Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard left as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946, having spent the three years prior (1943–46) in a boarding school in Darjeeling in the Indian Himalayas. After being educated at schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright. He has been married three times, to Josie Ingle (m. 1965), then Miriam Stoppard (m. 1972), and Sabrina Guinness (m. 2014).
Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler, in Zlín, a city dominated by the shoe-manufacturing industry, in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. He was the son of Martha Becková and Eugen Straussler, a doctor with the Bata shoe company. Both of his parents were non-observant Jews, part of a long-established community. Just before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the town's patron, Jan Antonín Baťa, helped re-post his Jewish employees, mostly physicians, to various branches of his firm all over the world. On 15 March 1939, the day that the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Straussler family fled to Singapore, one of the places Bata had a company.
Before the Japanese occupation of Singapore (February 1942), the two sons and their mother were sent on to Australia. Stoppard's father remained in Singapore as a British army volunteer, knowing that, as a doctor, he would be needed in its defence. His father died when Stoppard was four years old. In the book Tom Stoppard in Conversation, Stoppard tells how his father died in Japanese captivity, a prisoner of war although Straussler is also commonly reported to have drowned on board a ship bombed by Japanese forces.
From there, in 1941, when Tomas was five, the three were evacuated to Darjeeling in India. The boys attended Mount Hermon School, an American multi-racial school, where Tomas became Tom and his brother Petr became Peter.
In 1945, his mother Martha married British army major Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and, in 1946, after the war, moved the family to England. His stepfather believed strongly that "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life" – a quote from Cecil Rhodes – telling his small stepson: "Don't you realise that I made you British?" setting up Stoppard's desire as a child to become "an honorary Englishman". "I fairly often find I'm with people who forget I don't quite belong in the world we're in", he says. "I find I put a foot wrong – it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history – and suddenly I'm there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket." This is reflected in his characters, he notes, who are "constantly being addressed by the wrong name, with jokes and false trails to do with the confusion of having two names". Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in East Riding, Yorkshire, which he hated.
Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for the Western Daily Press in Bristol, never receiving a university education, having taken against the idea. Years later he came to regret not going to university, but at the time he loved his work as a journalist and felt passionately about his career. He remained at the paper from 1954 until 1958, when the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humour columnist, and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theatre. At the Bristol Old Vic – at the time a well-regarded regional repertory company – Stoppard formed friendships with director John Boorman and actor Peter O'Toole early in their careers. In Bristol, he became known more for his strained attempts at humour and unstylish clothes than for his writing.
Stoppard wrote short radio plays in 1953–54 and by 1960 he had completed his first stage play, A Walk on the Water, which was later re-titled Enter a Free Man (1968). He noted that the work owed much to Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Within a week after sending A Walk on the Water to an agent, Stoppard received his version of the "Hollywood-style telegrams that change struggling young artists' lives." His first play was optioned, staged in Hamburg, then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963. From September 1962 until April 1963, Stoppard worked in London as a drama critic for Scene magazine, writing reviews and interviews both under his name and the pseudonym William Boot (taken from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop). In 1964, a Ford Foundation grant enabled Stoppard to spend 5 months writing in a Berlin mansion, emerging with a one-act play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, which later evolved into his Tony-winning play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theatre, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966). On 11 April 1967 – following acclaim at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival – the opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic made Stoppard an overnight success. Jumpers (1972) places a professor of moral philosophy in a murder mystery thriller alongside a slew of radical gymnasts, and Travesties (1974) explored the 'Wildean' possibilities arising from the fact that Vladimir Lenin, James Joyce, and Tristan Tzara had all been in Zurich during the First World War. In his early years, he also wrote extensively for BBC radio, often introducing surrealist themes. He has also adapted many of his stage works for radio, film and television winning extensive awards and honours from the start of his career. His latest original radio production, Darkside (2013), has been written for BBC Radio 2 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966), set in contemporary London. Its cast includes the 18th-century figure of the dandified Malquist and his ineffectual Boswell, Moon, and also cowboys, a lion (banned from the Ritz) and a donkey-borne Irishman claiming to be the Risen Christ.
