Travesties
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Travesties

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  1,575 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Travesties was born out of Stoppard's noting that in 1917 three of the twentieth century's most crucial revolutionaries -- James Joyce, the Dadaist founder Tristan Tzara, and Lenin -- were all living in Zurich. Also living in Zurich at this time was a British consula official called Henry Carr, a man acquainted with Joyce through the theater and later through a lawsuit con...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published January 21st 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1974)
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Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeRomeo and Juliet by William ShakespeareThe Crucible by Arthur Miller
Best Play Ever
227th out of 404 books — 335 voters
Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeWaiting for Godot by Samuel BeckettA Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Goodreads Top 100 Stage Plays of All Time
163rd out of 273 books — 191 voters


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Community Reviews

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Warwick

A masterful fizz of mature 70s Stoppard, this extravagantly brilliant play is, like many of his best works, sketched in the margins of existing literary history. Stoppard noticed, apparently for the first time, that Tristan Tzara, James Joyce and Lenin were all in neutral Zurich at about the same time during the First World War. Travesties imagines how they might have interacted, and it does so with real brio – including one scene written entirely in limericks, another imitating a chapter of Uly...more
Greg
Great fun. The direction notes in brackets within the players dialogue helps to visualise the play, and also to understand its unusual time shifts while reading the play.

The verbal abuse between characters maybe a nod to, or have been inspired by the similar language in Ulysses. I was reminded of the flow of language, like on p.425 of Ulysses, "Christicle, who's this excrement yellow gospeller on the Merrion hall? ……Come on you winefizzing ginsizzing boozeguzzling existences!". Brave of Stoppard...more
Leslie
Jan 23, 2014 Leslie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Leslie by: Andy Garland
Shelves: plays, humor
OMG, I had forgotten (or not fully realized) how absolutely hilarious this play is! When I saw it in the theater, I must have focused on the homage to/parody of The Importance of Being Earnest because the James Joyce bits certainly were over my head then.

Brief description: Henry Carr is recalling his days in the British Consulate in Zurich Switzerland during WW1, when James Joyce, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), and Tzara (one of the founders of Dadaism) are all there. These 4 are historical f...more
Laura Leaney
This is a play hell-bent on miracles. The writing is nothing short of brilliant. If you love words, and the linguistic gymnastics possible by those little letter-units, this is the play to read. Regardless of the intellectual pyrotechnics, I have stolen some of the simplest of Stoppard's lines for my own repertoire. One of which is below:

Gwen: Mr. Tzara!--you're not leaving? (the hat)
Tzara: Not before I offer you my poem.
(He offers the hat. Gwen looks into it.)
Gwen: Your technique is unusual.

I...more
Asma Fedosia
Comic drama starring the Irish modernist James Joyce, the Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara, the Russian Bolshevik Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and other characters, set in a Room and a Library in the pacific Zurich of 1917. All three of the avant-garde, revolutionary figures are involved in their life's major work, but also bring the literature of Shakespeare and Wilde, the art trends of the period, and the contemporary political theories and relevant historical figures into the play and argue the purpo...more
Julia
This is my favorite play. It's brilliant (in both ideas and language) and it's so much fun to read, and how many other writings about WWI, modernist literature, or absurdism can be accurately described as "fun to read"? Favorite passage:

CARR: How are you, my dear Tristan? What brings you here?
TZARA: Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring anyone anywhere?
(TZARA, no less than CARR, is straight out of The Importance of Being Earnest.)
CARR: I don't know that I approve of all these Benthamite...more
James
Travesties is not really a play at all but an intellectual vaudeville, frothier and more stuffed with factual arcana and philosophical inquiry than even Stoppard's Jumpers, to which it bears a certain stylistic resemblance. Its strength is not in its narrative (there isn't much) or characters (they're conceits), but in Mr. Stoppard's literate gags and glittering cerebral syntax, which finds or creates correspondences in the most hilarious places.

Stoppard's comedy is rooted in history here, altho...more
Frankie
The most intriguing of Stoppard's dramas, Travesties blends history with probability as the minds and works of James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Lenin clash in a madcap tale of mistaken identies.

