Critical Context

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Jumpers demonstrates several strong affinities with Tom Stoppard’s other work. In its combination of theatrical styles it reflects both the earlier Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (pr. 1966, pb. 1967) and the later Travesties (pr. 1974, pb. 1975). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead parodies the dialogue, situations, and characters of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Luigi Pirandello; in it, the two minor figures from Hamlet (pr. c. 1600-1601) become heroes, trapped in a tragic script beyond their understanding, merely waiting, like the two tramps in Beckett’s En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954), for their cues. In Travesties Stoppard depicts the dream world of Henry Carr, a character who fantasizes about his relationships with famous personages. Henry, like George Moore, has long, rambling, incoherent speeches; his thoughts appear as scenes that parody a variety of literary styles, including those of Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and James Joyce. Stoppard again uses a contrast of different dramatic worlds, as he does with the detective story, the music hall, and the philosophical discussions of Jumpers; in Travesties these dramatic worlds are strictly literary and historical, and the resulting discussion has to do with art’s relationship to politics and history.

Stoppard delights in the use of the mystery plot, not only in Jumpers but also in the earlier The Real Inspector Hound (pr., pb. 1968) and After Magritte (pr. 1970, pb. 1971). The mystery seems a perfect vehicle for these verbally and visually complex plays, since both audience and characters are put in the position of figuring out explanations for events and discovering an elusive truth. In these shorter works, the mysteries are marked by their farfetched situations, bizarre clues, and outlandish alibis. Jumpers can be seen as the clearest instance of how the mystery plot may parallel a philosophical question—the human quest for truth. Stoppard’s earlier mysteries have fragile resolutions; in Jumpers the mystery remains unsolved.

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