Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Merrill J Lessley

Second Advisor

James M Symons

Third Advisor

Jeffrey N Cox


This study examines Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn‘s incorporation of epistemological themes related to the limits of historical knowledge within their recent biography-based plays. The primary works that are analyzed are Stoppard‘s The Invention of Love (1997) and The Coast of Utopia trilogy (2002), and Frayn‘s Copenhagen (1998), Democracy (2003), and Afterlife (2008). In these plays, caveats, or warnings, that illustrate sources of historical indeterminacy are combined with theatrical stylizations that overtly suggest the authors‘ processes of interpretation and revisionism through an ironic distancing. These processes are analyzed and then placed in a broader context by comparing them with the general trends in historical representation found in deconstructionist and postmodernist plays by British authors in order to investigate how Stoppard and Frayn‘s recent biography-based plays might resemble a continued questioning of biographical approaches similar to those found in new historicism and the study of historiography. Chapter 1 details the context and parameters of this study, the analytical tools that are used, and how it is situated within the current literature. In chapters 2 and 3 the forms of Stoppard and Frayn‘s recent biographical plays are examined along with their use of stylization, their expressed philosophies about historical representation, and analyses from other scholars. These analyses are contextualized with an examination of the presence of themes related to epistemology and historical indeterminacy in their other works. Chapter 4 compares Stoppard and Frayn‘s biography-based works and then places their general similarities in the context of the representative strategies found in deconstructionist and postmodern British history plays, observing that they more closely resemble deconstruction because, while they emphasize provisionality and historical indeterminacy through their play‘s aesthetics, they do not go so far as to universally reduce their interpretations and the communication of their ideas to contingencies. Chapter 5 concludes this study with final observations about the nature of biographical representation and the potential benefits of Stoppard and Frayn‘s strategies.