Challenging Order and Intellect

Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed Oct. 28 2023.

On October 24, CWLC President Mooréa G. presented on British playwright and author Tom Stoppard. Mooréa has been a member for more than 5 years and has previously presented on Stephan Stephansson and J.K. Rowling. She has served as Social Chair and as Vice President prior to her current role as President.

Tom Stoppard is a British author, best known as a playwright. His work often relies on clever wordplay. The plots and dialog are not difficult to follow but challenge the listener to ask questions and to take exception to the world order. Humor is used to offset some very dark subjects.

Mr. Stoppard is a prolific artist, and Mooréa chose to discuss three of his works (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Arcadia; and Leopoldstadt) to give the audience a sense of his wit and world view over almost 60 years.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was first performed in 1966. It highlights two minor characters from Hamlet, who are in many ways featureless and interchangeable. Mooréa gave several readings from this work that showed how Stoppard seamlessly moves the dialog from modern English to the Shakespearean lines. Clever but silly wordplay between the title characters almost gives them personality and shows up their lack of agency in the plot.

Arcadia (1993) is set around a family dining table in a British estate in two time periods: the early 19th and late 20th centuries. The early 18th century plot has a precocious teenager filled with 20th century ideas about science, her 22 year old tutor who is having an affair with the wife of one of the guests (this lady is also Lord Byron’s lover (what woman wasn’t?)), and fellow residents. The plot is second to the clever discussions between these unlikely housemates.

Leopoldstadt was first performed in 2020; it was also performed in 2022 for Holocaust Memorial Day. The play is semi-autobiographical, presenting generations of a Jewish family set in a bourgeois apartment in Vienna. Like Stoppard’s own family, some retain their Jewish faith and traditions, others are secular or converts. In some ways, this play is Stoppard’s search for his own Jewish heritage.

With 29 characters set in several time periods, the play is dense and difficult to follow. The main character, Leopold/Leonard has similarities to Stoppard. The play’s emphasis on unknown family is intended to show how we are responsible for even things we do not know.

Thank-you Mooréa for giving us a taste of this challenging author. Join us next week when we host Calgary’s poet laureate, Wakefield Brewster.

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