This course is discontinued

ENG4454 – Tom Stoppard’s Drama of Ideas

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

Tom Stoppard is the preeminent English playwright of ideas, and this course will be devoted to studying four of his most distinguished plays: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967), Travesties (1974), Arcadia (1993), and The Invention of Love (1997). Each of these plays uses the resources of drama to drive an inquiry into a distinct complex of philosophical, literary, and historigraphical questions. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead poses intriguing questions about determinism, chance, and free will—as does Arcadia, from the very different perspective of mathematical chaos. Travesties considers the politics and aesthetics of the avant-garde through the figures of Joyce, Lenin and Tzara. The Invention of Love interrogates the problematical relationship between life, biography, and art. Moreover, each of these works plays against earlier literary works and sustains a fascinating dialogue with literary tradition. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead occupies, or rather invents, the margins of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Travesties ‘travesties’ Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Arcadia engages the European tradition of literary pastoral, and The Invention of Love draws on the classicist and poet A. E. Housman’s life, scholarship and poetry to examine salient tensions in late Victorian culture.

The aim of this course will be to examine the interplay between literary tradition, Stoppard’s dramatic ideas, and the intellectual material presented in the plays. Adopting a perspective indebted to recent reception studies, the course will not only consider how intellectual problems and literary traditions inform Stoppard’s plays, but also how the plays, in reconfiguring their intellectual and literary materials, may also help us to creatively rethink those materials.

Learning outcome

After completing this course you will have:

  • developed a vocabulary for discussing the relationship between Stoppard’s ideas and dramatic techniques.
  • learned to analyze plays as a means of thinking creatively and rigorously about historical events, traditions and debates.


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If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

Admission to master program in literature or LeP


The course is taught throughout the semester with two hours per week for 10 weeks, 20 hours in all.

Attendance is an obligatory class requirement (80%). Additional absences must be justified by documentation to the exam coordinator. Read more about guidelines for compulsory activities.


The exam is a term paper of 10 standard pages. Students will have an opportunity to receive commentary on drafts of their papers.

You must submit your final paper in Fronter. Read more about submission procedures.

The term paper is the basis for the grade in this course.

Language of examination


Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course





Teaching language