He is often associated with the Theatre of the Absurd partially due to the general tone of his work and partially because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is essentially one big Shout-Out to the genre's codifier, Waiting for Godot.
Works by Tom Stoppard with their own trope pages include:
Other works by Tom Stoppard provide examples of:
- Author Appeal: Stoppard likes translation scenes like Quentin Tarantino likes feet.
- Bilingual Bonus: The opening lines of Travesties may seem like nonsense words, but when you sound them out it becomes a limerick in French introducing the speaker, Tristan Tzara, who actually used this technique of playing with sound and meaning in his own writing/performance.
- Bulungi: Stoppards play Night and Day is set in Kambawi, which comes complete with a dictator who Majored in Western Hypocrisy.
- Catchphrase: In On The Razzle, the Servile Snarker Melchior uses the word "Classic" constantly. This leads to the following exchange with his new employer:Zangler: Only you'll have to stop using that word. It's stupid.
Melchior: There's nothing stupid about the word. It's just the way some people use it without discrimination.
Zangler: Do they?
Melchior: Oh, yes. It's absolutely classic.
- Cultural Translation: On the Razzle is an adaptation of the play Einen Jux will er sich machen by Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, rather than a straight translation, because much of the humor in the original was too specific to 19th-century Austria to work in English. (Similarly, the same play has been adapted for American audiences by Thornton Wilder as The Matchmaker, which became the basis for the musical Hello, Dolly!.)
- Double-Meaning Title: After Magritte. In art terminology, "after" means a work in the style of or inspired by, so "after Magritte" means that it incorporates René Magritte's surrealism. On a more prosaic level, the play is about what happens to a group of people after they go to see an exhibition of Magritte's paintings.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: The Dog It Was That Died is about Rupert Purvis, a British secret agent who was approached by the Russians to act as a double agent. His British chief knows he was approached and encouraged him to play along so that the Russians would think they were in control of the situation, but on the other hand his Russian handler knows that the chief knows, and encouraged him to play along so that the British would think they were in control of the situation... the effort of figuring out who he's actually working for and whether he's actually achieving anything eventually lands him in a mental institution.
- Driven to Suicide: At the beginning of The Dog It Was That Died, Purvis attempts suicide by throwing himself off a bridge, but survives after landing on a passing barge (and specifically on the bargeman's dog, which doesn't survive). Near the end of the play, he makes another attempt, which succeeds.
- Fictionary: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth features a language which contains the same words as English but with different meanings assigned to them, inspired by a thought experiment by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hilarity Ensues, since for example, "Cretinous pig-faced git" means "What's the time, sir?" in Dogg, but "Afternoon, squire" means "Get stuffed, you bastard". The purpose of Dogg's Hamlet is to gradually get the audience to grips with understanding Dogg, at which point they're ready to watch Cahoot's Macbeth, in which characters who speak both languages can use it for hidden meanings.
- French Accordion: The trope is used for a joke in Stoppard's radio play Artist Descending a Staircase, which consists of a sequence of nested flashbacks. At one point, one character begins reminiscing sentimentally, apparently about Paris, saying that memories can be triggered by "... a phrase of music ... a river flowing beneath ancient bridges ...", and the script then calls for "''Cliché Paris music, accordion" and a flashback begins. But the next line is a different character saying "I must say I won't be entirely sorry to leave Lambeth— the river smells like a dead cat, and the accordionist downstairs is driving me insane".
- Fun with Foreign Languages:
- Professional Foul, set at an international philosophical colloquium, features a scene in which an academic's speech causes consternation among the interpreters required to translate it for non-English-speakers because it makes heavy use of wordplay that only works in English.
- Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth revolves around a series of encounters between speakers of English and speakers of Dogg, a language which sounds like English but assigns different meanings to the words. Hilarity Ensues, since for example, "Cretinous pig-faced git" means "What's the time, sir?" in Dogg, but "Afternoon, squire" means "Get stuffed, you bastard".
