Last modified on 2 July 2014, at 22:05

Tom Stoppard

I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.

Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler; 3 July 1937) is a Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter, knighted in 1997.

See also:
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Shakespeare in Love

QuotesEdit

  • It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn't going to be quotable ... it's better to be quotable than honest.

Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966)Edit

  • Revolution is a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering; the capacity for self-indulgence changes hands.
    • Ch. I: Dramatis Personae and Other Coincidences
  • Since we cannot hope for order let us withdraw with style from the chaos.
    • Ch. I: Dramatis Personae and Other Coincidences
  • My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • When someone disagrees with you on a moral point you assume that he is one step behind in his thinking, and he assumes that he has gone one step ahead. But I take both parts, O'Hara, leapfrogging myself along the great moral issues, refuting myself and rebutting the refutation towards a truth that must be the compound of two opposite half-truths. And you never reach it because there is always something more to say.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • I agree with everything you say, but I would attack to the death your right to say it.
    • Ch. 2: A Couple of Deaths and Exits
  • The House of Lords, an illusion to which I have never been able to subscribe — responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch throughout the ages.
    • Ch. 6: An Honourable Death
    • This is a reference to a quote of Rudyard Kipling, "Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages," which became widely known after being quoted by prime minister Stanley Baldwin in a speech of 1931-03-17.

Artist Descending a Staircase (1972)Edit

  • Donner: Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

Jumpers (1972)Edit

  • There is presumably a calendar date — a moment — when the onus of proof passed from the atheist to the believer, when, quite suddenly, secretly, the noes had it.
    • George, Act I


  • It was precisely this notion of infinite series which in the sixth century BC led the Greek philosopher Zeno to conclude that since an arrow shot towards a target first had to cover half the distance, and then half the remainder, and then half the remainder after that, and so on ad infinitum, the result was, as I will now demonstrate, that though an arrow is always approaching its target, it never quite gets there, and Saint Sebastian died of fright.
    • George, Act I


  • It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.
    • Dotty, Act I


  • How the hell do I know what I find incredible? Credibility is an expanding field... Sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.
    • George, Act I


  • Dotty: Archie says the Church is a monument to irrationality.
    George: ... The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality! — and so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover's favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one gigantic field of soya beans!
    • Act I


  • Language is a finite instrument crudely applied to an infinity of ideas, and one consequence of the failure to take account of this is that modern philosophy has made itself ridiculous by analysing such statements as, "This is a good bacon sandwich," or, "Bedser had a good wicket."
    • George, Act II

Travesties (1974)Edit

  • An essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognized.
    • Carr, Act I


  • Bennett seems to be showing alarming signs of irony. I have always found that irony among the lower orders is the first sign of an awakening social consciousness. It remains to be seen whether it will grow into an armed seizure of the means of production, distribution and exchange, or spend itself in liberal journalism.
    • Carr, Act I


  • Tzara: Causality is no longer fashionable owing to the war.
    Carr: How illogical, since the war itself had causes. I forget what they were, but it was all in the papers at the time. Something about brave little Belgium, wasn't it?
    Tzara: Was it? I thought it was Serbia...
    Carr: Brave little Serbia...? No, I don't think so. The newspapers would never have risked calling the British public to arms without a proper regard for succinct alliteration.
    • Act I


  • To be an artist at all is like living in Switzerland during a world war. To be an artist in Zurich, in 1917, implies a degree of self-absorption that would have glazed over the eyes of Narcissus.
    • Carr, Act I


  • War is capitalism with the gloves off and many who go to war know it but they go to war because they don't want to be a hero. It takes courage to sit down and be counted.
    • Tzara, Act I


  • I had no idea Gwendolen knew any foreign languages, and I am not sure that I approve. It's the sort of thing that can only broaden a girl's mind.
    • Carr, Act I


  • When I was at school, on certain afternoons we all had to do what was called Labour — weeding, sweeping, sawing logs for the boiler-room, that sort of thing; but if you had a chit from Matron you were let off to spend the afternoon messing about in the Art Room. Labour or Art. And you've got a chit for life? Where did you get it? What is an artist? For every thousand people there's nine hundred doing the work, ninety doing well, nine doing good, and one lucky bastard who's the artist.
    • Carr, Act I


  • An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist's touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships — and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer.
    • Joyce, Act I
    • Stoppard called this "the most important" speech in the play.


