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Arcadia | Study Guide

Tom Stoppard

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Tom Stoppard | Biography


Tom Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler on July 3, 1937, in Zlín, in what was Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. His father worked for a company that was able to transfer the family to Singapore in 1939 to evade the Nazi invasion of their homeland. The family lived in Singapore until 1942 when the Japanese invaded. Young Stoppard escaped to India with his mother and siblings, while his father stayed in Singapore where he was later killed. His mother then married Kenneth Stoppard, a British military officer. In 1946 the family moved to Bristol, England, and the children took their stepfather's last name.

Tom Stoppard left school at 17 and went to work as a journalist for local newspapers. He taught himself about drama by writing theater reviews, and in the early 1960s became a drama critic in London. Stoppard's characters in Arcadia, who are both victims and perpetrators of harsh critical reviews, reflect those experiences as a critic. In fact much of the conflict and driving force of the play stems from the tension created by past and future literary reviews.

During his time as a drama critic, Stoppard started writing his own plays, including plays for television and radio. His first play was A Walk on the Water, but he did not see real success until Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead made its debut in 1966 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The play was then staged in London and New York, winning many awards and establishing Stoppard as an important new playwright. He went on to win several Tonys for his plays and an Academy Award for the screenplay Shakespeare in Love. He was knighted in 1997 for his contributions to English theater.

Despite his many accolades, some critics have accused Stoppard of being frivolous, alleging that his writing is shallow and showy because the witty verbal gymnastics of his characters seem flippant and lack the serious tone associated with deeper thinking. However, Stoppard's unconventional path to becoming a playwright has given him a different perspective and contributed to his distinct style. He uses humor and layers of paradox to explore the ideas of philosophy, art, science, and mathematics. In fact Stoppard's 1993 play Arcadia showcases his witty verbal style with its wordplay, humorous tone, and layered meaning. The play was an instant hit with critics. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "'Arcadia' is Tom Stoppard's richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio and, new for him, emotion." Arcadia has held up over time as a masterful mix of science and humanism and one of Stoppard's greatest creations.

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