Tom Stoppard pp 149-158 | Cite as

Moral Absolutes and Mortal Contexts

  • Paul Delaney


When interviewed just 36 hours after the opening of Hapgood, Stoppard found himself being asked — again — about his political identity as a playwright. Given Hapgood’s exploration of the indeterminacies of the subatomic world and of human personality, some viewers might have expected that now, finally, Stoppard would avoid answering a political question in terms of morality. However, despite the ambiguities and indeterminacies of Hapgood, Stoppard’s response to the familiar question was neither indeterminate, nor ambiguous, nor — to anyone who has followed his career — unfamiliar. ‘I still believe’, Stoppard told Michael Billington on 10 March 1988, ‘that if your aim is to change the world journalism is a more immediate, short-term weapon. But art is important in the long-term in that it lays down some kind of matrix of moral responsibility’.1 Reiterating a view of art which he has been articulating since 1974, Stoppard continues to affirm an open and direct connection between art and morality. Looking for a bridge, a join, between the timeless realm of moral absolutes and the time-bound realm of human behaviour, Stoppard finds that the play just might be the thing. Stoppard’s affirmation of art as inherently moral continues to be far removed both from the orthodox mainstream of contemporary British playwrights and from the critical orthodoxies of academe. As a result, it has taken some time for sophisticated observers to discern the power of plays which ordinary audiences have, all along, found moving. Stoppard’s recognition of a disparity in responses to Hapgood may apply to other plays as well: ‘My impression is that your ordinary punter has less trouble with it than some of our critics.’2


Moral Responsibility Human Personality Real Thing Billiard Ball Spiritual Creature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Michael Billington, ‘Stoppard’s Secret Agent’, Guardian, 18 March 1988, p. 28.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Anthony Jenkins, The Theatre of Tom Stoppard (Cambridge, London, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Michael Billington, Stoppard the Playwright (London and New York: Methuen, 1987), p. 61.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jon Bradshaw, ‘Tom Stoppard, Nonstop: Word Games with a Hit Playwright’, New York, 10 (10 January 1977), p. 51.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Tom Stoppard, ‘Ambushes for the Audience: Towards a High Comedy of Ideas’, Theatre Quarterly, 4, no. 14 (May–July 1974), p. 6.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Charles Champlin, ‘Fryer’s Finale: A Milestone at the Ahmanson’, Los Angeles Times, 8 September 1988, sec. 6, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Tom Stoppard, ‘Something to Declare’, Sunday Times, 25 February 1968, p. 47.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 1 (New York: Harper, 1973), p. 168.Google Scholar
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    Tom Stoppard, Travesties (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), p. 89.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Paul Delaney 1990

Authors and Affiliations

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

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