In the 1980s, in addition to writing his own works, Stoppard translated many plays into English, including works by Sławomir Mrożek, Johann Nestroy, Arthur Schnitzler, and Václav Havel. It was at this time that Stoppard became influenced by the works of Polish and Czech absurdists. He has been co-opted into the Outrapo group, a far-from-serious French movement to improve actors' stage technique through science.
Stoppard has also co-written screenplays including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spielberg states that though Stoppard was uncredited, "he was responsible for almost every line of dialogue in the film". It is also rumoured that Stoppard worked on Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, though again Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role. He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow.
In 2008, Stoppard was voted number 76 on the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.
Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch. He is also a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres.
In July 2013 Stoppard was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for "determination to tell things as they are."
Stoppard was appointed president of the London Library in 2002.
Stoppard was appointed Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, for the academic year 2017-2018.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966–67) was Stoppard's first major play to gain recognition. The story of Hamlet, as told from the viewpoint of two courtiers echoes Beckett in its double act repartee, existential themes and language play. "Stoppardian" became a term describing works using wit and comedy while addressing philosophical concepts. Critic Dennis Kennedy notes "It established several characteristics of Stoppard's dramaturgy: his word-playing intellectuality, audacious, paradoxical, and self-conscious theatricality, and preference for reworking pre-existing narratives... Stoppard's plays have been sometimes dismissed as pieces of clever showmanship, lacking in substance, social commitment, or emotional weight. His theatrical surfaces serve to conceal rather than reveal their author's views, and his fondness for towers of paradox spirals away from social comment. This is seen most clearly in his comedies The Real Inspector Hound (1968) and After Magritte (1970), which create their humour through highly formal devices of reframing and juxtaposition." Stoppard himself went so far as to declare "I must stop compromising my plays with this whiff of social application. They must be entirely untouched by any suspicion of usefulness." He acknowledges that he started off "as a language nerd", primarily enjoying linguistic and ideological playfulness, feeling early in his career that journalism was far better suited for presaging political change, than playwriting.
The accusations of favouring intellectuality over political commitment or commentary were met with a change of tack, as Stoppard produced increasingly socially engaged work. From 1977, he became personally involved with human rights issues, in particular with the situation of political dissidents in Central and Eastern Europe. In February 1977, he visited the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries with a member of Amnesty International. In June, Stoppard met Vladimir Bukovsky in London and travelled to Czechoslovakia (then under communist control), where he met dissident playwright and future president Václav Havel, whose writing he greatly admires. Stoppard became involved with Index on Censorship, Amnesty International, and the Committee Against Psychiatric Abuse and wrote various newspaper articles and letters about human rights. He was also instrumental in translating Havel's works into English. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), 'a play for actors and orchestra' was based on a request by composer André Previn; inspired by a meeting with a Russian exile. This play as well as Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979), The Coast of Utopia (2002), Rock 'n' Roll (2006), and two works for television Professional Foul (1977) and Squaring the Circle (1984) all concern themes of censorship, rights abuses, and state repression.
Stoppard's later works have sought greater inter-personal depths, whilst maintaining their intellectual playfulness. Stoppard acknowledges that around 1982 he moved away from the "argumentative" works and more towards plays of the heart, as he became "less shy" about emotional openness. Discussing the later integration of heart and mind in his work, he commented "I think I was too concerned when I set off, to have a firework go off every few seconds... I think I was always looking for the entertainer in myself and I seem to be able to entertain through manipulating language... [but] it's really about human beings, it's not really about language at all." The Real Thing (1982) uses a meta-theatrical structure to explore the suffering that adultery can produce and The Invention of Love (1997) also investigates the pain of passion. Arcadia (1993) explores the meeting of chaos theory, historiography, and landscape gardening. He was inspired by a Trevor Nunn production of Gorky's Summerfolk to write a trilogy of "human" plays: The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage, 2002).
Stoppard has commented that he loves the medium of theatre for how 'adjustable' it is at every point, how unfrozen it is, continuously growing and developing through each rehearsal, free from the text. His experience of writing for film is similar, offering the liberating opportunity to 'play God', in control of creative reality. It often takes four to five years from the first idea of a play to staging, taking pains to be as profoundly accurate in his research as he can be.
