Thesis Title

Tom Stoppard and the Modern Shakespeare: Constructing Modernist Meanings

Date of Graduation

Spring 2003


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Mary Baumlin


Drama regenerates itself, and dramatists build upon traditions, occasionally resurrecting archaic conventions for modern means. Because Tom Stoppard uses and relies on sources, especially Shakespeare, to create his own work, a comparison between the two playwrights seems inevitable. This discourse juxtaposes the modern/post-modern Stoppard with the early modern Shakespeare by examining their use of characterization, portrayal of identity, language use, existentialist themes, and the play-as-life metaphor that runs throughout their works. Stoppard recapitulates Shakespeare's themes and characterizations, while Shakespeare anticipates modern ideas allowing for a fruitful discussion of the pair's work. Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead draws from Hamlet as one of its sources, making it the primary Stoppard work I will examine. King Lear will also be discussed, as well as the comedies As You Like It and Twelfth Night, to lend a discussion on fools and characterization. Shakespeare's works anticipate many modern notions, including existentialism, but I will show how Stoppard draws from the past by using Shakespeare. Martin Esslin links Shakespeare's works to the works of the Theatre of the Absurd by suggesting that the principles of Theatre of the Absurd comes from archaic traditions--the same traditions that Shakespeare drew from. This discussion will allow us to gain a fresh perspective on Stoppard's and Shakespeare's works and will show us how dramatic themes and conventions are regenerated in the great works of today.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Sheri L. McCord