Happy birthday Tom Stoppard
Today is Tom Stoppard’s 75th birthday. I consider him to be one of the major British playwrights – while the post-war period saw a number of talented British playwrights (a very incomplete list: Alan Ayckbourn, Noël Coward, Caryl Churchill, Pam Gems, Hanif Kureishi, Mike Leigh, Harold Pinter, Dennis Potter, J. B. Priestly), Tom Stoppard is by far my favorite recent British playwright.
Tom Stoppard’s plays – which while always entertaining, are certainly full of word-play and literary references – are a testament to tradition of excellent writing outside the traditional educational stream. Stoppard, like Shakespeare and several Nobel Prize literature prize winners (including Joseph Brodsky, Winston Churchill, William Faulkner, Harry Edmund Martinson, George Bernard Shaw, and José Saramago) does not have a college degree. Instead, Stoppard received his training as a writer working as a journalist.
Works by Stoppard such as Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead, Jumpers (which seems to me to be a direct descendent of Aristophanes’s The Clouds), Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, Arcadia, and The Coast of Utopia trilogy show a stunning range of knowledge. Arcadia, in particular, is in the running as the single best English language play since Waiting for Godot.
Not every production by Tom Stoppard is a complete hit (Stoppard has been called in more than once to rescue mediocre Hollywood scripts, such as Shakespeare in Love), but by-and-large, his output has been of amazingly high quality.