Tom Stoppard Biography
Tom Stoppard is one smart chap. All of his critically acclaimed, award-winning plays reveal a ferocious intelligence that forms the bedrock of his work. Despite having no formal education, Stoppard has written plays that have been lauded for their whip-smart dialogue and deep thought. His instant classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead upends the world of Hamlet by offering an absurd take on two relatively minor characters from the play. Shakespeare was also the subject for his charming historical fiction screenplay Shakespeare in Love. Stoppard’s work frequently explores complex notions of time and reality. The era-hopping Arcadia is an example of the former, while his play-within-a-play The Real Inspector Hound typifies the latter.
Facts and Trivia
- Stoppard was born Tomas Straussler. He gained the surname of Stoppard as a boy when his mother remarried.
- Stoppard had a multicultural childhood. A Czechoslovakian Jew, he relocated with his family to Singapore for a time, and he was later educated in England.
- As a young man working at the Bristol Old Vic, Stoppard crossed paths with two men who would also go on to achieve great success: director John Boorman and acting legend Peter O’Toole.
- For nearly twenty-five years, the Tom Stoppard Prize has been awarded to promising Czechoslovakian playwrights.
- Stoppard not only writes plays but translates them as well. He has penned translations of works by Vaclav Havel and Luigi Pirandello.
Tomas Straussler was born on July 3, 1937, in the town of Zlin, Czechoslovakia, since renamed Gottwaldov. He was the youngest of two sons of a physician, Eugene Straussler, and his wife, Martha. Stoppard’s parents were Jewish, although Stoppard did not know this until much later in life. Their religious background caused the family to move to Singapore in early 1939, on the eve of the German invasion of their homeland. In 1942, all but the father moved again, to India, just before the Japanese invasion, in which Dr. Straussler was killed. In 1946, Martha Straussler married Kenneth Stoppard, a major in the British army who was stationed in India. Both children took their stepfather’s name when the family moved to England later that year. Demobilized, Kenneth Stoppard prospered as a machine-tool salesperson.
Despite this globe-trotting background—in one interview he called himself “a bounced Czech”—Stoppard has spoken and written in English since the age of five. His first school in Darjeeling, India, was an English-language, American-run institution. He attended preparatory schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, leaving at the age of seventeen after having completed his “A” levels. In 1954, he began working as a local journalist in Bristol, rejoicing in the life of a newspaper reporter for the next six years. He did not consider becoming a playwright until the late 1950’s, when a new breed of English dramatists, led by John Osborne and Arnold Wesker, asserted themselves on the London stage. Simultaneously, a new breed of actors emerged, prominent among them Peter O’Toole, whose blazing performances for the Bristol Old Vic repertory company definitively turned Stoppard to the theater.
In July, 1960, Stoppard wrote The Gamblers—a one-act clumsily derived from Beckett’s En attendant Godot (pb. 1952, pr. 1953; Waiting for Godot, 1954)—which was unsuccessfully staged in Bristol in 1965. Later in 1960, he composed his first full-length play, A Walk on the Water. Considerably rewritten and retitled Enter a Free Man, it was staged in London in 1968 after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead had established Stoppard as a major playwright. In 1962, Stoppard moved to a London suburb and became the drama critic of a new magazine, Scene, which folded after eight months. Fortunately, he had begun by then a steady career as a writer of radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
With the aid of a Ford Foundation grant, he wrote, in 1964, a one-act version of Rosencrantz and...
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