Tom Stoppard

Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler; 3 July 1937) is a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter.[1] He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, Travesties, The Invention of Love, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House, and Shakespeare in Love, and has received an Academy Award and four Tony Awards.[2] His work covers the themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom, often delving into the deeper philosophical thematics of society. Stoppard has been a key playwright of the National Theatre and is one of the most internationally performed dramatists of his generation.[3] In 2008, The Daily Telegraph ranked him number 11 in their list of the "100 most powerful people in British culture".[4]

Sir Tom Stoppard

Stoppard at a reception in Russia in 2007
BornTomáš Straussler
(1937-07-03) 3 July 1937
Zlín, Czechoslovakia
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter
EducationPocklington School, Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling
GenreDramatic comedy
Children4, including Ed Stoppard

Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard left as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946, having spent the three years prior (1943–1946) in a boarding school in Darjeeling in the Indian Himalayas. After being educated at schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright.

It was announced in June 2019 that he had written a new play, Leopoldstadt, set in the Jewish community of early 20th Century Vienna, which will premiere in January 2020 at Wyndham's Theatre with Patrick Marber directing.[5]

Life and career

Early years

Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler, in Zlín, a city dominated by the shoe manufacturing industry, in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. He is the son of Martha Becková and Eugen Straussler, a doctor employed by the Bata shoe company. His parents were non-observant Jews,[6] members of a long-established community. Just before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the town's patron, Jan Antonín Baťa, transferred his Jewish employees, mostly physicians, to branches of his firm outside Europe.[7][8] On 15 March 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Straussler family fled to Singapore, where Bata had a factory.

Before the Japanese occupation of Singapore (February 1942), Stoppard, his brother, and their mother were sent on to Australia. Stoppard's father remained in Singapore as a British army volunteer, knowing that, as a doctor, he would be needed in its defence.[6] Stoppard was four years old when his father died.[9] In the book Tom Stoppard in Conversation, Stoppard tells how his father died in Japanese captivity, a prisoner of war[10][11] but has said that he subsequently discovered that Straussler was reported to have drowned on board a ship bombed by Japanese forces whilst trying to flee Singapore in 1942.[6]

In 1941, when Tomas was five, the three were evacuated to Darjeeling, India. The boys attended Mount Hermon School, an American multi-racial school,[10] where Tomas became Tom and his brother Petr became Peter.

In 1945, his mother, Martha, married British army major Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and, in 1946, moved the family to England.[1] Stoppard's stepfather believed strongly that "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life" —a quote from Cecil Rhodes —telling his 9-year-old stepson: "Don't you realise that I made you British?"[12] setting up Stoppard's desire as a child to become "an honorary Englishman". "I fairly often find I'm with people who forget I don't quite belong in the world we're in", he says. "I find I put a foot wrong—it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history—and suddenly I'm there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket." This is reflected in his characters, he notes, who are "constantly being addressed by the wrong name, with jokes and false trails to do with the confusion of having two names".[12] Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in East Riding, Yorkshire, which he hated.[11]

Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for the Western Daily Press in Bristol, never receiving a university education.[11] Years later, he came to regret not going to university, but at the time he loved his work as a journalist and felt passionately about his career.[11] He worked at the paper from 1954 until 1958, when the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humor columnist, and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theatre. At the Bristol Old Vic, at the time a well-regarded regional repertory company, Stoppard formed friendships with director John Boorman and actor Peter O'Toole early in their careers. In Bristol, he became known more for his strained attempts at humour and unstylish clothes than for his writing.[1]


