The Image of "The Other" In Three Selected Postmodern Plays - Research Paper

Published: 2021-08-02
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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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The term postmodernism is familiar among literary readers but on the same note pretty confusing. Postmodernism thrived as a self-conscious breakthrough from the traditional creative forms stepping on the naturalist and realistic principles during the twentieth century. These dramatic themes derived from the increasing technological progress, emanating from urban life, variation in the social classes and the leap from the agrarian to the industrial revolution (Bertens and Douwe 67). This paper seeks to deconstruct postmodern plays of Tom Stoppard namely: Arcadia, Travesties and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Even though postmodern tendencies can be traced in Stoppards plays, the contemporary study aims at anticipating some essential postmodernist features in the mentioned three plays as postmodern theatre models. The three plays might be considered as products of postmodern since all the maxims of genre and styles dissolve and subsequently, there exists no rigid structure within them (Witsell 54). In postmodern theatre, there is no belief in the meta-narratives or the ultimate truth, and for this reason, there is nothing absolute or eternal. For this reason, all meanings and values are ambiguous and abstruse. Coincidentally, there is no void of ambiguity or uncertainty in the plays.

The plays have been accumulated by ceaseless pauses and intermitted silences which created a vague atmosphere. At the same time, characters in the play are confused, and the audiences and readers are often puzzled with the numerous imaginable interpretations in the plays (Platt 34). In his presentation of a scenario of a man in the postmodern time, the theory of Lyotard of the end of meta-analysis together with the theory of language game is used (Stierstorfer 78). At the same time, the plays can be analyzed according to other postmodern theorists like Fredric Jameson and Jacques Derrida. As samples of postmodern plays, there are numerous instances of pluralism, discontinuity, uncertainty, and deconstruction which form part of the outstanding aspects of postmodern works.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In the play, there exist instances of irony and intertextual which helped the writer to comment on the contemporary times by juxtaposing similar anxieties found in Shakespeare Hamlet during the renaissance period. But other than the aspect of irony, it is essential to dissect various layers of intertextuality that exist in the play. The technique has been fundamental in looking at since it acts as an inside joke of a text inscribed within the spaces of Hamlet, restructuring the spaces and creating patterns of interference with Shakespeare's work. The play has manifested the culture of movement which is away from the conventional text and more complex methods of conceptualizing the texts (Gross 25). When reading the play and the audience is aware what the text is referencing, there exists a whole new level of meaning which is added, but if the reader is unaware of Hamlet, they can fail to conceptualize the meaning behind the story presented.

Although Hamlet has been used as major intertextual reference, there exist other texts which are borrowed to the play. This has been displayed in the sense that when the two characters in the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are passing the time, the reminiscent of Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot comes in. In this case, Shakespeares play has served as a reference source whereby Stoppard went beyond placenessness and absurdity presented in Samuel Beckets Waiting for Godot. Without the two references, the audience cannot understand the work and therefore would understand or perceive the play as something else other than what is intended (Newman 76).

In the play, the focus has not been on the action but rather the language used and how it shapes perception and self-identity among the audience. The main characters in the play (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) are occasionally confused by other characters, but instead of correcting, they play along. Their personality does not matter when called to act, which is not the case. In Rosencrantz, the art of performance has played an essential role in retelling Hamlet from the changing perspective.


This play was written as a typical postmodern play and explores the movement throughout with the utilization of features such as characters overlapping at the end, changes in time from past to present and parallel characters in both eras and textual references furthermore, it has an open ending that is combined with ironic style, making it a new, fresh play every time. The play started with brief introduction of the student-teacher relationship between a talented young lady known as Thomasina and the genius teacher called Septimus. In the play, Stoppard has created tension among the audience (Demastes 312). This is established between the two characters present in the play.

It can be easily claimed that Arcadia is satirical on academic and in the sector of academics. In the course of the play, the author has thrown numerous instances of symbols which indicate various meanings such as waltz. This can be related or linked to the multiple struggles for sex and intelligence in the institutions of learning, the dance-filled passion which needs refined skills to understand the complex moves and steps to be taken. Subsequently, Tom proposes that through the theory of will and determination, out existence has a definite order and even if we can maintain the order within the chaos, our lives cannot be predicted. In the play also, there exists no definite conclusion on the theories presented, and the reader is left to make a particular sense of it. Numerous complicated theories related to science and philosophies of life are involved. Some readers may see the play about living life as Thomasina struggled to achieve her potential in life, but this was impossible as Thomasina dies at a tender age of seven. The final part also displays more complexities and is harder to understand. This has been the main reason as to why Stoppard alternated between the two periods while mixing the scenes in the play to show the audience the connection between the characters and the contemporary situation.


The argument in the play is that it is parody rather than pastiche hence defines Stoppards work in a satirical manner. The focus is to see the author as a parodist exploiting the critical potentials of parody to go beyond mere playfulness. The first chapter has encapsulated the theoretical model of the study and highlighted the value of theoretical model by Linda Hutcheon to show its relevance for the study of postmodernism plays (Mudasir 37). There is an argument that the model articulated the significant similarities between the poststructuralist thought and postmodern artistic practice, offering a basis for the formulation of the modern poetics.

In the second chapter Pinter's plays are examined using the concepts elucidated in the initial episode. These plays are categorized into three categories, though not strictly, are aligned to the three stages Pinter's dramatic career (Farooqi 46). The initial plays were discussed with special focus on exposition of their ideological creation towards subjectivity, which involves the study of power and operates within the dominant ideological codes to formulate the aspect of humanity. The second category examines the idea of decentering the subject and fluidity of the past while the third category has focused on the elements of political subjugation and abuse of power.

The third chapter of the play has examined parody, history, and ethics, categorizing them into three sections based on predominant structural and thematic concerns. The first category utilized overt self-reflective approaches like parody and play within a play while the second category links to the history and provides striking similarities with the modern world (Farooqi 68). The third category of the chapter has highlighted on the postmodern stance in relation to ethics.


Postmodernism is an extensive section with a vast variety of elements. The three plays by Stoppard have been considered as products of postmodern theatre since various axioms of genre and stylistic devices have dissolved and there is no definite structure in them. Furthermore, despite the stylistic differences and dramatic modes, the three plays are postmodernist and goes ahead to suggest their importance for any reformation of the poetics in the postmodern plays. The plays have been analyzed base on the specific concepts and theories. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for instance, has displayed ironic and intertextual scenes essential to validate the play as postmodern. Arcadia, on the other hand, has an open ending combined with ironic style, making it a new, fresh play every time. Travesties is also satirical and has no definite structure.

Works Cited

Bertens, Johannes W, and Douwe W. Fokkema. International Postmodernism: Theory and Literary Practice. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1997. Print.

Demastes, William W. "Daniel Keith Jernigan. Tom Stoppard: Bucking the Postmodern." Comparative Drama 48.3 (2014): 312.

Farooqi, Mufti Mudasir. "Harold Pinter Tom Stoppard and the poetics of Postmodernism." 2015. Print.

Gross, Ben. "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: A Study of Theatrical Determinism." (2014).

Mudasir, Mufti. Towards a Poetics of Postmodern Drama: A Study of Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014. Print.

Newman, Sarah. "Fate and Metatheatre in The Spanish Tragedy and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." Verso: An Undergraduate Journal of Literary Criticism (2015).

Platt, Len. Postmodern Literature and Race. New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015. Print.

Stierstorfer, Klaus. Beyond Postmodernism: Reassessments in Literature, Theory, and Culture. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2003. Print.

Witsell, Emily. Literary Research and American Postmodernism: Strategies and Sources. , 2016. Internet resource.

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