Stoppard has been married three times. His first marriage was to Josie Ingle (1965–1972), a nurse; his second marriage was to Miriam Stern (1972–92), whom he left to begin a relationship with actress Felicity Kendal. He has two sons from each of his first two marriages: Oliver Stoppard, Barnaby Stoppard, the actor Ed Stoppard and Will Stoppard, who is married to violinist Linzi Stoppard. In 2014 he married Sabrina Guinness, daughter of James Edward Alexander Rundell Guinness and his wife Pauline Mander.
Stoppard's mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and neither brother knew what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1990s, with the fall of communism, Stoppard found out that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in Terezin, Auschwitz and other camps, along with three of his mother's sisters. In 1998, following the deaths of his parents he returned to Zlín for the first time in over 50 years. He has expressed grief both for a lost father and a missing past, but he has no sense of being a survivor, at whatever remove. "I feel incredibly lucky not to have had to survive or die. It's a conspicuous part of what might be termed a charmed life."
In the 1970s Stoppard and his wife Miriam bought Iver Grove in Buckinghamshire and lived there for around 20 years.
In 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher's election, Stoppard noted to Paul Delaney: "I'm a conservative with a small c. I am a conservative in politics, literature, education and theatre." In 2007, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian".
The Tom Stoppard Prize (Czech: Cena Toma Stopparda) was created in 1983 under the Charter 77 Foundation and is awarded to authors of Czech origin.
Stoppard, Kevin Spacey, Jude Law, and others, joined protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in March 2011, showing their support for the Belarusian democracy movement.
In 2014, Stoppard publicly backed "Hacked Off" and its campaign towards press self-regulation by "safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."
Stoppard sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill, and a bronze head is now in public collection, situated with the Stoppard papers in the reading room of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The terracotta remains in the collection of the artist in London. The correspondence file relating to the Stoppard bust is held in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.
Stoppard also sat for the sculptor and friend Angela Conner, and his bronze portrait bust is on display in the grounds of Chatsworth House.
The papers of Tom Stoppard are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The archive was first established by Stoppard in 1991 and continues to grow. The collection consists of typescript and handwritten drafts, revision pages, outlines, and notes; production material, including cast lists, set drawings, schedules, and photographs; theatre programs; posters; advertisements; clippings; page and galley proofs; dust jackets; correspondence; legal documents and financial papers, including passports, contracts, and royalty and account statements; itineraries; appointment books and diary sheets; photographs; sheet music; sound recordings; a scrapbook; artwork; minutes of meetings; and publications.1967: Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright (UK)
1967: Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (UK)
1968: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – Tony Award for Best Play, New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play of the Year (US), Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play (UK)
1968: Albert's Bridge – Prix Italia (Italy)
1972: Jumpers – Evening Standard Award for Best Play, Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play (UK)
1974: Travesties – Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year (UK)
1976: Travesties – Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Play (US)
1978: Night and Day – Evening Standard Award for Best Play (UK)
1982: The Dog It Was That Died – Giles Cooper Award
1982: The Real Thing – Evening Standard Award for Best Play (UK)
1984: The Real Thing – Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Foreign Play (US)
1991: In the Native State – Giles Cooper Award
1993: Arcadia – Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for Best New Play, Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year
1994: Arcadia – Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play (UK)
1997: The Invention of Love – Evening Standard Award for Best Play (UK)
1998: Shakespeare in Love – Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (US)
1999: Shakespeare in Love – Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement (Berlin)
2000: The Real Thing – Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play (US)
2000: The Real Thing – Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (US)
2001: The Invention of Love – New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play (US)
2007: The Coast of Utopia – Tony Award for Best Play (US)
2007: The Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts (presented on 3 April 2008 at the National Theatre) (UK)
2008: The 2008 Dan David Prize for Creative Rendering of the Past in Theatre (Israeli)
2013: The PEN Pinter Prize for "determination to tell things as they are." (UK)
2013: Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement
2015: PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award
2017: America Award in Literature
1972: Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
1997: Knight Bachelor
1999: Induction into American Theater Hall of Fame
2000: Order of Merit
2000: Honorary Doctor of Letters, Yale University
2000: Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Cambridge
2002: President of The London Library
2009: Honorary Patronage of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin
2013: Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Oxford
1966: Lord Malquist and Mr Moon
1964: A Walk on the Water
1965: The Gamblers, based on the novel The Gambler by Dostoevsky
1966: Tango, adapted from Sławomir Mrożek's play and Nicholas Bethell translation, premiered at the Aldwych Theatre
1966: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
1968: Enter a Free Man. Developed from A Walk on the Water. First performed 28 March 1968.
