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Stoppard’s Adaptations of Shakespeare: Hogg’s Hamlet,Cahoot’s Macbeth C. J. Gianakaris One of the remarkable characteristics of playwright Tom Stoppard is his inimitable talent for borrowing. Entire plots, fragmentary characters, or bits and pieces of dialogue from recognized literary masterpieces— these Stoppard snatches up and reformulates into highly idiocyncratic plays. When we also take into account his debt to Shakespeare’s works as well, we begin to understand why Stoppard never has ceased to intrigue his critics. Stoppard’s strength in adapting sources for his own means became evident early in his career. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, initially performed in 1966, marked Stoppard’s successful entry into the world of playwriting. Drawing upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead reached out in several contemporary directions previously tra­ versed by Beckett, T. S. Eliot, and Wittgenstein, to name but a few whose works loom large in Stoppard’s imaginative play puzzle.1 The result was not another version of Hamlet but rather a post-Absurdist paradigm reflecting modem man’s metaphysical circumstances.2 More recently Stoppard again utilized Shake­ speare as catalyst, this time for the omnibus work called Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth (1979). This two-part play is our entrée to the larger subject of our discussion. Compared to the use he makes of Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard mines Shakespeare in Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth in wholly different ways. In fact, within the two distinct sections of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, Shakespeare is handled much differently. It will be instructive first of all to C. J. GIANAKARIS, Professor of English at Western Michigan University, has published widely on Renaissance and modem topics. Currently he is working on a book on Peter Shaffer. 222 C. /. Gianakaris 223 consider Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth to document Stop­ pard’s approaches to Shakespeare. But our ulterior concern remains the detailing of Stoppard’s techniques of adaptation generally. Because so much in his work derives from other literary and philosophical sources, Stoppard’s adapting process represents a critical index for comprehending his dramatic methods. The title Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth clearly ack­ nowledges that Hamlet and Macbeth will be centrally involved in Stoppard’s play. Our initial task therefore is to trace Stoppard’s borrowings and adaptations of Shakespeare in this dual piece. Specifically, we shall search for which features Stoppard derives from his source, how much of Shakespeare is echoed, and why Shakespeare is chosen as resource in the first place. Coincidentally a second objective emerges as a natural corollary: clarifying Stoppard’s aesthetic bases and stage techniques as demonstrated by his adaptive choices. Stoppard’s selective if ecclectic bor­ rowing becomes crucial for defining his highly individualized art. Rather than following a simple one-to-one comparison of Stop­ pard’s plays with Shakespeare’s dramas, our comments neces­ sarily will move briefly into the realm of theatrical adaptations. It is important here to define our terms carefully. In its purest manifestation, an adaptation is an immediately identifi­ able version of its source, altered in some surface fashion, oftentimes to make the original more accessible to audiences of another place, time, and taste. The essential characterization of a straightforward adaptation is the retention of the funda­ mental concept and spirit of the original. The term “adaptation,” we should note, generally has come to stand for any treatment of an original source, whether or not the core idea of the original is retained—let alone its structure, plot, and language. The prime objective of most modem adaptations, then, is the resulting work, not its source which functions to underscore the point of the adaptation. In the particular case of Tom Stoppard, an astonishing range of adapting approaches is involved. On one hand, throughout his career Stoppard has proven to have genuine skill with straightforward adaptations. He successfully adapted such diverse literary works as Mrozek’s Tango (1966), Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba (1978), Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1975— for television), Thomas Wiseman’s The Romantic Englishwoman (1975), Nabokov’s Despair (1978), and Graham Greene’s 224 Comparative Drama The...


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pp. 222-240
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