Laureates 2008

2008 Past - Creative Rendering of the Past: Literature, Theater, Film

Tom Stoppard

TomStoppardTom Stoppard established himself as one of the few undisputed masters of the modern stage in 1966 with "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead". Often challenging the prevailing intellectual and political views, he has insisted on the need to affirm absolute values. Language is slippery, philosophy is elusive, science often baffling - but in Stoppard's world there is a pervasive faith in goodness, beauty and love.

His first overtly historical work was "Travesties", a play that emerged from the bizarre coincidence that James Joyce, the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara and Lenin all lived in Zurich during the first World War. Stoppard's passionate engagement with his subject matter has always been married to a dazzling theatricality and a genius for laughter. In "Travesties" a complex examination of the purpose of art and the nature of political progress is conveyed through a farcical parody of Oscar Wilde. But Stoppard's cleverness is always tempered by a profound humanity; and in what is perhaps his masterpiece - "Arcadia" - he explores the conflict between intellect and emotion, and delivers one of the twentieth century theatre's most heart-felt meditations on love. In the process, he explicitly interweaves past and present as the world's of the early nineteenth and late twentieth centuries dissolve into each other in the same country house.

Stoppard has translated Schnitzler, Chekhov and Nestroy into English; he has written screenplays including the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love"; and he has been an energetic human rights campaigner, particularly engaged with the fate of political dissidents in the Soviet bloc. In his most recent works he has continued his creative relationship with the past. "The Invention of Love" took the poet A E Housman as its subject. His trilogy of plays "The Coast of Utopia" examined the roots of political radicalism in nineteenth century Russia. "Rock 'n Roll" is a thrilling hymn to liberty that travels between the Prague Spring of 1968 and the present.

Stoppard is as much showman as intellectual, as much entertainer as philosopher, as much joker as seeker of truth. He is the only playwright to be a member of the Order of Merit - Britain's highest honour.

The 2008 Dan David Prize honors Tom Stoppard in the field of Creative Rendering of the Past: Literature, Theater, Film for being a master playwright whose plays return repeatedly to the past as part of his ceaseless search for meaning in a bewildering universe while demonstrating farcical cleverness alongside profound humanity.