Sunday, January 10, 2010


Without commentary, two observations about voice:
Mel Gussow: What kind of playwright are you?

Tom Stoppard: In general terms, I'm not a playwright who is interested in character with a capital K and psychology with a capital S. I'm a playwright interested in ideas and forced to invent characters to express those ideas. All my people speak the same way, with the same cadences and sentence structures. They speak as I do. When I write an African president into a play, I have to contrive to have him the only African president who speaks like me.

MG: What if you were writing an American play?

TS: All the Americans would have to be educated at Sandhurst or Christchurch - Rhodes scholars discussing John Wayne.

MG: Doesn't that limit you?

TS: It limits me in areas I'm not interested in expanding.

Mel Gussow:
Conversations with Stoppard
July 1979 interview

Nowadays the journalistic critical cliché about a young poet is to say that "he has found his own voice," the emphasis being on his differentness, on the uniqueness of his voice, on the fact that he sound like nobody else. But the Elizabethans at their best as well as at their worst are always sounding like each other. They did not search much after uniqueness of voice....It would hardly have struck them that a style could be used for display of personality.

Thom Gunn
Introduction to
Selected Poems of Fulke Greville
(as quoted by Colm Tóibín
The New York Review of Books, Jan. 14, 2010)

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Blogger Karl said...

Interesting stuff. I'm wondering what's led you to this investigation of voice?

January 11, 2010 11:10 AM  
Blogger Paul Festa said...

In one sense it was just a reading serendipity - I read the Stoppard comment in the morning and the Gunn quote in the afternoon. But I've always been sensitive to the criticism that my characters were too undifferentiated, that they sounded too much like me, and found Stoppard's self-acceptance on this supposed flaw refreshing if not liberating (I will probably continue to worry).

January 11, 2010 11:56 AM  
Blogger Karl said...

Stoppard is nothing if not nervy: "It limits me in areas I'm not interested in expanding." I guess you can say that after you've been winning awards for your scripts for 30 years! For me, if one is not going to put character first, then the ideas better be pretty complex and/or original and/or provocative. Otherwise it's just didactic.

January 12, 2010 11:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Festa said...

Nervy is saying it in 1979, when you're 32 years old.

January 13, 2010 9:10 AM  

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