Tom Stoppard (LIT4376.01)

Maya Cantu

Exemplified by works like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Travesties, and Arcadia, the plays of Tom Stoppard perform dazzling high-wire acts of language and theatricality. Jumping between literary erudition and vaudevillian hijinks, Stoppard’s plays use meticulous technical precision to chart the enigmas of the brain and the chaos of the heart. As the playwright commented, “Plays are the people who write them. Seriousness compromised by frivolity…My plays are a lot to do with the fact that I just don’t know.” In this class, we will read, contextualize and discuss over a dozen works, as we investigate the elusive paths and destinations of knowledge in Stoppard’s plays–which are famous for their literary and theatrical intertextuality, “word-playing intellectuality, audacious, paradoxical, and self-conscious theatricality, and preference for reworking pre-existing narratives” (Dennis Kennedy). Yet, for all their cerebral virtuosity, the works also contain rich emotional reserves drawing from the remarkable life of Stoppard, a Czech Jew who spent his earliest years in Singapore and India, and who transformed into the consummate charmed Englishman. Whether panoramically exploring history of the Russian Revolution in The Coast of Utopia or his own family’s Jewish history in his 2020 play Leopoldstadt, Stoppard’s plays are subtly haunted by questions of identity and (in the words of Anthony Lane), “the yearning to reach safe haven.”


Learning Outcomes:
Students will:

--Analyze Stoppard’s dramatic structure, themes, language, and techniques as both playwright and theatrical adaptor.

--Expand understanding of literary and theatrical genre, as well as the practice of intertextual allusion and pastiche.

--Explore questions about the relationship between art and personal, national, and cultural identity through an engagement with the biographical contexts informing Stoppard’s plays.

--Strengthen research, writing, critical thinking, and oral communication skills through a mix of close readings, discussions, essay assignments, and projects.


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Interested students should submit an analytical writing sample to mayacantu@bennington.edu by November XX.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
Th 8:30AM - 12:10PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: All courses , Drama , Literature , Fully In-Person
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