Article Title

Playing for Time (and Playing with Time) in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia


Enoch Brater


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Time moves in odd and often unfamiliar ways in Tom Stoppard’s theater, and no more so than in Arcadia, which opened in 1993 at the National Theatre in London to great and much deserved critical acclaim. The playwright had already earned for himself a reputation as an adventurous explorer of how time might be made to work on a modern and technically sophisticated Western European stage. In Travesties, The Real Inspector Hound, Indian Ink, and the landmark play that made every theater practitioner take note, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard’s surprising arrangements for the relationship between stage time and stage space were nothing if not profoundly provocative and stylistically liberating. Stoppard was clever, sometimes in his earlier works too clever by half. Yet even in those first attempts at dramatic writing he made soon after abandoning his career as a theater critic for the Bristol press,1 there was something at once hilarious and disturbing about an inquisitive mind turning its attention to the eccentricities of movement and meaning on a busy and bulky stage set. So much so that the appeal of his work quickly reached far beyond the specialized range of the most highly informed theater vocabulary. Physics, philosophy, iterated logarithms, Fermat’s last theorem, Lord Byron, steam engines, landscape architecture, carnal knowledge and hermits all became essential parts of his new Arcadian game plan. Postmodern pastiche would now frame the ongoing debate between classicism and romanticism. As Beckett might have said (and as in fact he did say), “The rest is Ibsen.”2


For Stoppard’s work as a journalist, see Ira Nadel, Tom Stoppard: A Life (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2002), 58–77.

2Beckett quoted in Enoch Brater, The Essential Samuel Beckett (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 107.

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