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Modern Irony Essay

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Since the beginning of time, man has attempted to unravel the seemingly infinite mysteries of life. The English playwright Tom Stoppard has written plays that address the existence of “fate” (or a predestined outcome for every human being) and controlling one’s own destiny. His plays also deal with the many other uncertainties that arise during a normal person’s life; such as sex, how we know things, etc. (Tom Stoppard) Stoppard’s utilization of satire and drawn parallels mirror the image of life’s faults and intricacies.

His plays serve to show people the humor and irony that life presents.

During the time that Stoppard wrote his first play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstein, society was experiencing a social upheaval. The late sixties was a time of experimentation and existentialism. People were asking questions about their very existence in a way never before seen. In this climate, Stoppard saw the opportunity to begin writing plays that dealt with the issues of the time (Overview of Tom Stoppard).

He took a whimsical spin though, on the method in which he delivered it. He embarked on the continuing journey of a great literary tradition, but diverged from its path by ridiculing it.

His desire to write plays was not a spontaneous venture; during this era, many people wanted to express their thoughts and feelings, and plays were a common medium. Stoppard observed this and pondered if success and knowledge could be his as well. The general question being asked around this time was “Why are we here? ” Man has always sought an answer to this question, but now more than ever was it expressed in literature and plays. Stoppard’s craft shows a propensity for humor, which offers a more light-hearted viewpoint of this previously serious and mundane subject. Stoppard asks the question of not only “Why are we here?

” but also “How are we here? ” as well. He explores the intricacies of life in an attempt to derive a meaning. His comical touch alleviates the heavy association of philosophy though. Whether or not his question is answered is secondary to the method in which we view it. In Stoppard’s eyes, it is more important “to live” rather than to comprehend “why we live. ” This approach brought fanfare to Stoppard, as society saw his style as fresh; and a tangible device to which they could relate. Literary history has had a heavy impact on Stoppard’s method and conceptual presentation.

He admits to being swooned by such masterpieces as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” by T. S. Elliot. The ideas that he extracted from these artists and their works helped him divulge his own style to which he could further literature. A parallel may be drawn between Waiting for Godot and Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are Dead. ” Both works feature two men, and their journey in existentialism. Beckett’s version has them waiting for a surreal character (Godot) that, in the end, never appears.

The characters are portrayed as confused, and the play takes on an air of severe depression. The play is very much an appeal to the audience, as they too are overcome by this depression. The characters slowly fade away, emotionless and unexcitable. Stoppard’s “version” though has his characters embark on a journey; a fruitless journey, but a “goal” to meet none the less. Beckett disarms his audience, while Stoppard embraces them into his play; making the audience feel at home and comfortable. Stoppard diffuses the rather “heavy” atmosphere belied by Beckett with satire and a whimsical wit.

For example, In “Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are Dead,” Stoppard portrays the idea of “death” as a game. He does this in an attempt to show the audience that it is not to be feared. He achieves this by his satirical depiction of the internal “play” within “Hamlet” by Shakespeare. The characters in the “play” perish, and then the actual characters die in the exact same manner. The audience can identify with death, as all humans are concerned with their own demise. They take away though, a much less serious approach in viewing it. The other author, Elliot, often depicted his characters as stumbling and indecisive.

One of his most famous works, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, deals with a man who is enamored with the variables and uncertainties of approaching a woman that he admires. In the poem, Prufrock realizes that only he cares about his decision, and whether he chooses to pursue her or not, will not matter. He sees himself as part of his own world; in which he is the “sole occupant. ” He, sadly, is only coherent enough in his “world” though to realize how much he is potentially missing by not being completely immersed in it. He cannot solve this problem though, and continues wandering and pondering till the end of time.

Stoppard took away from Elliot a similar stance to character development. He portrays his characters as aware, but not completely in tune with their surroundings. The effect is one of dismay, but comical as well. Stoppard’s portrayal is more humorous in nature, displaying them as bungling and unresponsive. This is exemplified in his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are Dead. His characters attempt to divulge the plan and their “purpose” as designated by the King (Claudius), but are unable to fully grasp its meaning. These literary greats do not contribute the fabulous humor that Stoppard has developed though.

His humorous elements can best be equated to his passion for the “Theatre of the Absurd. ” This type of theater came into popularity during the 1950s and 1960s; and was applied to plays that portrayed the human situation without purpose and with absurd plot elements. This form was a reemergence of an attempt towards awareness of man’s purpose in life; the sense of wonder that man has always had concerning how things work and why. In some respect, it was anti-theater, as it went against the basic premise of regular theater. It was illogical and usually had very little or no plot (Culik).