  • I learned three things in Zurich during the war. I wrote them down. Firstly, you're either a revolutionary or you're not, and if you're not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can't be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary. ... I forget the third thing.
    • Carr, Act II

Night and Day (1978)Edit

  • A foreign correspondent is someone who lives in foreign parts and corresponds, usually in the form of essays containing no new facts. Otherwise he's someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks that the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it.
    • Wagner, Act I


  • I never got used to the way the house Trots fell into the jargon back in Grimsby — I mean, on any other subject, like the death of the novel, or the sex life of the editor's secretary, they spoke ordinary English, but as soon as they started trying to get me to join the strike it was as if their brains had been taken out and replaced by one of those little golf-ball things you get in electric typewriters... "Betrayal"... "Confrontation"... "Management"... My God, you'd need a more supple language than that to describe an argument between two amoebas.
    • Milne, Act I


  • Wagner: There were printers getting more than journalists!
    Milne: Yes, I know, but you make it sound as if the natural order has been overthrown. Fish sing in the streets, rivers run uphill, and the printers are getting more than the journalists. Okay — you're worth more than a printer. But look at some of this — "We find the vanishing vicar of Lovers' Leap!" "Sally Smith is a tea lady in a Blackpool engineering works, but it was the way she filled those C-cups which got our cameraman all stirred up!" It's crap. And it's written by grown men earning maybe ten thousand a year. If I was a printer, I'd look at some of the stuff I'm given to print, and I'd ask myself what is supposed to be so special about the people who write it — is that radical enough for you — Dick?
    • Act I


  • The media. It sounds like a convention of spiritualists.
    • Ruth, Act I


  • Milne: No matter how imperfect things are, if you've got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
    Ruth: I'm with you on the free press. It's the newspapers I can't stand.
    • Act I


  • Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.
    • Milne, Act I
  • I know the British press is very attached to the lobby system. It lets the journalists and the politicians feel proud of their traditional freedoms while giving the reader as much of the truth as they think is good for him.
    • Mageeba, Act II


  • Mageeba: Do you know what I mean by a relatively free press, Mr. Wagner?
    Wagner: Not exactly, sir, no.
    Mageeba: I mean a free press which is edited by one of my relatives.
    • Act II

The Real Thing (1982)Edit

  • The days of the digitals are numbered. The metaphor is built into them like a self-destruct mechanism.
    • Max, Act I, scene I.
    • Often misquoted as "The days of the digital watch are numbered."


  • I'm showing an interest in your work. I thought you liked me showing an interest in your work. My showing. Save the gerund and screw the whale.
    • Max, Act I, scene I


  • Public postures have the configuration of private derangement.
    • Henry, Act I, scene II


  • Buddy Holly was twenty-two. Think of what he might have gone on to achieve. I mean, if Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at twenty-two, the history of music would have been very different. As would the history of aviation, of course.
    • Henry, Act II, scene V


  • This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. it's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might...travel.
    • Henry, Act II, scene V


  • I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.
    • Henry, Act II, scene V

Arcadia (1993)Edit

  • Chater: You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening!
    Septimus: You are mistaken. I made love to your wife in the gazebo. She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander.
    • Act I


  • We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?
    • Septimus, Act I


  • Oh, you're going to zap me with penicillin and pesticides. Spare me that and I'll spare you the bomb and aerosols. But don't confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There's no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle's cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God's crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can't think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars - big bangs, black holes - who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money?
    • Bernard, Act II


  • I'd push the lot of you over a cliff myself. Except the one in the wheelchair, I think I'd lose the sympathy vote before people had time to think it through.
    • Bernard, Act II


  • It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them.
    • Lady Croom, Act II


  • It's the wanting to know that makes us matter.
    • Hannah, Act II

The Invention of Love (1997)Edit

  • I will take his secret to the grave, telling people along the way. Betrayal is no sin if it is whimsical.


  • Miss Frobisher smiles, with little cause that I know of. If Jesus of Nazareth had had before him the example of Miss Frobisher getting through the Latin degree papers of the London University Examinations Board he wouldn’t have had to fall back on camels and the eyes of needles, and Miss Frobisher’s name would be a delightful surprise to encounter in Matthew, Chapter 19; as would, even more surprisingly, the London University Examinations Board. Your name is not Miss Frobisher? What is your name? Miss Burton. I’m very sorry. I stand corrected. If Jesus of Nazareth had had before him the example of Miss Burton getting through the... Oh, dear, I hope it is not I who have made you cry.
    • Housman, Act I

The Coast of Utopia: Voyage (2002)Edit

  • Alexander: I myself was educated in Italy. My doctorate in philosophy is from the University of Padua.
    Renne: Really? Philosophy?
    Alexander: My dissertation was on worms.
    Renne: Worms the philosopher?
    Alexander: No, just worms.
    Renne: Ah, the philosophy of worms.
    Alexander: Not at all. Worms have no philosophy, as far as is known.