This play retells the story of a brief production of The Importance of Being Earnest Joyce produced in Zurich, and is structured after Wilde's fascinating social drama.

Please note, this is one piece of dramatic literature that is bound to make yinses heads hurt. Mind you, it doesn't require a full bottle...more
William
Pretty pure Stoppard: philosophy and verbal hijinks, in this case blended for good measure with a dose of The Importance of Being Ernest. As matter of narrative, little really happens, but in between the forced interactions of The characters yields plenty of intellectual heat.
Tony
Mar 20, 2014 Tony rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: drama
TRAVESTIES. (1975). Tom Stoppard. **.
Stoppard has several successful plays under his belt. I don’t know how well this one did in terms of its runs in England and/or New York. My first impression after reading it was that it was extremely preachy. The premise of the play derives from the fact that Stoppard learned that in 1917, three famous people were living in Zurich at the same time. They were James Joyce, Lenin, and Dadaist founder Tristan Tzara. Another key character was Henry Carr, the then...more
Elliot Horen
3 and 1/2 stars.
Bouncing from silly to didactic to absurd, Travesties is ultimately a clever and enjoyable fiction about a confluence of historic characters in early twentieth century Zurich.

I read Travesties at the suggestion of the girlfriend and it was something of an aberration for me. I don’t normally read plays, finding some of the humor and action to be lost without performance. Some of the play’s wittiest (and most-eye-catchingly well written) moments—a barrage of limericks and rhyming...more
Djinnaya
If you have any love of dada, you will love this play. I keep missing seeing it performed, so someone do it again and make me attend.

"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."
dead letter office
Mar 27, 2008 dead letter office rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Eliza
tom stoppard might be the cleverest man alive.
§--
Dec 20, 2013 §-- rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: plays
Zany (originally a commedia della arte term, I believe). The play is structured in 2 Acts, both scenes remembered by Henry Carr, an English consulate official (as he remembers it) in Zurich in 1917. He becomes acquainted with James Joyce, who is busily working on Ulysses, and who hires him to play Algernon in a production of the Importance of Being Earnest (I have not read this play, which kept me from getting a lot of the jokes in Travesties).

Stoppard, in Travesties, works in pastiche as Joyce...more
Phil
Jul 07, 2012 Phil rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: drama
This was a really fun play to read. It is a fascinating meditation on the ways in which memory is shaped, shaded, and distorted by cultural texts. Ostensibly this play is based in the memories of Henry Carr, who worked in the British Consulate in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1917. Also in Zurich at that time (and populating this play) were the revolutionary Bolsheveik V.I. Lenin who would become the leader of the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution, High Modernist author James Joyce who was the...more
Jenna May
While riding public transit, wading through the final sequence of this play that involves Lenin, a voice from my left blurted out, "That's a really dense play."

The voice to my left ended up belonging to a young actress who had not made it through said "dense play," but we had a bit of banter about it, nonetheless. As much as I enjoyed the play, I can easily see how a less stubborn (or hopeful) sort of person might not make it to the end.

The play is dense, to be sure, but it's also a great deal...more
H
Jun 09, 2013 H added it
Shelves: drama
JOYCE: You are an over-excited little man, with a need for self-expression far beyond the scope of your natural gifts. This is not discreditable. Neitehr does it make you an artist. An artist is the magician put among men to gratify--capriciously--their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought dorwn 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 tyra...more
H
Dec 01, 2009 H added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
even more confounding than Ros & Guil Are Dead. most if not all of the politics and history went way over my head. memorable lines:

TRISTAN TZARA: My God, you bloody English philistine -- you ignorant smart-arse bogus bourgeois Anglo-Saxon prick! When the strongest began to fight for the tribe, and the fastest to hunt, it was the artist who became the priest-guardian of the magic that conjured the intelligence out of the appetites. Without him, man would be a coffee-mill. Eat -- grind -- shit...more
Daniel
This is a moderately difficult book to read, but as is the case with a play, it is meant to be seen, not necessarily just read.

I had to work very hard at visualizing this, putting myself in the roles of both audience member and director. When I was able to do that (I wasn't always consistent with this) I found that I greatly enjoyed the interaction between the characters.

