Invention of Love Study Guide

Introduction

 

 

THE PLAYWRIGHT

Tomas Straussler, the son of Eugene and Martha Straussler, was born July 3, 1937 in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. In 1939 the Straussler family moved to Singapore to escape the Nazi invasion. Because of the impending Japanese invasion, 5-year-old Tomas fled to India with his mother and brother in 1942. His father stayed behind in Singapore and was killed.

In 1946, Tomas Straussler became Tom Stoppard when his mother married Kenneth Stoppard, a British army officer stationed in India. Kenneth Stoppard moved the family to England, where Tom attended school until he was seventeen. At 17, he became a journalist, writing news stories and theatrical reviews for such newspapers as the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening World.

From 1965-1971, Stoppard was married to Josie Ingle. They had two sons together. After getting divorced, he married Dr. Miriam Moore-Robinson in 1972. They also had two sons and divorced in 1991.

Stoppard's Early Career

Tom Stoppard began writing plays for television, radio, and the stage in 1960. After having several radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio, Stoppard's first major success on the stage came with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966. This fantastical treatment of Shakespeare examines the world through the eyes of two minor characters from Hamlet and incorporates many of the ideas that Stoppard would continue to explore throughout his career as a playwright. What is the meaning of life? How do the laws of probability affect us? How can we interact with classic works of literature in new ways?

Although his formal education ended when he was 17, Stoppard's plays engage with weighty intellectual issues of language, literature, theater, philosophy, art, and mathematics. The Real Inspector Hound (1968) depicts two theater critics watching a murder mystery on stage. When they get caught up in the action, the play raises questions about the differences between theater and real life. Travesties (1974) explores the historical potential of a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich, Switzerland in 1917, involving writers and artists such as James Joyce and Tristan Tzara. In Arcadia (1993), the subject matter moves on to mathematics, as the characters discuss Fermat's Last Theorem and chaos theory.

In 1977, after visits to Moscow and Czechoslovakia under the auspices of Amnesty International, Stoppard's work took on a more political bent. Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor (set in mental asylum with a full orchestra on stage!), written in the late 1970s, display a marked interest in human rights issues.

Stoppard has also written plays that deal with love, including The Real Thing (1982), about the intersections of love and theater, and The Invention of Love (1997), about the unrequited love of writer and scholar A.E. Housman.

Stoppard on Film

In addition to his success as a playwright, Tom Stoppard has also worked in the film industry. In 1985, he co-wrote the screenplay of Brazil, a fantastical film in which reality and dreams intermingle, directed by Terry Gilliam (who went on to direct Twelve Monkeys). Stoppard directed a film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1990; the film stars Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfuss. Stoppard was also a major force in the writing of Shakespeare in Love (1998); he shared an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with his co-writer, Marc Norman.

Stoppard on The Invention of Love

There were enormous amounts of people who knew Housman as a poet and had no idea at all that he was perhaps the most eminent Latin scholar of his time. There was a small number of people who knew that he was an extraordinary Latin professor, who were only dimly aware that he had written poetry. In a
very sort of simple way, I could say that the appeal was to write the play about two people who inhabited the same person. … I think it’s fair to say that, at the moment, I thought, "Oh good, I can write a play about that man. I’ve got a subject." I didn’t know he was homosexual. I knew nothing about him.
It turns out, I think to the play’s benefit, to be somewhat of a love story, probably more of a love story than anything, because of what happened to Housman. When he was an undergraduate at Oxford, he fell deeply and devotedly in love with another student called Moses Jackson, and remained devoted to Moses, who was a hetero jock, a rower, an athlete, remained devoted to him for the rest of his life. Consequently, he bottled up his emotions, and the poetry he wrote – I think there’s no question about it – the poetry simply wouldn’t have been written without this very, very painful love affair, which was never a love affair.

Tom Stoppard, interview with Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, December 4, 1999

Stoppard on Stoppard

You have certain things to start with, and you start writing a play. And then you get lost in the play a bit, and the play starts doing things, which means you’re finding things out, but you don’t know whethert hat’s the purpose of the play. It’s just the play is difficult to write, and some of the solutions to some of the problems take the play in directions which you couldn’t have written down on a note pad before you started because they just weren’t there to write down. When you’re writing, the problem is the next line.

Tom Stoppard, interview with Joan Juliet Buck in Vogue, March, 1984

My primary delight, which is a good enough word for the fuel that one needs to do any work at all, is in using the language rather than the purpose to which language is put … and more than language, I would say theater – the way theater works, through disclosure and surprise.

Tom Stoppard, as quoted by Angeline Goreau, "Is The Real Inspector Hound a Shaggy Dog Story?," New York Times, August, 1992

Theater is indeed a physical event, and the words are not enough without everything else, but everything else is nothing without the words, and in the extravagant complex equation of sound and light, it’s certain words in a certain order that – often mysteriously – turn our hearts over.

Tom Stoppard, "Pragmatic Theater," New York Review of Books, September 23, 1999

I think I got bitten by the right bug at the time. I thought of myself as being a playwright from the moment anybody ever thought they might put a play of mine on. All of the other things I’d do were detours, temporary diversions. And I still feel like that. I’ve never tried to analyze why I made the choice – I’m not even aware that it even was a choice, as such. It suited me. I found it dangerous and exciting; it’s quite a dangerous occupation in a trivial way.

