Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead | Study Guide

Tom Stoppard

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Tom Stoppard | Biography


Early Life

Tom Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler on July 3, 1937, in Zlín, in what was Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Stoppard's 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.

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 he became a drama critic in London.


During his time as a drama critic, Stoppard began writing his own plays for the stage, television, and radio. His first play was A Walk on the Water (1960), but he did not achieve success until Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead made its debut in 1966 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a large arts festival featuring a wide variety of entertainment. The play was then staged in London and New York and won a number of awards, establishing Stoppard as an important new playwright. In 1990 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was turned into a movie starring Richard Dreyfuss, Gary Oldman, and Tim Roth. Stoppard has won several Tony Awards for his plays and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on Shakespeare in Love (1998). 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. Critics claim that the witty verbal gymnastics of his characters seem flippant and lack the serious tone associated with deeper thinking. Critic Frank Marcus claims, "The effect is that of a brilliant fireworks display, which leaves little trace when the colour, sound and smoke have faded into the night." However, it may be more likely that Stoppard's unconventional path to becoming a playwright has allowed him a different perspective and contributed to his distinct style. His use of humor is often layered with distinctly serious discussions of philosophy, art, science, and mathematics.

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