1968: The Real Inspector Hound
1969: Albert's Bridge premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
1969: If You're Glad I'll Be Frank premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
1970: After Magritte frequently performed as a companion piece to The Real Inspector Hound
1971: Dogg's Our Pet premiered at the Almost Free Theatre
1972: Artist Descending a Staircase
1976: Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land first performed on 6 April 1976
1976: 15-Minute Hamlet
1977: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was written at the request of André Previn. The play calls for a full orchestra
1978: Night and Day
1979: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth – two plays written to be performed together.
1979: Undiscovered Country – an adaptation of Das Weite Land by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler
1981: On the Razzle based on Einen Jux will er sich machen by Johann Nestroy
1982: The Real Thing
1982: The (15 Minute) Dogg's Troupe Hamlet, revision of 1979 play, Tom Stoppard's contribution to eight one-act plays by eight playwrights performed as Pieces of Eight
1983: English libretto for The Love for Three Oranges. Original opera by Sergei Prokofiev.
1984: Rough Crossing based on Play at the Castle by Ferenc Molnár
1986: Dalliance An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Liebelei
1987: Largo Desolato, translation of a play by Václav Havel
1995: Indian Ink – based on Stoppard's radio play In The Native State
1997: The Invention of Love
1997: The Seagull – translation of the play by Anton Chekhov
2002: The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy of plays: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage
2004: Enrico IV (Henry IV) – translation of the Italian play by Luigi Pirandello First presented at the Donmar Theatre, London, in April 2004
2006: Rock 'n' Roll – first public performance 3 June 2006 preview at the Royal Court Theatre.
2010: The Laws of War – contributor to a collaborative piece for one-night benefit performance in support of Human Rights Watch.
2015: The Hard Problem
Original works for radio
1964: The Dissolution of Dominic Boot
1964: 'M' is for Moon Amongst Other Things
1966: If You're Glad I'll be Frank
1967: Albert's Bridge
1968: Where Are They Now?, written for schools radio
1972: Artist Descending a Staircase
1982: The Dog It Was That Died
1991: In the Native State, later expanded to become the stage play Indian Ink (1995)
2007: On Dover Beach
2012: Albert's Bridge, Artist Descending a Staircase, The Dog It Was That Died, and In the Native State have been published by the British Library as Tom Stoppard Radio Plays
2013: Darkside, written for BBC Radio 2
A Separate Peace transmitted August 1966
Another Moon Called Earth (containing some dialogue and situations later incorporated into Jumpers)
Neutral Ground (a loose adaptation of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
Squaring the Circle
Film and television adaptation of plays and books
1975: Three Men in a Boat adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's novel for BBC Television
1975: The Boundary co-authored by Clive Exton, for the BBC
1978: Despair - screenplay for the film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, starring Dirk Bogarde, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov
1985: Brazil co-authored with Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown, script nominated for an Academy Award
1987: Empire of the Sun first draft of the screenplay
1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade final rewrite of Jeffrey Boam's rewrite of Menno Meyjes's screenplay
1990: The Russia House screenplay for the 1990 film of the John Le Carre Novel
1990: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – won the Golden Lion and which he also directed
1998: Shakespeare in Love co-authored with Marc Norman; script won an Academy Award
1998: Poodle Springs teleplay adaptation of the novel by Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler
2001: Enigma film screenplay of the Robert Harris novel
2005: The Golden Compass a draft screenplay, not produced
2012: Parade's End, television screenplay for BBC/HBO of Ford Madox Ford's series of novels
2012: Anna Karenina, film screenplay of the Leo Tolstoy novel
2014: Tulip Fever, film screenplay of the Deborah Moggach novel