The way the cricket bat taps a ball, and makes it sail an improbable distance, becomes, in Stoppard’s hands, a metaphor for writing. No living playwright has so regularly made that beautiful (clucks his tongue to make the noise) sound.
[ Read Charles McGrath’s profile of Hermione Lee. ]
The adjective “Stoppardian” — to employ elegant wit while addressing philosophical concerns — entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1978. His plays are trees in which he climbs out, precariously, onto every limb. These trees are swaying. There’s electricity in the air, as before a summer thunderstorm.
Stoppard’s best-known plays include “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “The Real Thing,” “Arcadia” and “The Coast of Utopia.” (His most recent, “Leopoldstadt,” is closed, for now, because of Covid-19.) He co-wrote the screenplay for “Shakespeare in Love,” and has written or worked on dozens of other movie scripts. He’s written a novel and flurries of scripts for radio and television.
Now 83, he’s led an enormous life. In the astute and authoritative new biography, “Tom Stoppard: A Life,” Hermione Lee wrestles it all onto the page. At times you sense she is chasing a fox through a forest. Stoppard is constantly in motion — jetting back and forth across the Atlantic, looking after the many revivals of his plays, keeping the plates spinning, agitating on behalf of dissidents, artists and political prisoners in Eastern Europe, delivering lectures, accepting awards, touching up scripts, giving lavish parties, maintaining friendships with Pinter, Vaclav Havel, Steven Spielberg, Mick Jagger and others. It’s been a charmed life, lived by a charming man. Tall, dashing, large-eyed, shaggy-haired; to women Stoppard’s been a walking stimulus package.