‘Tom Stoppard’ Tells of an Enormous Life Spent in Constant Motion


The way the cricket bat taps a ball and makes it sail an unlikely distance becomes a metaphor for writing in Stoppard’s hands. No living playwright has produced such a beautiful sound so regularly (snaps his tongue to make the noise).

[ Read Charles McGrath’s profile of Hermione Lee. ]

The adjective “Stoppardian” – to use elegant wit while addressing philosophical concerns – was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1978. His pieces are trees in which he precariously climbs on every limb. These trees sway. There is electricity in the air, like before a summer thunderstorm.

Stoppard’s best-known pieces are “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”, “The Real Thing”, “Arcadia” and “The Coast of Utopia”. (His most recent work, “Leopoldstadt”, is closed for the time being due to Covid-19.) He co-wrote the script for “Shakespeare in Love” and has written or edited dozens of other scripts. He has written a novel and written a number of screenplays for radio and television.

At 83, he had an enormous life. In the astute and authoritative new biography “Tom Stoppard: A Life”, Hermione Lee wrestles everything aside. Sometimes you can feel that she is chasing a fox through a forest. Stoppard is constantly on the move – he flies back and forth across the Atlantic, takes care of the many revivals of his pieces, keeps the plates moving, agitates on behalf of dissidents, artists and political prisoners in Eastern Europe, gives lectures, accepts prizes, repairs scripts, lavish parties, friendships with Pinter, Vaclav Havel, Steven Spielberg, Mick Jagger and others. It was an enchanted life lived by a bewitching man. Tall, dashing, with big eyes, shaggy hair; for women, Stoppard was a walking stimulus package.



Robert Dunfee