“When almost everything you thought you knew is wrong”: The Science and Mathematics of Tom Stoppard’s plays
Over his career of more than half a century, playwright Tom Stoppard has built a reputation for using scientific and mathematical concepts in his cerebral plays. Despite this being a well-recognized part of his writing, it is neither a well-studied nor universally liked part of his writing. Two of his most scientific plays (Hapgood and The Hard Problem), for instance, are often not well received by critics. Furthermore, it can be easy to dismiss Stoppard’s use of science and math as just throwaway gags or extra padding to make his plays seem more intellectual. This thesis aims to rebut these attitudes towards Stoppard’s use of science and math by showing their deliberateness and cleverness. This thesis aims to show both Stoppard’s skill in explaining the math and science he uses as well as how the math and science is intentionally used to communicate the themes in many of his plays regardless of subject matter.
When one starts to study Stoppard’s use of science and math, they also see Stoppard shift his stance towards science and math between plays. This thesis will thus be framed as an exploration of Stoppard’s dialogue on science and math’s intersection with the humanities. This thesis takes two plays from three different parts of Stoppard’s career: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jumpers from Stoppard’s early career; Hapgood and Arcadia from the middle of his career; The Hard Problem and Leopoldstadt from his late career. Through these plays we see Stoppard waver between being skeptical of and embracing math and science. This thesis thus also aims to provide insight on Stoppard’s growth and change as a writer over time.