Shipwreck marks a departure from Voyage in many ways, particularly in the use of setting. While the action in Voyage is centered in Russia, only the opening and closing scenes of Shipwreck take place in the characters' native country. For the majority of the play, the characters reside in Europe, and that displacement is central to the action of the play. If Voyage is so named for the characters' embarking on a pursuit of their ideals, then Shipwreck earns its moniker from the initial failure of those pursuits. The location (and, some might argue, the cause) of their "shipwreck" is Europe, specifically Paris.
On a political level, Paris represents a false hope and poor investment for the characters. Early in Act I, they all brim with hope about the impending Revolution in 1848. Their hope is that this revolution will spread through Germany and Poland, finally making its way to Russia. When the Second Republic (as it is called following the revolution) turns out to be more of a name change than a governmental one, the Herzens and their friends are left adrift in the violent and deadly aftermath. While Bakunin heads east in search of further revolution, the Herzens remain in France.
At this point, France also becomes the undoing of the characters' personal lives as well. In the country retreat, Natalie begins an affair with George Herwegh that ruins both of their marriages. While the poet and writer Turgenev uses the coupling as fodder for comic writing, the adultery causes all four real pain. Ogarev's wife leaves him for a painter and refuses to divorce him in another example of marital discord. Most tragically, the European retreat brings about loss of life. Belinsky dies leaving behind his wife and daughter (his son has already died). The play ends with an actual shipwreck, in which the Herzens' deaf son Kolya, his tutor, and Herzen's mother all perish. When Stoppard flashes back to the first scene, when all the characters depart for Europe, it is suffused with a dark sense of destiny and impending doom: Europe will be the place of their undoing.