Stoppard wrote short radio plays in 1953–54 and by 1960 he had completed his first stage play, A Walk on the Water, which was later re-titled Enter a Free Man (1968).[11] He noted that the work owed much to Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Within a week after sending A Walk on the Water to an agent, Stoppard received his version of the "Hollywood-style telegrams that change struggling young artists' lives." His first play was optioned, staged in Hamburg, then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963.[1] From September 1962 until April 1963, Stoppard worked in London as a drama critic for Scene magazine, writing reviews and interviews both under his name and the pseudonym William Boot (taken from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop). In 1964, a Ford Foundation grant enabled Stoppard to spend 5 months writing in a Berlin mansion, emerging with a one-act play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, which later evolved into his Tony-winning play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.[1] In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theatre, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966). On 11 April 1967 – following acclaim at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival – the opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic made Stoppard an overnight success. Jumpers (1972) places a professor of moral philosophy in a murder mystery thriller alongside a slew of radical gymnasts, and Travesties (1974) explored the 'Wildean' possibilities arising from the fact that Vladimir Lenin, James Joyce, and Tristan Tzara had all been in Zurich during the First World War.[3] In his early years, he also wrote extensively for BBC radio, often introducing surrealist themes. He has also adapted many of his stage works for radio, film and television winning extensive awards and honours from the start of his career. His latest original radio production, Darkside (2013), has been written for BBC Radio 2 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's album, The Dark Side of the Moon.[13]

Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966), set in contemporary London. Its cast includes the 18th-century figure of the dandified Malquist and his ineffectual Boswell, Moon, and also cowboys, a lion (banned from the Ritz) and a donkey-borne Irishman claiming to be the Risen Christ.

In the 1980s, in addition to writing his own works, Stoppard translated many plays into English, including works by Sławomir Mrożek, Johann Nestroy, Arthur Schnitzler, and Václav Havel. It was at this time that Stoppard became influenced by the works of Polish and Czech absurdists. He has been co-opted into the Outrapo group, a far-from-serious French movement to improve actors' stage technique through science.[14]

Stoppard has also co-written screenplays including Shakespeare in Love and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spielberg states that though Stoppard was uncredited, "he was responsible for almost every line of dialogue in the film".[15] Stoppard also worked on Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, though again Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role.[16][17] He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow.[18]

In 2008, Stoppard was voted number 76 on the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.

Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch.[19] He is also a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres.[20]

In July 2013 Stoppard was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for "determination to tell things as they are."[21]

Stoppard was appointed president of the London Library in 2002 and Vice-President in 2017 following the election of Sir Tim Rice as President..[22]

In July 2017, Stoppard was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (HonFBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[23]

Stoppard was appointed Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, St Catherine’s College, Oxford, for the academic year 2017–2018.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966–67) was Stoppard's first major play to gain recognition. The story of Hamlet, as told from the viewpoint of two courtiers echoes Beckett in its double act repartee, existential themes and language play.[3] "Stoppardian" became a term describing works using wit and comedy while addressing philosophical concepts.[3] Critic Dennis Kennedy notes "It established several characteristics of Stoppard's dramaturgy: his word-playing intellectuality, audacious, paradoxical, and self-conscious theatricality, and preference for reworking pre-existing narratives... Stoppard's plays have been sometimes dismissed as pieces of clever showmanship, lacking in substance, social commitment, or emotional weight. His theatrical surfaces serve to conceal rather than reveal their author's views, and his fondness for towers of paradox spirals away from social comment. This is seen most clearly in his comedies The Real Inspector Hound (1968) and After Magritte (1970), which create their humour through highly formal devices of reframing and juxtaposition."[3] Stoppard himself went so far as to declare "I must stop compromising my plays with this whiff of social application. They must be entirely untouched by any suspicion of usefulness."[1] He acknowledges that he started off "as a language nerd", primarily enjoying linguistic and ideological playfulness, feeling early in his career that journalism was far better suited for presaging political change, than playwriting.[11]

The accusations of favouring intellectuality over political commitment or commentary were met with a change of tack, as Stoppard produced increasingly socially engaged work.[3] From 1977, he became personally involved with human-rights issues, in particular with the situation of political dissidents in Central and Eastern Europe. In February 1977, he visited the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries with a member of Amnesty International.[1] In June, Stoppard met Vladimir Bukovsky in London and travelled to Czechoslovakia (then under communist control), where he met dissident playwright and future president Václav Havel, whose writing he greatly admires.[1][11] Stoppard became involved with Index on Censorship, Amnesty International, and the Committee Against Psychiatric Abuse and wrote various newspaper articles and letters about human rights. He was also instrumental in translating Havel's works into English. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), 'a play for actors and orchestra' was based on a request by composer André Previn; inspired by a meeting with a Russian exile. This play as well as Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979), The Coast of Utopia (2002), Rock 'n' Roll (2006), and two works for television Professional Foul (1977) and Squaring the Circle (1984) all concern themes of censorship, rights abuses, and state repression.[3]

