-New York Times
When I first saw Empire of the Sun in theaters as a child, I had no idea that Tom Stoppard was the screenwriter for the script. Nor should this be of such riveting news considering the screenplay was an adaptation of a novel written by JG Ballard and not an original story of Mr. Stoppard’s. Some critics would argue that neither is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as the play is set within another, perhaps more famously know play, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Neither of these facts has ever undermined the genius that is palpable in the creative undertakings of Mr. Stoppard.
Mr. Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler a Czechoslovakian-Jew in 1937. Two years later when the Nazi’s invaded Czechoslovakia his family fled to Singapore. In 1941 his family again fled, this time the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His father, however, stayed to fight with the resistance and was captured by the Japanese eventually dying in a POW camp. In 1945 his mother remarried and Mr. Stoppard took the surname of his stepfather. Starting his writing career in journalism at the tender age of seventeen, Mr. Stoppard also wrote under the nom de plum William Booth.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (R&G) which was written in 1966 and first came onto the London stage in 1967 is the play that launched Mr. Stoppard’s playwright career into the forefront. Influenced heavily by the Polish and Czech absurdist writers of the 1930 and their resurrected popularity after Stalin’s death in 1953, Stoppard’s R&G examines the absurdity of life, probability and irrationality based on the philosophical theories of Søren Kierkegaard. The title characters are simultaneously simple minded and unwittingly philosophical. They circle their words, confusing language and creating a tangle that can only be untagled with the admission that everything they say is both foolish and genius. Common to ‘Theater of the Absurd’ Stoppard’s characters reflect on the reality between life and art blurring the line between the characters and audience. Another characteristic of ‘Theater of the Absurd’ is the seeming insignificance of it’s players who often question if they possess free will or are simply puppets at the mercy of a mad pupeteer.
I have read this play many times, not only because it is a quick and entertaining read, but because it has yet to cease suprising me.