Stoppard’s fascination with this art form had a profound impact on his own personal style. Sigmund Freud, a proponent of the Absurd, said, “In trying to burst the bounds of logic and language, the absurd theater is trying to shatter the enclosing walls of the human condition itself. “(Culik) This confirms the spatial concepts that the theater was attempting to portray, and Stoppard’s comedic element is based upon this illogical and removed nature. The play Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are Dead is a satirical look upon the much more staunch play Hamlet.

It delves into the lives of two supporting characters named “Rosencrantz” and “Guildenstein. ” The characters ‘ unimportance is exemplified in the play by their lack of understanding and baffling thought patterns. This play shows Stoppard’s portrayal of “artificiality of theater. ” The performance is not about the actual play, but the context of the play; the idea of attending the performance. The characters appeal directly to the audience, instead of becoming immersed in its story and plot. The effect is comical, as the play begins with them merely spinning coins and making bizarre implications towards the audience.

Rosencrantz has spun the coin and received “heads” nearly 85 times. His humorous portrayal of the “law of averages” is his “justification” for his luck. This is the play’s first look into why things happen. The characters are unable to come to a proper conclusion though; and the path that Rosencrantz begins upon (the law of averages) cannot be farther removed from the truth. The play continues with these hilarious situations, finally having the pair receive their mission from Claudius the King. The pair ponders why they have received the mission, and why they must complete it. Stoppard constantly asserts that a “play is being read.

;” instead of allowing the reader to delve into a story. He makes the reader think of Hamlet, and its tragic implications; and applies a humorous tone to it. In the end of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are supposedly murdered (the English king is instructed to execute them, but their actual deaths are not witnessed), but instead of a grand exit, they merely fade away. Stoppard shows through this that the characters had served only a menial and insignificant purpose. The reader is unable to sympathize with the characters’ demise, as the play is portrayed with a comical tone.

This disservice to death with satire is both eye widening and thought provoking. A person is assaulted with the moral implications of death, instead of offering a deaf sympathy to the character’s grief. Stoppard’s ability to allow the playgoers to analyze what they feel is his greatest achievement in the work; not the story itself. Stoppard’s play Arcadia is another intelligent play that provokes the reader to appraise man’s life long debacles. In the play, the characters attempt to grasp the mysteries of sex, and a path towards knowledge that leads to an understanding of the future.

The latter is portrayed as an equation developed by Thomasina, in an attempt to control her own destiny. Her professor, Septimus, also contributes to the equation by way of a lesson to his student, Thomasina. He explains to her that the loss of knowledge isn’t the end of the world; as it is rediscovered eventually in the future. This subject is an explanation of humanity’s technological progression and our knowledge. The play attempts to allow the reader to grasp the many unknown or misunderstood concepts in life. “Mysteries” such as sex can only be acquired through practice and progression of time.

Stoppard appeals to the general public that things cannot be instantly understood; they must be studied and experimented with to fully grasp the full meaning. These mysteries will eventually be solved, but it shall take time and patience; nothing is instantaneous in life. Stoppard’s inclusion of Thomasina’s “equation” is both humorous and practical in its implication. Thomasina’s goal was to create an equation that could more or less tell the future. It is humorous to surmise that a simple equation can predict the future with numbers. The limitless variables and uncertainties in life will forever impede such an “advancement.

” Stoppard attempts to explain that life itself is intangible; it can neither be predicted nor reduced to a simple equation. Stoppards’ plays contain many useful outlooks on how a person should view their life on earth. People are always concerned with the future and their own death (and when it will occur). Stoppard believes that man shouldn’t view life with such a critical eye; and instead should accept certain facts to be true. Man is powerless concerning the ability to control life. There are many uncertainties in life that are both humorous and infinitely escapable to the human mind.

His plays show inept characters driven into the ground by their consumption of the “study of life. ” Stoppard suggests through his characters’ comical adventures that life is for living, and the consequence of a life spent longing and pondering equates to a life disenfranchised of pulp and meaning. The “meaning” which man longs for cannot be quantified; it must be experienced to break the surface of significance.

Works Cited

Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. “Tom Stoppard. ” DISCovering Biography. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. 17 January 2005 

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