Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Using the dialectical possibilities of theater to dramatize the play of ideas, Tom Stoppard has given his audiences witty debates on the place of humankind in an existentially absurd universe (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, pr. 1966, pb. 1967); on ethical relativity and moral absolutes (Jumpers, pr., pb. 1972); on art, politics, and the uses and abuses of history (Travesties, pr. 1974, pb. 1975); and on journalistic ethics (Night and Day, pr., pb. 1978). His political commitment and concern about the treatment of dissidents is also reflected in a work such as Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (pr. 1977, pb. 1978). However, except for Night and Day, which Stoppard himself has called naturalistic, these plays might be classed as primarily dramas of ideas. With them Stoppard has won critical acclaim for his wit, verbal pyrotechnics, cleverness, and sense of theater as play. When the plays have been criticized, it is usually for lack of adequate, believable characterization, especially of women. Many have seen his characters as props on which to stick ideas—clever spokespersons for alternate sides of a debate, but not believable humans in their own right. In a 1979 interview with Mel Gussow (The New York Times, July 29), Stoppard said, “I’m not a playwright who is interested in character with a capital K and psychology with a capital S—I’m a playwright interested in ideas and forced to invent...

(The entire section is 446 words.)