Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tom Stoppard isn't who I thought he was. (A preliminary theory turns out to be, at least in part, correct)

Yesterday I wrote about TCL and Point of View.  To sum up, it seems that TCL often includes multiple perspectives on the same event, in the form of different characters seeing their own version of the same event, or of a single character trying to see all possible interpretations of a specific event.

(A note to my friend S---: I think I answered a question about perspective and Point of View when you asked one about empathy.  Those are different things, aren't they?)

Yesterday evening, long after my blog post, I was having a shower and was struck (often it is in the shower that I am struck) with this question: What about Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead ? This 1967 play is a prominent feature of the British literary canon.  I studied the play as an undergraduate, in a course about British postmodern literature.  It seems impossible to get more British than a canonical author like Stoppard.

The play lifts a one-liner about two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet ("Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead") and builds a play around who these characters were, and how it was they wound up dead.  Stoppard's play assumes we know Shakespeare's, and parts of the play we know as Hamlet get repeated in it, as we see the same events, but from Rosencrantz and Guildentsern's perspectives.  In other words, the play does exactly what I contend TCL does: it presents multiple perspectives on a single event.

How happy am I then, to discover this morning that Stoppard, though lauded (Knighted!) for his work as a British author, is clearly also a CCK and a TCK (and an exile/ immigrant too).  To quote Lary Opitz, "Stoppard was born Tom Straussler in Zlìn, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) on July 3, 1937. When he was two years old, his family fled from the Nazis to Singapore where his father, a company physician, was killed at the start of World War II. Stoppard and his mother lived in India for the duration of the war and then moved to England in 1946. There she wed Major Kenneth Stoppard of the British Army. Tom assumed his stepfather's surname."

Here's an example of how one might use observation of literary tropes and devices (in this case a use of multiple Point of View in a way that seems to be specific to TCL) to fingerprint  a work (in this case, seeing that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead might not actually be as British in its tropes as I had previously assumed).

Stoppard: I happily fingerprint him as a Third Culture Author.  Whoopee!
(Promotional image from The New American Shakespeare Tavern's 2012-2103 season)

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