Stoppard's later works have sought greater inter-personal depths, whilst maintaining their intellectual playfulness. Stoppard acknowledges that around 1982 he moved away from the "argumentative" works and more towards plays of the heart, as he became "less shy" about emotional openness. Discussing the later integration of heart and mind in his work, he commented "I think I was too concerned when I set off, to have a firework go off every few seconds... I think I was always looking for the entertainer in myself and I seem to be able to entertain through manipulating language... [but] it's really about human beings, it's not really about language at all." The Real Thing (1982) uses a meta-theatrical structure to explore the suffering that adultery can produce and The Invention of Love (1997) also investigates the pain of passion. Arcadia (1993) explores the meeting of chaos theory, historiography, and landscape gardening.[3] He was inspired by a Trevor Nunn production of Gorky's Summerfolk to write a trilogy of "human" plays: The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage, 2002).[11]

Stoppard has commented that he loves the medium of theatre for how 'adjustable' it is at every point, how unfrozen it is, continuously growing and developing through each rehearsal, free from the text. His experience of writing for film is similar, offering the liberating opportunity to 'play God', in control of creative reality. It often takes four to five years from the first idea of a play to staging, taking pains to be as profoundly accurate in his research as he can be.[11]

Personal life

Stoppard has been married three times. His first marriage was to Josie Ingle (1965–1972), a nurse;[24] his second marriage was to Miriam Stern (1972–92), whom he left to begin a relationship with actress Felicity Kendal.[25][26] He has two sons from each of his first two marriages: Oliver Stoppard, Barnaby Stoppard, the actor Ed Stoppard, and Will Stoppard, who is married to violinist Linzi Stoppard.[26] In 2014 he married Sabrina Guinness.[27]

Stoppard's mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and neither brother knew what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia.[28] In the early 1990s, with the fall of communism, Stoppard found out that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in Terezin, Auschwitz and other camps, along with three of his mother's sisters. In 1998, following the deaths of his parents he returned to Zlín for the first time in over 50 years.[11] He has expressed grief both for a lost father and a missing past, but he has no sense of being a survivor, at whatever remove. "I feel incredibly lucky not to have had to survive or die. It's a conspicuous part of what might be termed a charmed life."[12]

In 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher's election, Stoppard noted to Paul Delaney: "I'm a conservative with a small c. I am a conservative in politics, literature, education and theatre."[29] In 2007, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian".[30] The Tom Stoppard Prize (Czech: Cena Toma Stopparda) was created in 1983 under the Charter 77 Foundation and is awarded to authors of Czech origin.[31]

Stoppard, Kevin Spacey, Jude Law, and others, joined protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in March 2011, showing their support for the Belarusian democracy movement.[32]

In 2014, Stoppard publicly backed "Hacked Off" and its campaign towards press self-regulation by "safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."[33]

Stoppard sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill, and a bronze head is now in public collection, situated with the Stoppard papers in the reading room of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.[34] The terracotta remains in the collection of the artist in London.[35] The correspondence file relating to the Stoppard bust is held in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.[36]

Stoppard also sat for the sculptor and friend Angela Conner, and his bronze portrait bust is on display in the grounds of Chatsworth House.


The papers of Tom Stoppard are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The archive was first established by Stoppard in 1991 and continues to grow. The collection consists of typescript and handwritten drafts, revision pages, outlines, and notes; production material, including cast lists, set drawings, schedules, and photographs; theatre programs; posters; advertisements; clippings; page and galley proofs; dust jackets; correspondence; legal documents and financial papers, including passports, contracts, and royalty and account statements; itineraries; appointment books and diary sheets; photographs; sheet music; sound recordings; a scrapbook; artwork; minutes of meetings; and publications.[37]

Selected awards and honours



Published works

  • 1966: Lord Malquist and Mr Moon
Original works for radio
Television plays
  • A Separate Peace transmitted August 1966[53]
  • Teeth
  • Another Moon Called Earth (containing some dialogue and situations later incorporated into Jumpers)
  • Neutral Ground (a loose adaptation of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
  • Professional Foul
  • Squaring the Circle
Film and television adaptation of plays and books


