Travesties concerns a number of possible travesties (or burlesques), including one by the playwright. First is the artistic philosophy of Tzara, who, like his fellow practitioners of Dada, tries to reverse all the bourgeois notions of the proper role of art and literature; Tzara “composes” a poem by cutting out all the words from a Shakespearean sonnet, putting them in a hat, and pulling them out at random. Another candidate for travesty status is Joyce, who, his genius as a writer notwithstanding, seems to have behaved in a spiteful and money-grubbing way toward someone he might well have thanked. Lenin’s travesty could well be his fleeing his scholarly pursuits in Zurich to lead a revolution that would end with the deaths of millions under Joseph Stalin. Henry Carr, the British consul in Zurich, gets involved in an undignified squabble with Joyce over some theater tickets and a pair of pants, and the case goes to court. The most likely travesty, however, may be the play itself, with Stoppard poking fun at his story, told from the point of view of an aged and confused Carr, about these unlikely characters coming together in Zurich, a conservative and conventional town. This travesty, then, would be Stoppard’s burlesque version of events, his focus on the grotesque in a story that is essentially true in its basic details.
Tzara, Joyce, and Lenin were all, in fact, residing in Zurich at about the same time and must have used the Zurich public library. Stoppard discovered that Joyce, on the lookout for a profit, produced an English-language version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and that Carr was persuaded to play the part of Algernon, with some success. Joyce and Carr had a dispute over some tickets that Carr had been given to sell and over Carr’s purchase of a pair of pants to wear as part of his costume. Joyce paid...
(The entire section is 769 words.)