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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials –Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard, born Tomás Straüssler in the former country of Czechoslovakia, is one of the preeminent dramatists of the 20th century. Stoppard wrote many stage and radio plays as well as successful screenplays like 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. Czech playwright and eventual president Václav Havel was friends with Stoppard, and he inspired the latter to protest Communist abuses in Czechoslovakia. Stoppard is still active, and his most recent play, Leopoldstat premiered in January 2020.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Tom Stoppard.


Stoppard is best known for this 1966 tragicomedy, told from the perspective of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The titular courtiers unsuccessfully attempt to find out Hamlet’s plans and engage in absurdist acts, including licking their toes to find the direction of the wind and improbably flipping a coin so that it lands on heads 92 consecutive times. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern often interact with The Tragedians, a group of actors staging a play known as The Murder of Gonzago. Stoppard’s play ends with the unlucky pair being executed in Hamlet’s place while on a ship. The Tragedians, impossibly hidden in barrels on the ship, emerge to re-enact the final bloody denouement of Hamlet.


Arcadia is an exploration of the nature of time and change. Stoppard sets the action of the play in Sidley Park, a lush, Derbyshire Estate. The play jumps in time, alternating between the present day and the 19th century. The protagonists of the 19th century are Thomasina Coverly, a precocious youngster interested in thermodynamics, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge. Thomasina intuitively discovers the Second Law of Thermodynamics early in the play by observing that rice pudding and jam cannot be separated once stirred together. The present-day action focuses on Hannah, Chloe, and Bernard, who are interested in the history of Sidley Park. Bernard believes that the poet Lord Byron, while a guest at Sidley Park, killed another guest named Ezra Chater in a duel.


The Real Thing is an intimate study of relationships, and it utilizes the device of a play within a play. A playwright named Henry is one of the central characters in the play, and he cheats on his wife Charlotte with an actor named Annie. This adultery mirrors the infidelities in a play he has just written. Henry struggles with his own jealousy and insecurity when Annie becomes involved in the fight to free a Scottish anarchist named Brodie from prison.


The Real Inspector Hound is a humorous, short play by Stoppard that parodies both the murder mystery and the art of the critic. In The Real Inspector Hound, two critics named Birdboot and Moon watch a murder mystery set in the fictional Muldoon Manor. Midway through the play, Birdboot and Moon become characters in the murder mystery itself. Their role as critics is usurped by Simon and Magnus, two characters in the murder mystery they were watching.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • Although Stoppard considers himself English, he’s never forgotten the country of his birth.

  • Read this article to learn some more about Stoppard’s earlier works.

  • Who says the arts and math can’t mix? Visit this website to read about the mathematical genius of Thomasina Coverly in Arcadia.

  • Here's a clip from Daniel Radcliffe's turn in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


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