Travesties represents one of Tom Stoppard’s most intricate and complex statements on the nature of art in society. Stoppard takes an obscure historical incident and turns it into an absurdist circus: Sections of dialogue repeat themselves, the style switches to and from the style of The Importance of Being Earnest, and some scenes are performed in song or limerick form. At times it is akin to the Dada anti-art to which Tzara so dearly clings, while at others it burns with the political fire of a speech by Lenin. Through it all, Stoppard presents an important dichotomy in the philosophy of art: its potential for both political propaganda and simple entertainment.
Key themes in the play are revolution and art’s role in revolution. Lenin is formulating his ideas and philosophies for the coming socialist revolution in Russia. While he does not figure prominently into the main action of the play, he looms large as a figure who will change the world. His speech about art in act 2 outlines his artistic philosophies, particularly art’s subservient role in society. He believes that art should be used as a tool of political systems, rather than as a symptom of them. He also justifies, in his correspondence with Gorky, the state’s power over the artist.
Tzara was one of the founders of Dada at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1917. Along with Hugo Ball, Tzara helped formulate Dada’s founding principles as an anti-art movement,...
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