I'm not at all familiar with the works of James Joyce (or Lenin or Tristan Tzara for that matter), but I liked the character a...more
Sherwin
A witty examination on the nature of art using three key figures in modern culture.
AB
Jul 20, 2014 AB rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to AB by: unnarrator
Shelves: author-m, plays, cart
Fucking fantastic. I mean, Anything that takes on The Importance of Being Earnest in this manner gets an unqualified A+ from me anyway, but this is just sublime. By the time I finished reading Act I my brain was lit up like a Christmas tree and my nerve endings were hissing and fizzing and I was swooning all over the place; I haven't had so much fun since Angels in America, which is saying a lot.

Also I have a feeling that my eventual reading of Ulysses is going to be eminently more enjoyable no...more
E
A story about Dada, Lenin, and James Joyce, set in Zurich, and done in the style of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. All in all, I hear Stoppard's voice less and less in this absolutely insane hodge-podge, but there's something endearing about the messiness, and I find as I read more of the works that the characters have written, I come to understand the in-jokes more. Definitely worth the curiosity, at any rate.
Tristan
A very intellectual play on the affect Art has on government, ideologies and philosophical beliefs. With segments pertaining to Dadaism, Bolsheviks, socialism and communism, we're shown a comedic side to the intellectual "friends" discussing art. Similar to the Lost Generation of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald etc., and the Beat Generation of Kerouac, Burroughs etc., we see this unrealized generation in Zurich.

Although a difficult and superbly intellectual play, I found it very insightful behind...more
Nicki
Sep 09, 2013 Nicki rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: tony
I can tell this would be an absolutely brilliant play....if most of it didn't go right over my head. Chalk it up to the lack of history education given to the Millennials. There were many memorable quotes that, despite my overall sense of being lost, were witty and politically searing. I'm almost certain a man with spectacles and a houndstooth jacket stood up after this play and screamed with delight "FINALLY! A play for historians!"

The scene that progresses in limerick form was one of the most...more
Dan
The fact that novelist James Joyce, Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara and political theorist Vladimir Lenin all lived in Zurich, Switzerland at the same time is the basis for a comedy of errors that employs the Hollywood device of the switched briefcase. Hilarity ensues.
Todor Zed
This play was a fun read and it offers a lot of room for discussion on the topics of art, politics and the way the two interfere with each other. The characters are picked well and I quite enjoyed the Wilde-style humour the author successfully applies. Oh and hopefully more people realize Romania, Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkan countries are NOT an entity and are indeed quite different in many aspects, despite sharing boundaries. Duh!!
Jeff
Reading this play is like having your brain scrubbed. It is probably going to take me a while to fully digest what Stoppard is up to here--and it may be more smoke and mirrors than I will like to admit--but that doesn't prevent me from being awestruck as he turns a minor historical footnote into a major battle of wits concerning art versus politics all welded to a clever pastiche of "The Importance of Being Earnest."
Eileen
Might be better ona second, closer read. Seemed too contrived and lazy, somehow.
Andrew
There are moments of Stoppardian wit, but it's pretty badly half-baked as far as the ideas go. Even when Stoppard is being far too earnest and grandiloquent in most of his other plays (The Invention of Love is probably the best example), he is still able to bring it off because he is so adroit at fashioning the right soapboxes for his characters. Here, they seem to be standing on air.
Genevieve Heinrich
Jul 21, 2008 Genevieve Heinrich rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Genevieve by: Maddsurgeon
I knew going into this play that I wouldn't like it quite as much as Stoppard's other works, being that the subject matter is less familiar to me. I was actually expecting to be more put off by that than I was, honestly! As usual, hilarious and touching all at once... and now I want to go re-read *The Importance of Being Earnest* - it's been a while!
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Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE, FRSL, is a British screenwriter and playwright.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Stop...
More about Tom Stoppard...
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Arcadia The Real Thing: A Play The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays The Invention of Love

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“[James] Joyce... an essentially private man who wished his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognized....” 22 likes
“Nowadays, an artist is someone who makes art mean the things he does.” 11 likes
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