Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 301

Almost a decade before he wrote Travesties, Stoppard achieved major theatrical success with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (pr. 1966), raising existential questions about taking action as he focused on the two young men whom Hamlet sends to their deaths in William Shakespeare’s play. Jumpers (pr., pb. 1972) carried philosophical arguments further as Stoppard’s Professor George Moore twists the logical system of the real G. E. Moore while practicing for a debate that may secure for him a university chair. In a more extreme juxtaposition of diverse elements than that in Travesties, Moore’s wife verges on a breakdown as she watches a moon landing, sings, and is surrounded by a troupe of acrobats celebrating a radical political victory.

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In The Real Inspector Hound (pr., pb. 1968) Stoppard explored the problem of reality’s relation to fiction by pulling drama critics into the play they are reviewing. The mystery, a parody of Agatha Christie, is solved after the critics become victims. In Hapgood (pr., pb. 1988), a confusing tale of spy and counterspy, he again mixed an intellectual debate (on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle) with parody.

Occasionally, Stoppard has written more naturalistically, as in Night and Day (pr., pb. 1978), in which he examines journalistic ethics against an African setting, or The Real Thing (pr., pb. 1982), where he debates the nature of love. Generally, however, Stoppard seems to prefer to mix intellectual references to literature, philosophy, and art with mechanically controlled plays that are based on some trick—as in Travesties, where everything is filtered through Old Carr’s mind. Some critics have seen such devices as brilliant, while others have complained of the lack of plot and of indulgence in words and monologues for their own sake. All see Stoppard as a master of ideas who presents an intellectual challenge to his audiences.

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Critical Evaluation