- Gayngst: Housman and Chamberlain in The Invention of Love.
- Generational Saga: Rock 'n' Roll covers a period from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, and has three generations of protagonists with the intermediate one being the odd one out.
- Got Me Doing It: In Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, the protagonist spends the first act surrounded by Strange Syntax Speakers, and by the end of the act, they've got him doing it too. In the second act, he starts passing it on to other people.
- Historical Domain Character:
- Travesties gives important roles to James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Vladimir Lenin (who were all actually in Zurich at the same time at one point).
- The Invention of Love is based on the life of the scholar and poet A. E. Housman, and the characters include Housman himself and several other real people.
- Imagine Spotting: Travesties is presented to the audience through the recollections of an Unreliable Narrator, Henry Carr. In one scene, as his Hot Librarian love interest gives a long lecture on politics, she accuses him of tuning out and imagining her naked. He denies this, but as she continues lecturing the lighting changes, music plays, and she starts performing a striptease. A minute later, Carr sheepishly asks the audience if they "noticed anything" in that last scene...
- Incompatible Orientation: Housman and Jackson in The Invention of Love.
- It Makes Sense in Context: The play After Magritte starts with a surreal Magritte-like tableau. The rest of the play is the perfectly rational explanation for the tableau occurring.
- Literary Allusion Title: The Dog It Was That Died is a line from a poem by Oliver Goldsmith about a mad man and a mad dog.
- Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Night and Day is set in the fictional African nation of Kambawi, whose dictator, President Mageeba, is adept at dealing with westerners thanks to his education.Mageeba: I have very happy memories of London. Student days, you know. I learned everything about economic theory. It has proved a great handicap.
- Malaproper: In On the Razzle, Zangler the shop owner does this regularly, usually, but not always correcting himself.Zangler: Do you suppose I'd let my airedale be hounded up hill and—my heiress be mounted up hill and bank by a truffle-hound—be trifled with by a mountebank?
- Mind Screw: Something of a Stoppard signature.
- Proscenium Reveal: The prologue of The Real Thing is revealed to be a play written by one of the characters (and a foreshadowing of later events).
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Much of The Coast of Utopia, set during the 19th century in Europe, primarily Russia and France, and featuring the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin as a major character.
- Scenery Porn: The London production of Voyage, the first in Stoppard's trilogy The Coast of Utopia, utilized a backdrop of photorealistic video imagery projected on a massive white semi-circular screen that curved around the stage. During scene changes, the video would pan to the next frame — for example, from the yard to the manor. Overall, the effect was pretty stunning.
- Secret-Keeper: Housman and Chamberlain for each other, in The Invention of Love.
- Smith of the Yard: In After Magritte, Police Inspector Foot is always referred to as Foot of the Yard. This appears to irritate him considerably, although so do many other things.
- Spy Speak: The Coast of Utopia, any time Mikhail Bakunin is around.Bakunin: The Green Canary flies at Dawn!
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: Most of the cast in Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth
- Stylistic Suck: The Real Thing features a playwright asked to rewrite a play by a young political agitator. The brief dialogue we hear from the play is utterly awful.
- After Magritte opens with a surreal tableau, the meaning of which is explained in the opening dialogue, and ends on another.
- Taken to a logical extreme in The Coast of Utopia, where the characters are arranged like Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe for no real reason other than "it looks cool".
- Viewers Are Geniuses: By a dramaturg/English major for dramaturgs/English majors. Arcadia is written for math majors.
- Word-Salad Humor: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth features a made-up language which contains the same words as English but assigns completely different meanings to them. The result seems a lot like word salad, and derives humor thereby (although there is enough underlying structure that by the end of the play most of the audience will have picked up some of the language and be able to follow the gist of what's being said).Dogg: Cuff-laces empty cross... Crazy jogs... Poodle fire... Melon legs arc lamps... pelvic wiggle stamp... grinning... grape-soot pergolas... fairly pricks double... elegant frantically... plugs — Fox Major.