Hypertextuality and polyphony in Tom Stoppard's stage plays

  • Heebon Park-Finch

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis analyses selected works of Tom Stoppard in terms of Genette's notion of 'hypertextuality' as transtextual relationship and Bakhtin's 'polyphony' of voices and ideas, and examines how the playwright's (re)creative and (re)interpretive rendering of literature, philosophy, aesthetics, science, art, culture and history offers his contemporary perspective on the multiplicity of themes and texts in the plays. The thesis identifies the appeal in (re)reading or (re)spectating Stoppard's explicitly palimpsestuous texts, while considering the extent to which receivers of the hypertexts need to be aware of and conversant with the hypotexts in order to fully appreciate Stoppard's work. Following the opening chapter, in which the critical concepts of hypertextuality and polyphony are discussed, chapter 2 considers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967) as a transfocalization of Shakespeare's Hamlet, demonstrating polyphony of dualities. Chapter 3 looks at Travesties (1974) as a hypertext which employs plural hypertextualities (pastiche, mixed parody and travesty) and which exhibits polyphony of perceptions on art and politics, using the device of mise-en-abyme. Chapter 4 explores Arcadia (1993) in terms of dramatic transposition of ideas from other disciplines and reactivation ofliterary pastoral traditions. In chapter 5, Indian Ink (1995) is analysed as a post-colonial perspective on the ethics of empire, re-contextualizing works of Anglo-Indian literature and art. Chapter 6 discusses The Coast of Utopia trilogy (2002) in terms of intermodal transmodalization, along with duplicity and polyphony of textual, structural and ideological layers. The concluding chapter questions the effect of Stoppard's hypertextual adaptation and polyphonic re-presentations on audiences and readers of different levels of familiarity with the hypotexts, arguing that the carefully constructed combination of contrasting ideas, paradoxes and dualities in Stoppard's hypertexts offers opportunities for appreciation at various levels of 'knowing', exposing the subjectivity of perceptions and celebrating the many- voicedness of society.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish

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