  1. Reiter, Amy (13 November 2001). "Tom Stoppard". Salon. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
  2. "Stoppard play sweeps Tony awards". BBC News. 11 June 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
  3. "Stoppard, Tom" The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance. Edited by Dennis Kennedy. Oxford University Press Inc.
  4. "The 100 most powerful people in British culture". The Daily Telegraph. 9 November 2016.
  5. "Jewish district inspires Tom Stoppard in 'personal' new play". The Guardian. 26 June 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  6. Moss, Stephen (22 June 2002). "And now, the real thing". 'The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  7. Theresienstadt memorial archive Tom Stoppard Discloses his Past
  8. "And now the real thing" The Guardian, 22 June 2002. Retrieved 10 October 2010
  9. Bloom, p.13
  10. Tom Stoppard, Paul Delaney (1994). Tom Stoppard in Conversation, p. 91, University of Michigan Press
  11. BBC John Tusa Interview (Audio 43 mins). Transcript
  12. "You can't help being what you write". The Guardian, 6 September 2008
  13. "Tom Stoppard's Dark Side comes to BBC Radio 2". Tuppence Magazine. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  14. von Bariter, Milie. "L'acteur cérébral". Contrainte du moment. Outrapo. Retrieved 6 September 2008.
  15. "Empire: Features". Empire. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  16. TimeOut New York interview
  17. Rolling Stone magazine article. Retrieved 19 February 2010
  18. "Get me Tom Stoppard". The Guardian 30 November 1999. Retrieved 22 October 2010
  19. Tom Stoppard. "ONLINE ONLY: Speech at the Standpoint Launch". Standpoint. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 January 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. "Sir Tom Stoppard wins annual Pen Pinter prize". BBC. 31 July 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  22. artonezero. "Patrons and Presidents". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  23. "Elections to the British Academy celebrate the diversity of UK research". 21 July 2017.
  24. Stade, George and Karen Karbiener (2009). Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Volume 2. New York: Infobase Publishing. pp. 467–69. ISBN 0816073856. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  25. Kelly 2001, pp. 33–34.
  26. Kelly 2001, pp. 242–243.
  27. Griffiths, Charlotte (7 June 2014). "Tom and 'Goldilocks' tie knot – for real this time!". Daily Mail. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  28. Theresienstadt memorial archive websiteTom Stoppard Discloses his Past
  29. Kelly 2001, p. 151.
  30. "Theater: Elitist, Moi?". Time. 25 October 2007.
  31. "Cenu Toma Stopparda získala Linhartová za knihu, která vznikala 40 let". Hospodářské noviny (in Czech). 26 May 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  32. Against the Law: Jude joins Kevin Spacey on street protest against brutal Belarus regime of 'Europe's last dictator'. Daily Mail. 29 March 2011
  33. Georg Szalai (18 March 2014). "Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfonso Cuaron, Maggie Smith Back U.K. Press Regulation". The Hollywood Reporter.
  34. "Inventory of Tom Stoppard papers and location of bronze head". Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  35. "image of Stoppard bust by sculptor Alan Thornhill". Archived from the original on 29 June 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  36. "HMI Archive". Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  37. "Tom Stoppard: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  38. Prix Italia, Winners 1949 – 2010, RAI Archived 22 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  39. "Berlinale: 1999 Prize Winners". Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  40. "2015 PEN Literary Gala & Free Expression Awards".
  41. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  42. Alison Flood (8 November 2017). "Tom Stoppard is 'bashful' winner of lifetime achievement award". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  43. "No. 47418". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1977. p. 9.
  44. "No. 54794". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1997. p. 2.
  45. "On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  46. "No. 55859". The London Gazette. 26 May 2000. p. 5821.
  47. L
  48. "Artist Descending a Staircase". Retrieved 8 July 2009.
  49. Bassett, Kate (9 May 2004). "Madness – it's just another act". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  50. "The Laws of War at The Royal Court Theatre". Royal Court Theatre. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  51. "Alan Howard Reads". Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  52. "Tom Stoppard Radio Plays". British Library, press release, 25 Jun 2012.
  53. Hodgson 2001, p. 41.

Further reading

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