Tom Stoppard pp 105-124 | Cite as

‘Not of the Flesh but Through the Flesh’: Knowing and Being Known in The Real Thing

  • Paul Delaney


That Tom Stoppard’s plays are neither imprecise nor obscurantist, that his ambiguities are intended neither to dazzle nor confuse but ‘to be precise over a greater range of events’, was perhaps the most signal contribution of Clive James’s 1975 Encounter article: ‘It is the plurality of contexts that concerns Stoppard: ambiguities are just places where contexts join.’1 And in The Real Thing the interstices come between art and life. Stoppard’s attempt, a breathtakingly ambitious one, is to deal at once with what is real in life, what is real in art, and what the real differences are between art and life. The Real Thing endeavours to distinguish the authentic from propagandistic imitations, the liveliness of the right words in the right order from the ham-fisted butchery of language, what endures as the marbled reality in an age that demands the polystyrene, what endures as alabaster when the age demands plaster. But if the real thing exists in life and the real thing exists in art, the differences between life and art remain no less real. Indeed the very form of The Real Thing, opening as it does with a play within a play serves to dramatise the differences between reality and imaginative reality.


Moral Vision Real Thing Artificial Turf Cricket Ball American Audience 
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  1. 1.
    Clive James, ‘Count Zero Splits the Infinite’, Encounter, 45 (November 1975), pp. 71, 70.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ronald Hayman, ‘First Interview with Tom Stoppard: 12 June 1974’, Tom Stoppard, 4th ed. (London: Heinemann, 1982), p. 12.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Tom Stoppard in interview with David Gollob and David Roper, ‘Trad Tom Pops In’, Gambit, 10, no. 37 (Summer 1981), p. 8.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Hersh Zeifman, ‘Comedy of Ambush: Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing’, Modern Drama, 26 (June 1983) 141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 7.
    Interview with Daniel Henninger, ‘Theater: Tom Stoppard and the Politics of Morality’, Wall Street Journal, 1 February 1980, p. 17.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Stoppard, ‘The Event and the Text’, Boca Raton, Florida, 13 March 1982.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing. Copyright © 1982 by Tom Stoppard. 2nd rev. ed. (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1984), pp. 33, 34; further quotations will be noted parenthetically in my text.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Roger Scruton, ‘The Real Stoppard’, Encounter, 60, no. 2 (February 1983), p. 46.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Tom Stoppard, ‘Ambushes for the Audience: Towards a High Comedy of Ideas’, Theatre Quarterly, 4, no. 14 (May–July 1974), p. 14.Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    Tom Stoppard, ‘But for the Middle Classes’, review of Enemies of Society, by Paul Johnson, Times Literary Supplement, 3 June 1977, p. 677.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    John Barber, Daily Telegraph, 17 November 1982; repr. in London Theatre Record, 2, no. 23 (1982), p. 634. More recently Richard Corballis seems to perpetuate the same misimpression in Stoppard: The Mystery and the Clockwork (Oxford: Amber Lane Press; New York: Methuen; 1984), p. 146.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    Vicki Sanders, ‘Stoppard Delivers the “Real Thing”’, Miami Herald, 30 January 1985. In Performing Arts microfiche, 11 (February 1985) card 78: D12.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Roger Rees to Patrick Ensor, ‘An Actor at the Sheepdog Trials’, Guardian, 12 November 1982, p. 9.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    Vicki Sanders, ‘He Makes You Want to Listen’, Miami Herald, 29 January 1985. In Performing Arts microfiche, 11 (February 1985) card 78: D11.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    Kenneth Tynan, ‘Withdrawing with Style from the Chaos’, New Yorker, 53 (19 December 1977), p. 85; repr. in Kenneth Tynan, Show People: Profiles in Entertainment (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 93.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Delaney 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Delaney
    • 1
  1. 1.Westmont CollegeSanta BarbaraUSA

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