Tom Stoppard, interview with Blanka Zizka at the Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, December 4, 1999

Comments about Stoppard

Tom Stoppard is a unique phenomenon among contemporary British dramatists, squatting cheerfully on a fence of his own construction between ‘serious’ and boulevard theatre, wryly observing and utilizing both. From the first, when he exploded straight from the ‘fringe’ of the Edinburgh Festival into the prestigious repertoire of London’s National Theatre with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, he has displayed a refreshing awareness that the theatre can be fun—and that subjects as various as metaphysics, moon landings, abstract paintings, and logical positivism are potentially very funny.

Simon Trussler, File on Stoppard, 1986

Like W.S. Gilbert, he can parody with ease the absurdities of his time. Like Noel Coward, he keeps his eye on the popular stage as he attends to "those weary, Twentieth Century Blues." Like Bernard Shaw, he knows that the stage at its best does not set before us photographs of "real people" but invites us to participate in stylized explorations of our intellectual and emotional life. And like Oscar Wilde, who was himself far more than an aesthete, Stoppard knows what it means to write "a trivial play for serious people." His wit is often touched by an intellectual chill, a mordant fantasy, or an inarticulate pang that suggests the presence of Samuel Beckett. But his plays also complicate their artifice with various strategies that invite our intimate approach. Eliciting from actors and witnesses a more various participation than either Wilde or Beckett would have endorsed, they begin to turn the theatre itself into the model of playful community. They ask us to accept as a finality neither Wilde’s delightfully brittle world of masks nor Beckett’s exhilaratingly austere world of fragmentation and deprivation. Alert to the possibility of dwelling in those worlds among others, they invite us to rediscover the humane balance and freedom that constitute the open secret of play.

Thomas Whitaker, quoted by Harold Bloom in Modern Critical Views: Tom Stoppard, 1986

THE PLAY

Synopsis

Near the mythical river Styx, AEH meets the ferryman of the dead, Charon. Along his way to the other shore, AEH conjures up memories and encounters people from his past, from his Oxford days to the last years of his life. Among these are his younger self, Housman, who has just entered Oxford University, and his fellow students Pollard and Jackson. Against a backdrop of the rise of Aestheticism and Oscar Wilde, young Housman divides his life between his love for classical scholarship and his love for Moses Jackson. Rebuffed by Jackson, Housman throws himself into his classical studies, yet at the same time creating a volume of remarkable poetry. As AEH reviews the events of life, which spanned the creation of New Journalism and the New Woman as well as the fall of Wilde, he takes stock of his actions or lack of action, against memories of the man he loved, Moses Jackson.

The Playwright and the Poet-Scholar

Tom Stoppard and A.E. Housman were made for each other. Besides their obvious similarities – writers with a bent toward the intellectual – they share traits that run much deeper. Stoppard is one of the wittiest and most literate playwrights currently writing, yet he had no formal education beyond age 17.Housman insisted on precise scholarship and had little patience for sloppiness, yet he failed his finals exams at Oxford when he was 22. Never mind that Stoppard’s and Housman’s careers were separated by a century, because the two men have found each other in Stoppard’s most recent play, The Invention of Love, based on the life, loves and secrets of poet and scholar A.E. Housman.

Stoppard’s previous works have dealt with such complicated and dense topics as free will (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), a young Shakespeare finding his muse (Shakespeare in Love) and the nature of time and truth (Arcadia). His plays generally explore both the mind and morality of remarkably complex characters.

Housman was nothing if not complex, and his life was marked by two mysteries: Why did the intelligent young man fail his final examinations at Oxford? What was the nature of his relationship with his classmate Moses Jackson, who he claimed "had more influence on my life than anyone else"?

Housman entered Oxford University in 1877 having won a scholarship to study classics – ancient Greek and Latin texts of such poets as Aeschylus, Ovid, Horace and Catullus – and proved himself a strong scholar. But after passing his first set of exams with high honors, he surprised everyone by utterly failing his final examinations two years later. Instead of entering a career in academics, he left Oxford without a degree and was relegated to the equivalent of a minimum-wage job for ten years.

But the real intrigue of Housman’s life was his unrequited love for Jackson, a science scholar who attended Oxford with Housman. He was an athlete and not the least interested in classics, but he and Housman began a friendship that lasted after they left Oxford for London, where they both worked at the Patent Office and shared lodgings for three years. Their easy friendship came to an abrupt end, however, when Housman disappeared for a week and then moved out.

Housman himself never explained either his failure at Oxford or his break with Jackson. Some scholars claim the failure was due to Housman’s preoccupation with Jackson; others say it was his contempt for the Oxford curriculum. Stoppard joins the ranks of those who think Housman and Jackson’s friendship ended after Housman confessed his true feelings to Jackson and was rejected. Years after their break, Housman experienced a furiously creative episode and published his first collection of poetry, A Shropshire Lad, in 1895. His poetry’s themes of mortality and passing youth and especially its romantic imagery suggest to many that Housman had found an outlet for his unrequited love.

But the singularity of Housman’s life doesn’t end there. During his time at the Patent Office, Housman continued his work on classical texts and gained the respect of colleagues. Ten years after leaving Oxford, he became professor of Latin at University College, London, and was later appointed professor of Latin at Cambridge University, where he remained until his death in 1936.

The man who had flunked out of college reached the pinnacle of his profession. The academic who spent a lifetime dedicated to the driest of academic pursuits also became a revered poet of his age. Stoppard writes a compelling play, in which the action moves freely back and forth in time, encompassing significant episodes from Housman’s life. It is infused with Victorian politics and moral philosophy, Latin phrases, classical poetry, mythological references and key literary figures of the age, from John Ruskin to Oscar Wilde. The flamboyant Wilde hovers constantly in the background of the play, providing a dramatic foil for the reserved Housman, each man representing a complementary perspective of the time in which they lived.