  • Alexander: No spunk, simple as that! Your brother's an army deserter!
    Michael: Oh yes, I've resigned my commission.
    Alexander: He's refusing to return to duty.
    Michael: On grounds of ill health, Papa. I'm sick of the Army.
    Alexander: No discipline, that's the problem!
    Michael: No, it's riddled with discipline, that's the problem. That and Poland.


  • Michael: "March here, march there, present arms, where's your cap?" — you've no idea, the whole Army's obsessed with playing at soldiers.


  • Alexander: How the world must have been changing while I was holding it still.

The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck (2002)Edit

  • Herzen: Marx is a bourgeois from the anus up.
    Natalie : Alexander! I won't have that word...
    Herzen: Sorry, middle-class.


  • Bakunin: Act first! The ideas will follow, and if not — well, it's progress


  • Turgenev: The names for things don't come first. Words stagger after, hopelessly trying to become the sensation.

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage (2002)Edit

  • Their coarseness is the sinew of some kind of brute confidence which is the reason England is home to every shade of political exile. They don't give asylum out of respect for asylum-seekers, but out of respect for themselves. They invented personal liberty, and they know it, and they did it without having any theories about it. They value liberty because it's liberty.
    • Herzen


  • Bakunin: Left to themselves people are noble, generous, uncorrupted, they'd create a completely new kind of society if only people weren't so blind, stupid and selfish.
    Herzen: Is that the same people or different people?
    Bakunin: The same people.


  • Wake me up for breakfast, if I'm not dead.


  • (Falls down in a drunken stupor): Let's sit down.
    • Ogarev

Interviews and profilesEdit

  • I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself.
  • I began my talk by saying that I had not written my plays for purposes of discussion. At once, I felt a ripple of panic run through the hall. I suddenly realised why. To everyone present, discussion was the whole point of drama. That was why the faculty had been endowed — that was why all those buildings had been put up! I had undermined the entire reason for their existence.
    • "Tom Stoppard," profile by Kenneth Tynan, The New Yorker (1977-12-19)
  • I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.
  • When Harold Pinter was lobbying to have London's Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theatre, Stoppard wrote back: "Have you thought, instead, of changing your name to Harold Comedy?"
    • William Langley, "Profile: Sir Tom Stoppard," The Telegraph (2006-11-06) [1]


MisattributedEdit

  • It is better of course to know useless things than to know nothing.
    • Source: Seneca , Epistle 88, as seen in the following: "You may sweep all these theories in with the superfluous troops of 'liberal' studies; the one class of men give me a knowledge that will be of no use to me, the other class do away with any hope of attaining knowledge. It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing. One set of philosophers offers no light by which I may direct my gaze toward the truth; the other digs out my very eyes and leaves me blind." Seneca: Epistle 88
  • My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
    • Source: Hermann Weyl as quoted by Freeman Dyson: "Characteristic of Weyl was an aesthetic sense which dominated his thinking on all subjects. He once said to me, half-joking, 'My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.'" - Freeman Dyson, "Obituary of Hermann Weyl," Nature (1956-03-10), pp. 457-458
  • Beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it. [Elle est désirée pour la salir. Non pour elle-même, mais pour la joie goûtée dans la certitude de la profaner.]
  • If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
    • Source: Abraham Sutzkever (born 1913), quoted in "Yiddish Poet Celebrates Life with His Language" by Joseph Berger, The New York Times (1985-03-17), Section 1, page 38
  • If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.
    • Source: Margaret Mead, quoted in "Growing Old in America: An Introduction with Margaret Mead" by Grace Hechinger, Family Circle (1977-07-26), p.27
  • Responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them.
    • Source: Elbert Hubbard, "J.B. Runs Things," Short Stories and Index: Elbert Hubbard's Selected Writings, Part 14 (1923) [Kessinger Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0766103978], p. 278
  • A movie camera is like having someone you have a crush on watching you from afar— you pretend it's not there.
  • Most men give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.
    • Source: William R(ounseville) Alger, American clergyman and writer [1822-1905]; reported in Raphael Lewin, Ed., The New Era (1872), Volume 2, p. 315.
  • From principles is derived probability, but truth or certainty is obtained only from facts.
    • From principles is derived probability, but truth is obtained only from facts. - Jesse Olney (1798 - 1872), The National Preceptor (Goodwin, 1830), Lesson LXXXV: "Select Sentences," rule # 19 (p. 171)

External linksEdit

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