stoppard, Tom, Conversations with Stoppard, Grove Press, 1995, pp. 1–9, 117–130.

Wright, Anne, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13: British Dramatists Since World War II, edited by Stanley Weintraub, Gale, 1982, pp. 482–500.

Further Reading Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot, Grove, 1954. This play is one of Beckett’s most well-known plays. Beckett is considered by many to be the master of the theater of the absurd. Stoppard has been compared many times in style and approach to Beckett.

Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Signet Classic, 1998. Stoppard’s famous play Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead is based on two minor characters within this famous Shakespeare tragedy.

Shaw, George Bernard, Candida, Penguin, 1964. Candida is a masterpiece by the famous British playwright. Stoppard’s concern for humanistic themes has often been compared to that of Shaw’s.

Stoppard, Tom, Tom Stoppard in Conversation, University of Michigan Press, 1994. This book is an interesting and illuminating collection of interviews with Stoppard.

Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Ernest, Avon, 1965. The Importance of Being Ernest is a widely popular play by the famous nineteenth-century playwright. Stoppard has been likened to Wilde for their mutual use of a quick and acerbic wit.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide