Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth
TOM STOPPARD 1979
Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth are two one-act plays by Tom Stoppard, which are often performed together as Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth. First published together in England in 1979, the two plays were inspired by separate sources. Dogg’s Hamlet is an expanded version of two earlier, similar plays. The play is based on a section of the philosophical investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who explored how people use language to communicate. The play introduces an alternate language, called Dogg, which uses English words that have different meanings in Dogg. This inconsistency leads to confusion on the part of the play’s characters, who try to communicate in their respective languages, English and Dogg. By the end of this first play, the Englishspeaking character, Easy, is speaking Dogg.
Cahoot’s Macbeth, which is more political in nature, was dedicated to a Czechoslovakian playwright, Pavel Kohout. Because censorship in his country prevented public theatrical productions, Kohout wrote an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which he performed in people’s living rooms. Stoppard’s play features a similar living-room theatre production of Macbeth, which gets broken up by an inspector, who threatens to arrest the actors and audience members for breaking the censorship rules. However, Easy, the English-speaking character from the first play, arrives and teaches the actors Dogg. When the inspector comes back a second time and catches them speaking Page 117 | Top of Articleentirely in Dogg, he cannot arrest them because he does not understand what they are saying. Both plays are united in their use of a common invented language, but they also explore how manipulations of language—a characteristic technique of Stoppard’s drama—can be used in various political and nonpolitical ways. A current copy of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth can be found in The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays, which was published by Grove Press in 1998.
Stoppard was born as Tomas Straussler on July 3, 1937, in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. In 1939, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia during World War II, the Strausslers, who had at least some Jewish heritage and feared persecution, fled the country to Singapore. In 1942, the playwright’s mother moved the playwright and his brother to India to escape the Japanese. The playwright’s father, a doctor, stayed behind in Singapore, where he was killed. Mrs. Straussler married Major Kenneth Stoppard in 1946, and the family moved to England, where the young Stoppard received a traditional preparatory education and became a naturalized English citizen.
In 1954, Stoppard began his career as a journalist in Bristol, England, writing for the Western Daily Press, where he stayed until 1958, when he began writing for the Evening World in Bristol. In 1962, Stoppard moved to London, where he wrote theater criticism, radio plays, and his first stage play, A Walk on the Water, which was shown on television in 1963. However, it was not until 1966’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that Stoppard achieved his first critical and popular success. Although some of his next plays explored political issues, it was not until the late 1970s that Stoppard wrote four plays that are commonly referred to as his dissident comedies. Among these was 1979’s Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, two one-act plays linked through their use of a common invented language.
Stoppard is regarded as one of the preeminent post-World War II dramatists, and, as such, his plays have received several awards from the dramatic community, including Antoinette Perry (“Tony”) Awards for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead(1968), Travesties(1976), and The Real Thing (1984). In addition, Stoppard has been recognized by the film community for his screenwriting
work. He was nominated (along with Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown) for an Academy Award in 1985 for Brazil. In 1998, Stoppard received the Academy Award (along with Marc Norman) for best screenplay written directly for the screen, for Shakespeare in Love.
Stoppard continues to live and work in London, England, and his latest plays include Arcadia(1993), Indian Ink(1995), and The Invention of Love(1997).
Dogg’s Hamlet begins on an empty stage when Baker, a schoolboy, says, “Here,” asking another boy to throw him a football. However, since he says it in “Dogg,” a language that uses English words with unconventional meanings, what he really says is “Brick.” From this point on, most of the characters in Dogg’s Hamlet speak Dogg, which, to anybody who does not know it, sounds like gibberish. Page 118 | Top of ArticleFor the reader, Stoppard initially provides translations from Dogg to English in brackets, but audience members have no such aid and must learn Dogg as the play goes on. Baker joins Abel on the stage, and together they test the microphone, which is dead. Charlie and Abel fight over the football, and Dogg, the headmaster, arrives and takes it from them, hitting Abel in the process.
They make idle conversation with Dogg, who tells them that a lorry, or truck, is about to arrive. Dogg leaves, and the three boys eat their lunches, then Abel and Baker start rehearsing their lines for Hamlet, the school play they are acting in later that day. The play is in English, and the boys say their lines tonelessly, as if they are speaking a foreign language they do not quite understand. The lorry-driver, Easy, arrives with the materials needed to build the stage for the school play. He speaks in English, and the boys are confused. Baker tries to communicate by reciting one of the English lines from Hamlet, but it does not work. Dogg enters, and Easy wishes him a good afternoon, which is an insult in Dogg. Dogg threatens Easy, who is now very confused. Dogg looks at Easy’s construction plans and positions everybody to start building the stage. Dogg starts off the construction by calling out “Plank,” a word that means “Ready.” Easy notes that the boys throw Dogg a plank, the first item they need to start building the stage, and he thinks everybody is finally speaking English. Easy calls for two more planks, and they are thrown to him. Dogg leaves, and the next time Easy calls for a plank, a block is thrown instead.
Easy is confused and passes the block back. This happens several times; then Easy walks offstage and hits Abel, thinking Abel is giving him a hard time. The language confusion continues as they build the stage, and the audience hears Easy hit Abel again. Charlie has a radio, which broadcasts sports scores in Dogg. Dogg comes by when the platform is finished, and looks at the wall that the boys have built. Easy stands admiring the wall, which is composed of lettered blocks that spell out the words, “MATHS OLD EGG,” three seemingly harmless words. Dogg reads the words and knocks Easy through the wall, offended. The words the boys have spelled out are an insult, written in Dogg, although Easy does not know this. The boys rebuild the wall twice more, each time creating seemingly harmless words that are actually insults in Dogg. Each time, Dogg takes offense at the words and throws Easy into the wall, knocking it down, although Easy dutifully throws himself through the wall the last time.
Finally, the letters on the wall are arranged correctly, reading “Dogg’s Hamlet.” Easy introduces the play, speaking Dogg, and Dogg’s fifteenminute version of Hamlet begins, with the three boys acting their parts and several others acting the other standard parts of Hamlet, in this highly abbreviated version of the play. Although the play is shortened, the lines are still borrowed directly from Shakespeare’s original play. At the conclusion of the play, the actors come out for an encore, in which they act out the play again using Shakespeare’s lines, although this time the play is cut down even more, and the actors fly through the dialogue in only a couple of minutes. Easy thanks the audience, in Dogg, and walks out.
Cahoot’s Macbeth takes place in a living room across town, although when the play starts, there is such little light on the stage that the audience does not know this. Unlike the previous play, this play starts out in English, with several actors acting out an abbreviated performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As in the earlier play, the lines are borrowed directly from Shakespeare’s play. At a certain point in the play, a police siren is heard in the background, followed by a knocking noise at the door. These disturbances are incorporated into the dialogue of the play. The hostess goes offstage and lets a police inspector in to what is now an empty living room. He is surprised to find that the hostess is hosting a play in the living room of her home and references the audience—the audience who is watching Stoppard’s play. Landovsky, the actor playing Macbeth, comes back into the room. The actors and the inspector talk about how public acting has been censored, and the inspector takes a seat in the audience, intending to watch the rest of the Macbeth production. The actors are wary, however, because they do not want to be arrested by the inspector for breaking censorship laws, which forbid acting.
The inspector tells them that they had better continue their acting for his pleasure and that if he does not like it, he is going to arrest them. The nervous actors reluctantly finish acting out the interrupted scene from their abbreviated version of Macbeth, and the inspector is not impressed, saying that Page 119 | Top of Articlethe police do not like Shakespeare. The inspector says that the police would rather have people say that there is no freedom outright, instead of acting it out in cryptic plays. One of the actors, Cahoot, a banned writer, suddenly falls to his hands and knees and acts like a dog. The inspector asks him to make a statement, and Cahoot speaks in Shakespearean language. The inspector tells him that he cannot get around the law by quoting verse at him, then lists the various freedom-fighting organizations he has persecuted. Cahoot growls, which Macbeth says is due to the fact that he has been made a nonperson.
The inspector leaves, telling everybody else to go as well. However, the actors resume their play as soon as he is gone. After the play has progressed somewhat, Easy, the lorry-driver from the first play, arrives on stage, speaking Dogg. The actors continue to speak their lines from Macbeth, while Easy appears at various places on and around the stage, trying to get their attention. Macbeth starts to incorporate these appearances into the play, as if Easy were a ghostly apparition. Finally, the hostess stops the production so they can talk to Easy. In Dogg, he tries to tell them that he has a load of materials for them. He opens the shutters and shows them his truck, and they start to understand him. The actors resume their acting.
Once again, the inspector arrives. Easy tries to talk to him in Dogg, and the hostess explains that Easy does not understand English. Cahoot enters and starts to speak to Easy in Dogg. Cahoot tells the others that Easy only speaks Dogg, a language that is caught, not learned. Easy starts speaking Dogg to the other actors, who are picking up on the language. The hostess tells the inspector to leave the stage so they can perform the final act of Macbeth, and the inspector warns her that the place is bugged and that the recording will be used against the actors at their trial. The actors resume acting Macbeth, although now they say all of their lines in Dogg. The phone rings, and the inspector answers it. His partner outside says that they cannot understand the words on the recording. The inspector is flustered and gets more so as the actors continue acting in Dogg, while Easy and some of the actors build steps on the stage, talking in Dogg as they work. The inspector finally blows up and calls in other policemen, who use the building materials to start walling up the stage—hiding the actors from the audience. The phone rings, and Easy answers it. As he talks into the mouthpiece to somebody, his language slowly changes from Dogg back into English. His last line is completely in English, and he says that it has been a funny week but that he expects he will be back by Tuesday.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Abel is one of three schoolboys who helps set up the production of Hamlet and acts in it. Abel is the boy who receives the most abuse in the play. In the beginning, the headmaster, Dogg, catches Abel playing with a football while they are setting up for their play and hits him for goofing off. When Easy, the lorry-driver, arrives, Abel and the others do not understand Easy’s English and respond to him in Dogg. As a result of this language confusion, Abel does not hand Easy the right building materials when they are constructing the platform on the stage, and Easy takes his frustration out on Abel by hitting him. In the Hamlet production, Abel and Baker play guards.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Baker is one of three schoolboys who helps set up the production of Hamlet and acts in it. With Abel’s help, Baker helps set up the microphone on the stage. When the boys do not understand Easy’s English, Baker tries to speak to Easy in Shakespearean English, borrowing one of the lines from their production of Hamlet. Baker and Charlie are the ones who initially build the letter-block wall on stage, spelling out insulting words in Dogg, which gets Easy in trouble. In the Hamlet production, Abel and Baker play guards.
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, Cahoot is a censored writer and the only one of the Macbeth actors who initially speaks Dogg. When the inspector confronts the actors, Cahoot, who has, up until that point, played Banquo in their production of Macbeth, now acts like he has turned into a dog. He barks at the inspector and then speaks to him in Shakespearean language, but the inspector tells him to talk straight. Page 120 | Top of ArticleWhen Easy arrives speaking in Dogg, Cahoot is the only one who can translate. Although the play was dedicated to the censored writer, Pavel Kohout, Stoppard claims that Cahoot is not Kohout.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Charlie is one of three schoolboys who helps set up the production of Hamlet and acts in it. Baker and Charlie are the ones who initially build the letter-block wall on stage, spelling out insulting words in Dogg, which gets Easy in trouble. In the Hamlet production, Charlie plays Ophelia and wears a dress over his shorts.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Dogg is the school’s headmaster, who oversees the setup for the school’s play, Dogg’s Hamlet. When Easy first meets Dogg, Easy wishes him good afternoon, which is an insult in Dogg, the language named after the headmaster. As the play progresses, Easy inadvertently gets on the bad side of Dogg several more times when Baker and Charlie create a wall of letter-blocks, which spell out insults in Dogg. However, Easy does not realize these words, which are harmless in English, are insults. As a result, he is very surprised when Dogg repeatedly throws Easy into the wall, knocking it down and prompting the students to use the letter blocks to create new insults. In the Hamlet production, Dogg speaks the prologue. Dogg’s Hamlet is dedicated to Ed Berman and Inter-Action Productions, a play group that performed many of Stoppard’s plays. In the play, Berman is represented by Dogg.
The lorry-driver, Easy, is the only character who is present in both Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth. In the former play, Easy, who works for Buxton’s Deliveries, delivers a load of building materials to the school where the headmaster, Dogg, and three of his students, Abel, Charlie, and Baker, are getting ready to put on a play. Easy tries to speak to them in English, but they only speak Dogg, so he becomes very confused. Dogg sets them all to work building a platform on the stage. Easy gives instructions in English, which the schoolboys take for their Dogg equivalent, so Easy gets very confused when the building does not go the way he has planned. In addition, the schoolboys play a prank, rearranging the letter blocks of the play’s title to say insulting things in Dogg—which happen to be normal, non-insulting words in English—and Dogg blames Easy for the insults. By the end of the first play, Easy has started to pick up on Dogg.
By the time Easy arrives at the living-room theater in Cahoot’s Macbeth, he can only speak in Dogg and can no longer understand English. Unfortunately, most of the actors who are performing their illegal production of Macbeth can only understand English, so Easy is once again confused, although this time the situation is reversed. Easy finally makes them understand that he has brought building materials for their stage. At the same time, the inspector—who has come to shut down the production of Macbeth and arrest the actors and audience—gets very confused when he hears Easy speak in Dogg. When one of the other actors, Cahoot, comes in and sees Easy, he begins speaking to him in Dogg and explains to the other actors that this is what he is doing. Although the inspector does not catch on to Dogg language, the rest of the actors do, and for the rest of the play, they perform Macbeth completely in Dogg, while Easy and some of the actors build steps in the background. At the end of the play, Easy answers the phone and talks to the person on the other end, slowly switching back to talking in English.
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, the hostess owns the private residence where the actors are staging their abbreviated production of Macbeth. The hostess refers to members of her audience—which is actually Stoppard’s audience—and tries to convince the inspector that the audience members are all personal friends of hers. In this way, she hopes to avoid being arrested. However, the inspector warns her that she is still liable for the acting, which is against censorship rules. When Easy arrives speaking Dogg, she thinks he might be crazy, although, like the other actors, she soon picks up the language.
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, the inspector is the policeman who has been staking out the hostess’s home and who tries unsuccessfully to arrest the actors. When the inspector first arrives, he is lighthearted, Page 121 | Top of Articlereferencing the odd jobs the actors have worked—such as working in newspaper kiosks—where he has admired their “acting.” For the inspector and the police force, selling newspapers and working other non-acting jobs is the only form of artistic expression allowed. The inspector talks about the censorship that prevents the actors from acting. However, he still insists on seeing the actors perform their play and threatens them with legal action if they do not act for him.
However, at the end of the scene, the inspector says that he and the police do not like Shakespeare because his language is covert. Instead, they prefer a straightforward protest. He leaves, telling them they had better stop the play or he will arrest them. While he is gone, the actors resume their play, and Easy arrives speaking Dogg. The inspector comes back amidst all of this confusion, and lets them know he is recording everything that is being said, to use against them in court. The actors, who at this point have picked up Dogg, perform the rest of the play in Dogg, and the inspector is unable to arrest them as a result. In retaliation, the inspector uses Easy’s building materials to construct a wall across the stage, cutting off the actors from the audience as the actors complete their production of Macbeth.
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, Landovsky is the actor who plays Macbeth. Landovsky is Pavel Landovsky, the actual Czechoslovakian actor who was banned from acting in public. The inspector has seen and enjoyed Landovsky’s other “performances” in the odd jobs that the actor has been forced to take in place of acting.
Communication is the central theme of Dogg’s Hamlet, and it provides a means for connecting this play to Cahoot’s Macbeth. When the play begins, the schoolboys speak, using English words such as “Brick!” and “Cube,” but they use them in ways that are unconventional for the presumably English-speaking audience. For example, when Abel tests the microphone, he says, “Breakfast, breakfast... sun—dock—trog...,” a phrase that, in English, means “Testing, testing... one—two—three...” For Stoppard’s readers, he includes translations in brackets, converting these Dogg words into English. Stoppard’s audience, however, does not receive these translations and so must pick up the meaning in context.
This is also true for the character Easy, who becomes a representative for the audience. When Easy first arrives at the school to deliver building supplies and to help construct a platform for the stage, he only knows how to communicate in English. Like the audience members, who are also confused at first, Easy tries to understand what the schoolboys and Dogg, the headmaster, are saying. The schoolboys, who only understand Dogg, are equally as confused at the English. However, they have experienced at least one form of English—the Elizabethan English found in Shakespeare’s plays—when practicing for their abbreviated version of Hamlet. Because of this, Baker tries to communicate with Easy at one point by quoting a line from Shakespeare: “By heaven I charge thee speak!” When they start building the platform, Easy is relieved to find that the schoolboys are using words in a context that he can understand—or so he thinks. When Dogg calls out “Plank!” a word that means “Ready” in Dogg, Easy notices that Abel throws in a plank from the truck. When Dogg leaves and has Easy take over, he then naturally starts to call out the names of the building materials he needs—in English—and so is frustrated and surprised when he does not always receive what he asks for.
However, by the end of Dogg’s Hamlet, Easy has picked up on Dogg and no longer speaks English, as he demonstrates when he says, “Cube...” (“Thank You”) to the audience and walks off. However, even at this point, Stoppard tricks the audience somewhat, because he has Easy say “Cube” while he is holding a cube, so the audience is left to wonder if he is speaking Dogg or English.
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, the ability to communicate in Dogg eventually becomes a tool for fighting censorship. The play is set in a woman’s living room—a supposedly nonpublic location where the actors can perform their plays, without having to
worry about being arrested. However, while the actors are performing their abbreviated version of Macbeth, a police inspector arrives and looks for reasons to arrest the actors and hostess. He walks around the room, saying, “Testing, testing—one, two, three...,” which is, as Stoppard notes in the stage directions, an obvious sign that “the room is bugged for sound.” Stoppard provides other clues that the inspector is trying to set up an ambush, as when he talks to the ceiling, giving the phone number of the apartment to his partner who is recording the conversation: “Six seven eight one double one.” Shortly after this, the phone rings, and the inspector answers it, acting like he does not know who it is: “Six seven eight one double one? Clear as a bell.” This is an obvious test to see if the phone works so the inspector can communicate to his other officers outside, if necessary.
While the inspector acts like he is trying to hide his ambush at the beginning, as the play progresses, he becomes increasingly more vocal about the fact that he is there to arrest them for breaking the censorship rules, although he is willing to be lenient at first: “I don’t want to spend all day taking statements. It’s frankly not worth the candle for three years’ maximum and I know you’ve been having a run of bad luck all round.” At this point, the inspector gives a laundry list of ways that artists have been persecuted: “jobs lost, children failing exams, letters undelivered, driving licenses withdrawn, passports indefinitely postponed—and nothing on paper.”
Later on in the same long speech about censorship, the inspector says that the police do not like Shakespeare’s plays, which can have hidden meanings and be used as a protest—in the same way that Stoppard is using this play as a protest. Says the inspector: “The chief says he’d rather you stood up and said, ‘There is no freedom in this country,’ then there’s nothing underhand and we all know where we stand.” However, later, the inspector lets them know what happens to people who speak out: “I Page 123 | Top of Articlearrested the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Persecuted for saying I unjustly persecuted the Committee for Free Expression, which I arrested for saying there wasn’t any.”
In the end, the actors are able to use subversive methods—the same type of subversion for which the inspector wants to arrest them—to defeat the inspector. When Easy, from the first play, arrives, he can at this point only understand Dogg, which he uses to tell them that he is delivering building materials. Says Easy, “Useless... useless... Buxtons cake hops... artichoke almost Leamington Spa...” The translation in English—“Afternoon... afternoon... Buxtons blocks and that... lorry from Leamington Spa”—is lost on most of the actors, who do not know how to speak Dogg. However, when Cahoot, one of the actors, comes in and hears Easy speaking in Dogg, he explains this fact to everybody, including the inspector. Pretty soon, all of the actors are speaking in Dogg, and even though the inspector knows that this is being used as a subversive language, he cannot do much about it. He and his officers are unable to understand Dogg. Says the inspector into the phone to the man recording the actors’ language: “How the hell do I know? But if it’s not free expression, I don’t know what is!” In the end, the inspector cannot prosecute the actors for speaking what sounds like gibberish.
Stoppard’s obvious technique in both plays is his manipulation of language, something for which he is known. In this play, however, he creates an entirely new language, Dogg. Although at first it seems like the language is random, as Stoppard shows through his characters’ interactions, he has chosen many of his words very carefully. For example, in some cases, harmless English words translate into insults or inappropriate slang in Dogg. In Dogg’s Hamlet, Easy tries to say “Afternoon, squire” to Dogg, the supervisor on the job. However, as Stoppard notes in the translation brackets: “[This means in Dogg, *Get stuffed, you b———.]” Dogg is offended, and “grabs EASY by the lapels in a threatening manner.” Easy is confused at this behavior and only gets more confused when, later in the play, Dogg looks over the wall that Baker and Abel have built from letter blocks. The letters spell out “MATHS OLD EGG,” which Easy thinks is harmless enough. However, Dogg’s violent reaction—which he repeats—indicates that these harmless English words are actually insulting in Dogg:
EASY looks at the wall. EASY looks at Dogg. EASY smiles. DOGG slaps EASY lightly on the cheek. EASY opens his mouth to protest. DOGG cuffs him heavily on the other cheek and knocks EASY through the wall which disintegrates.
As demonstrated above, Stoppard places his characters in situations where their lack of understanding of each other’s language leads to humorous effects. He repeats this pattern throughout Dogg’s Hamlet. Humor is expressed in other ways in the first play, namely in the abbreviated version of Hamlet, the play within the play. Although these plays use lines that are taken verbatim from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the normally tragic play itself is abbreviated, and it is acted by people who do not speak the language, so the normally tragic performance becomes humorous. For example, when Baker and Abel—who play guards in the play—are practicing their lines, Stoppard notes in the stage directions that “They are not acting these lines at all, merely uttering them, tonelessly.” In addition, since the Hamlet scene is speeded up, it leads to some comic effects. Abel says, “’Tis there. (Pointing stage left),” while Baker says, “Tis there. (Pointing stage right, their arms crossing awkwardly).” This technique achieves its maximum effect during the encore, when the already condensed version of Hamlet is condensed even more, and the entire play takes place in only a few minutes. At this speed, the play becomes even funnier, because it no longer has any context and becomes merely a disembodied set of tragic quotes and events: “GERTRUDE: I am poisoned! (Dies) I LAERTES: Hamlet, thou art slain! (Dies) I HAMLET: Then venom to thy work!... Kills CLAUDIUS.”
In Cahoot’s Macbeth, the humor is expressed in different ways, most notably in the dialogue of the inspector, who unintentionally says humorous things when he misunderstands the other characters. Page 124 | Top of ArticleWhen the inspector asks Cahoot if he would like to make a statement, Cahoot quotes a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all / As the weird sisters promised.” The inspector, responding to the “weird sisters” part, says, “Kindly leave my wife’s family out of this.” In another instance, the inspector blows up at the actors, telling them they had better act for him. Right after this, “(He goes back to his seat and says genially to audience) I So sorry to interrupt.”
Stoppard’s two plays are filled with juxtapositions, starting with the structure. The first play is an instructional play, which teaches Easy and the audience how to understand the second play, a political play. Likewise, Stoppard’s plays follow the style of prose dialogue found in most modern dramas, but this is juxtaposed next to the highly elevated Shakespearean language in Hamlet and Macbeth, which are both in verse. In addition, as noted above, Dogg language is juxtaposed next to English. Their differences and the miscommunications that these differences inspire lead to much of the humor in the first play.
Czechoslovakia Under Communist Rule
Following the death of Soviet communist dictator Josef Stalin in 1953, many European communist countries like Hungary and Poland breathed a sigh of relief and set about undoing the damage that the Soviet leader had caused during his reign of terror. Unfortunately, in Czechoslovakia, following the death of President Antonín Zápotocký, Antonín Novotný, a devoted Stalinist, became president in 1957. For the next decade, the Czech economy steadily declined, and political protests—often in the form of subversive plays—increased, in spite of censorship efforts.
Alexander Dubcek and Prague Spring
In January 1968, Novotny resigned from office and was replaced by Alexander Dubcek, a liberal communist leader who offered Czech citizens hope for a better life. Dubcek introduced widespread reforms in the communist system, opened lines of communication and trade with the West, encouraged complaints and suggestions from Czech citizens, and ended censorship in the arts. The resulting liberalization of Czechoslovakia was referred to by many as “Prague Spring,” symbolizing the birth of a new way of life.
However, Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader in the Kremlin who had chosen Dubcek to rule Czechoslovakia—still technically a satellite Soviet country—was nervous about these reforms. Brezhnev feared that other satellite countries under Soviet rule would also try to liberate themselves and might rebel against the Soviet Union. In May 1968, Ludvik Vaculik, a Czech writer, published The 2,000 Words, a manifesto that denounced the Communist Party for its past behavior and current corruption. Brezhnev ordered Dubcek to condemn the manifesto, but Dubcek refused and assumed that Brezhnev would drop the issue.
Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia
On August 21, 1968, Prague Spring ended when troops from the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia in warplanes and tanks, killing and wounding hundreds of citizens, who tried to fight back with everything from guns to sticks. Dubcek was arrested and dragged to Moscow in handcuffs. When he was returned to Czechoslovakia after a few days, his liberal spirit was defeated, and he no longer tried to institute any reforms. Dubcek was soon replaced by Gustav Husák, and Czechoslovakian citizens lost their freedom once again.
Censorship and the Artistic Resistance
Following the Soviet invasion, censorship was instituted once more. Some artists, like playwright, Václav Havel—whose plays had savagely criticized the communist system during the 1960s—were forbidden to publish or perform their works. In his 1997 book, The Czech Republic, Steven Otfinofski wrote: “Overnight, Czechoslovakia’s most prominent playwright was a non-person.” In Cahoot’s Macbeth, Stoppard symbolizes this by having the writer, Cahoot, suddenly start acting like a dog. The inspector asks Macbeth (played by real-life actor Pavel Landovsky, another banned artist): “What is the matter with him?” Macbeth replies: “He’s been made a non-person.” Throughout the 1970s, Václev Havel—a playwright—and other dissidents were routinely arrested for their subversive efforts. In 1977, Havel, Landovsky, Pavel Kohout and other
artists formed Charter 77, a human rights organization that opposed communism. Havel—who would eventually become the first president of the Czech Republic in the 1980s—was sentenced in 1979 to several years of hard labor as the result of his subversive efforts.
Stoppard’s quirky Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth has an even more quirky creation history. The play began as a one-act play, entitled Dogg’s Our Pet, which was performed in 1971 in London. In 1976, Stoppard wrote a different play, The 15 Minute Dogg’s Troupe Hamlet. In 1979, this play was combined with Dogg’s Our Pet, and the two plays were revised to create Dogg’s Hamlet. In the same year, Dogg’s Hamlet was combined with Cahoot’s Macbeth, and the two have usually been performed together ever since.
Critical reaction to this set of plays has generally been mixed. In 1979, Brendan Gill noted in the New Yorker that Stoppard is an “ingenious author” and that the audience is “amused and instructed.” However, he also stated that the plays lack substance: “The Master Juggler has left us nothing to do but laugh, and that is a welcome but insufficient activity.” In a 1980 review in the Theatre Journal, however, Gerlad M. Berkowitz found little fault with the two plays, calling the first “a delightful curtain-raiser” and commenting that the second demonstrates that “an artist’s imagination is itself his greatest weapon against tyranny.”
Critics have generally commented on the language of the plays. Wrote Felicia Hardison Londré in her 1993 entry on Stoppard for Contemporary Dramatists: “Stoppard makes fun of the arbitrariness of language by having some of his characters speak Dogg’s language, which is composed of English words used to mean different things.” On a similar note, in her 1993 essay, “Stoppard’s Theatre of Unknowing,” Mary A. Doll noted that the two plays juxtapose “traditional theatre with its expectations of top-down authority and elevated blank verse alongside post-Absurdist theatre with its confusion in rank ordering and idiomatic speech.” In other words, Shakespeare, traditional theater that is considered high-brow for its formal conventions, is in this set of plays performed alongside more modern theater—which does not always adhere to these traditional artistic conventions.
When discussing Cahoot’s Macbeth, most critics have noted Stoppard’s obvious political commentary. Page 126 | Top of ArticleStated Benedict Nightingale, in his 1979 review for the New Statesman, Cahoot’s Macbeth is “fresh evidence that its author is becoming a sort of one-man Amnesty International, with a special interest in his native Czechoslovakia.” Still, as in other mixed reviews, Nightingale noted that the play degrades into a sort of “nuthouse lingo.” Similarly, in her 1999 chapter on Stoppard’s minor stage plays in Twayne’s English Authors Series Online, Susan Rusinko noted that in both plays “plot mechanisms and ideas vie equally with each other for audience attention, sometimes distractingly.”
Ryan D. Poquette
Poquette has a bachelor’s degree in English and specializes in writing about literature. In the following essay, Poquette discusses the inspector’s inability to learn Dogg in Stoppard’s play.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, most of the characters who do not speak Dogg at the beginning have picked it up by the end, just by listening to others speak it. This mirrors the audience’s experience as they learn Dogg along with the characters. However, there is one major character who does not understand Dogg—the inspector. In her 1999 chapter on Stoppard’s political plays in Twayne’s English Authors Series Online, Susan Rusinko noted of the inspector that “Without realizing it he has picked up some Dogg, thus illustrating the... earlier comment that one doesn’t learn Dogg, but only catches it.” Why is the inspector able to catch the Dogg language enough to repeat it but not understand it? Two of the inspector’s characteristics prevent him from being able to ultimately understand Dogg—his confusion over how his own language works and his desire for normalcy.
When the inspector arrives at the hostess’s apartment partway through Cahoot’s Macbeth, it is instantly apparent that he is a little confused, as Stoppard notes in the stage directions: “He seems surprised to find himself where he is.” The inspector asks if he is at one of two different theaters and is surprised when he finds out it is neither theater. Says the inspector, “I’m utterly nonplussed. I must have got my wires crossed somewhere.” As the play continues, the audience gets a view of how utterly confused this individual is. In fact, it is ironic that at one point in the play, the inspector, threatening the hostess with potential legal action, tells her that “Words can be your friend or your enemy, depending on who’s throwing the book, so watch your language.” In Cahoot’s Macbeth, words become the friend of the actors and the enemy of the inspector.
The inspector is a likely target to dupe through the use of words, because he does not have a good command of English as it is. He is constantly offering contradictory words or phrases in the same sentence and, on certain occasions, seems to search for the meaning even as he says them. For example, after the inspector has started examining the audience, he warns the hostess that “If there isn’t a catch I’ll put you up as a heroine of the revolution. I mean, the counter-revolution. No, I tell a lie, I mean the normalization—Yes, I know.” Revolution and counter-revolution are contradictory terms, and normalization is another word for the type of censorship that Czechoslovakia imposed on its citizens in the 1970s. So, he could not very well arrest the hostess for being a heroine of the conformity that he is trying to enforce. In statements like these, the inspector shows himself to be something of a confused person when it comes to using and understanding words. Another example is when he congratulates one of the actors on the performance, saying, “Stunning! Incredible! Absolutely fair to middling.” The first two are legitimate compliments, while the last statement can be viewed as an insult and definitely does not belong with the other two.
Still, it seems as if the inspector tries to flaunt his linguistic knowledge—or lack thereof. He often mixes foreign language fragments in with his statements, and they do not always make sense or belong in the sentence. For example, after he says that his initial assessment of Macbeth is good, he soon says that he was lying, because he is following the creed “when in Rome parlezvous as the natives do.” This statement mixes Rome as a location, the French phrase parlez vous, and the word “natives,” which implies Native Americans or some other form of tribal culture. In another instance, at the end of the play, after he gives a cue to Roger, the man running the tape recorder, the inspector is ready to try to
arrest everybody. At this point he incorporates a couple of foreign languages along with English: “Right—that’s it (To ceiling.) Roger! (To the audience.) Put your hands on your heads. Put your—placay manos—per capita... nix toiletto!” He also speaks in accents, such as when he hears a Scottish line from the Macbeth play and tries to mimic it: “Och aye, it’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicked, and so are you, you haggis-headed dumbwits, hoots mon ye must think I was born yesterday.”
In addition to creating strange foreign language concoctions, the inspector tends to mix his metaphors and other sayings. In one threat, he warns, “I’m the cream in your coffee, the sugar in your tank, and the breeze blowing down your neck.” The first description is a positive one, whereas “sugar in your tank”—if Stoppard means it to refer to the prank of pouring sugar into someone’s gas tank to incapacitate it—is definitely less pleasant than the first. And a “breeze blowing down your neck” is a
neutral statement that is not inherently good or bad. The best example of the inspector mixing up his metaphors happens when he is discussing why artists are being censored:
A few years ago, you suddenly had it on toast, but when they gave you an inch you overplayed your hand and rocked the boat so they pulled the rug out from under you, and now you’re in the doghouse... I mean, that is pure fact. Metaphorically speaking. It describes what happened to you in a way that anybody can understand.
By the end of the play, the inspector is speaking Dogg, but he does not know it. Unwittingly, he gives a long speech in Dogg: “Scabs! Stinking slobs—crooks. You’re nicked, Jock. Punks make me puke. Kick back, I’ll break necks, smack chops, put yobs in padlocks and fix facts. Clamp down on poncy gits like a ton of bricks.” The English words that the inspector uses all have a heated tone to them and sound like a threat. However, in Dogg, apparently the inspector has made a great speech, because everybody responds favorably to it, clapping and showing their praise.
In addition to not understanding the rules of his own language, which is often the precursor to effectively learning a new language, the inspector also has a lack of open-mindedness to anything that is not normal. When he first arrives, the inspector gives his view of artists. He tells the hostess: “I can see you’re not at the bottom of the social heap. What do you do?” When the hostess tells him, “I’m an artist,” the inspector notes: “Well it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong.” In other words, he sees artists as being at the bottom of the social heap. When it comes to art, the inspector is only able to see and approve of art that adheres to the censorship laws, which is not art in the conventional sense. The inspector tells Landovsky (who plays Macbeth in the play) that he is a big fan of his, but Landovsky says he has not worked for years, meaning that the censorship laws have kept him from acting.
However, the inspector persists and asks him where he was the previous year. Landovsky says, “I was selling papers in—” Here, the inspector excitedly finishes Landovsky’s sentence: “—the newspaper kiosk at the tram terminus, and you were wonderful! I said to my wife, that’s Landovsky—the actor—isn’t he great?” To the inspector, high art is the mundane task of selling newspapers and watching great acting is observing Landovsky saying “Getcha paper!” at his job. In fact, when faced with normal acting, the inspector does not always understand it. For example, after watching a part of Macbeth, a tragedy, he says, “Very good. Very good! And so nice to have a play with a happy ending for a change.”
The inspector is so against uniqueness that he considers his barely educated coworkers a potential threat: “Yes, one of them can read and the other one can write. That’s why we have to go around in threes—I have to keep an eye on those bloody intellectuals.” The inspector prefers the normalization that Czechoslovakia is under, which keeps everybody at a certain intelligence level and discourages freedom of thought. When somebody asks him about their rights in the Constitution, he says: “Personally I can’t read that stuff. Nobody talks like that so it’s not reasonable to expect them to live like it.” Even the Constitution falls outside the normalization that the inspector adheres to.
In the end, this dependency on normalcy, coupled with the inspector’s inability to master the English language, prevents the inspector from understanding Dogg, an abnormal language. As a result, the very thing that terrifies him—freedom of expression—is performed right in front of him, and he is not able to do anything about it except try to wall off the stage so that the audience cannot see the show anymore.
Source: Ryan D. Poquette, Critical Essay on Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
In the following essay excerpt, Sammells explores the “spontaneous” language of dissent utilized by Stoppard in Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, however, Stoppard returns to the formal exuberance of the earlier stage plays. In the first half of the play, by staging a language-game from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Stoppard attempts to teach a new language to the audience. This element of engagement is heightened in the second half when the bizarre proceedings (which have included crude slapstick and the staging of a ravaged Shakespearean text) are suddenly transposed into a new and menacing context. Philosophical parlour-game and mildly diverting stage-business are given a critically new aspect. Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth evinces, in this sense, the same intention as Travesties; both show Stoppard’s desire to ambush his audience’s assumptions about the kind of play they are watching.
The opening section (a conflation of two plays previously written for Ed Berman’s Inter-Action Group, The Fifteen Minute Hamlet and Dogg’s Our Pet) is a demonstration of the central tenet of Philosophical Investigations—that language is not a calculus logically inferred from the grid-pattern of reality but a form of life, a communal activity capable of change and growth. Indeed, the play shows Stoppard’s discovery in Philosophical Investigations of ideas and tools which meet his needs as a dramatist, as well as some which deny them. First, the form of language analysis that is practised and recommended in Philosophical Investigations is an advance from that of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Language is no longer to be analysed back, through a hierarchy of forms, to the reality it transposes. Language is now itself the primal reality; because it has no external support language is not reduced in analysis but laid bare. Analysis displays the manifold language-forms which have become so entwined and knotted that the whole has acquired a prodigious internal strength. Meaning, for the later Wittgenstein, is defined not by an appeal beyond language: it is identified quite squarely with use. Language is a public activity and understanding is defined accordingly as the applicational knowledge of certain operative conventions. Wittgenstein insists, as a consequence, that language can never be private, that it exists solely by virtue of its public presence. Such conclusions would appear to deny
the strivings of the spiritual loner or dissident in their attempt to make language susceptible to private initiative: private intention and conviction are ever smothered by the public form of language.
There are, however, other implications to Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein claims that no discourse is inherently ‘realistic’ in the sense of being a simple transposition of a state of affairs beyond it. Indeed, freed from any obligation to exterior supports, language becomes alive, capable of change. Philosophical Investigations is full of reminders of this obvious fact about language—that it is a continual process of renewal and formation. There are, Wittgenstein tells us, countless different kinds of sentences, and ‘this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten.’ Pursuing this analogy between language-forms and the games we play he points to the case where we make up the rules as we go along, and ‘there is even one where we can alter them—as we go along.’
Wittgenstein’s insistence that no single language-form, or collection of rules, is guaranteed by external support parallels Stoppard’s that language can be appropriated as a means of criticism. The possibility of dissent as a way of life with its own language—making up the rules, perhaps, as it goes along—becomes real. From this angle Wittgenstein’s declaration of the impossibility of a private language Page 130 | Top of Articlelooks rather different. When he says this he means that no language is necessarily unteachable, that no language is learnt simply by a process of introspection matched with ostensive definition. The language of dissent must, then, be a group activity: a form of life and a means of expression capable of being learned by others. (Just, in fact, as it is learnt by Anderson.) Language as dissent can be caught, learnt in a flash: ‘And this is just what we say we do. That is to say: we sometimes describe what we do in these words. But there is nothing astonishing, nothing queer, about what happens.’ Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth is about learning in a flash, about spontaneous dissent and the fitting of words to the requirements of a form of life.
The second half of the play presents us with the attempts of a group of dissident actors to perform a truncated version of Macbeth which, for the assembled audience, in portraying a brutal and illegal seizure of power, is a reflection of what has happened in Czechoslovakia. For the dissidents the crowning of Malcolm is both an assertion of hope and an affirmation of faith in the efficacy of criticism. The proceedings are constantly interrupted by the Inspector (a sinister development of Stoppard’s earlier comic detectives, owing much to Orton’s Truscott) who attempts to appropriate both the text and the performance by ending it at the crowning of Macbeth and lauding it with his ominous banalities: ‘Very good. Very good! And so nice to have a play with a happy ending for a change.’ Stoppard’s audience have already picked up some Dogg-language before the interval as they follow the attempts of the lorry-driver, Easy, to make sense of the strange world he has wandered into. In the end, Easy learns Dogg for the specific purpose of abusing the authoritarian headmaster of the boys’ school. His entrance in the second half, as he blunders into the action and confuses himself with Banquo’s ghost, gives the troupe the chance to use Dogg to finish their performance of Macbeth in spite of the Inspector’s intrusive presence.
The Inspector is a further demonstration of Stoppard’s abiding claim that politically repressive systems are linguistically repressive also. The problem for the actors is that, like the jumpers, he can do with language what he will. ‘I’ve got the penal code tattooed on my whistle,’ he assures Landovsky, ‘and there’s a lot about you in it. Section 98, subversion—anyone acting out of hostility to the state... Section 100, incitement, anyone acting out of hostility to the state... I could nick you just for acting—and the sentence is double for an organised group, which I can make stick on Robinson Crusoe and his man any day of the week’. The pun, for the Inspector, is an offensive tactic, a means of making us listen in a certain way: ‘You know as well as I do that this performance of yours goes right against the spirit of normalization. When you clean out the stables, Cahoot, the muck is supposed to go into the gutter, not find its way back into the stalls’. ‘Words,’ he announces, happily, ‘can be your friend or your enemy, depending on who’s throwing the book, so watch your language.’
However, the inventiveness of the Inspector is matched, indeed surpassed, by that of the dissidents. Cahoot (who has earlier howled on all-fours and been accused by the Inspector of being in the ‘doghouse’) starts to abuse him, reminding the audience that ‘Afternoon, squire,’ means, in Dogg, ‘Get stuffed, you bastard.’ The Inspector asks where Easy learnt Dogg: ‘You don’t learn it,’ replies Cahoot, ‘you catch it’. This riposte is a triumphant reapplication of the formulaic identification of disease with dissent which is at the centre of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and evidence of Stoppard’s appropriation of Wittgenstein’s claim that we can learn in a flash. (Compare the Inspector’s ‘She’s making it up as she goes along’ when ‘Lady Macbeth’ starts to translate Shakespeare into Dogg, which is a similar reflection on Wittgenstein—this time on his remarks about the way we evolve rules for new language-games.) The performance of Macbeth, and that of Stoppard’s own play, now speed to a climax. Dogg becomes a means of repelling the Inspector (his announcement that anything they say will be taken down and played back at the trial meets with the response, ‘Bicycles! Plank!’ and of completing Macbeth before he realises what is happening. He is at a complete loss as language is wrested from his control. In fact, it is now the Inspector who appears to be spouting nonsense: ‘Wilco zebra over,’ he bellows into his walkie-talkie, ‘Green Charlie Angels 15 out’. By teaching his audience Dogg-language Stoppard has implicated them in an act of collective and effective dissent, completing the train of development which successively diminishes the isolation of his characters who criticise the premises and procedures of the Communist state.
In Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, the jokes, claimed Michael Billington in reviewing the first production, ‘are too relentless and by the end the fun has become diagrammatic rather than, in any sense, spontaneous.’ The remark reminds us of Stoppard’s own praise of Muriel Spark in Scene, his claim that, Page 131 | Top of Articleat its best, her work does not so much promulgate a thesis as toy with it, and have fun with it. Although the emphasis on spontaneity is something of a red herring (we have seen how the ‘playfulness’ of Stoppard’s drama is deliberate and pointed rather than simply high-spirited and diverting) Billington has located a problem with Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth. The play protests too much: the slapstick and hectic confusion of the finale are the work of the guilty conscience, abashed by its own earnestness. In Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul and Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth Stoppard is on the attack against the iniquities of Communist governments in general, and that of Czechoslovakia in particular. Between the two latter, however, comes Night and Day and here, as in The Real Thing, his most recent stage play, he is on the defensive: both plays attempt to promulgate a thesis, mounting apologies for the political status quo in Britain. An examination of certain contradictions and confusions in Stoppard’s thinking on the relationship of politics and art (and that of drama to the problems it addresses) will prepare the way for an understanding of how Night and Day and The Real Thing betray his distinctive gifts as a dramatist and how, in the name of freedom, they seek to deny to their audience the possibility of dissent.
Source: Neil Sammells, “The Dissidents,” in Tom Stoppard: The Artist as Critic, Macmillan Press, 1988, pp. 111-22.
In the following essay excerpt, Billington examines the truncation of Shakespeare and the word games found in Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth.
[Text Not Available]
[Text Not Available]
[Text Not Available]
Source: Michael Billington, “Cricket Bats and Passion,” in Stoppard: The Playwright, Methuen, 1987, pp. 132-68.
Berkowitz, Gerald M., Review of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, in Theatre Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, March 1980, pp. 117-18.
Doll, Mary A., “Stoppard’s Theatre of Unknowing,” in British and Irish Drama since 1960, edited by James Acheson, Macmillan Press, 1993, pp. 117-29.
Gill, Brendan, “Stoppard’s Shakespeherian Rag,” in New Yorker, Vol. LV, No. 35, October 15, 1979, pp. 147-48.
Londré, Felicia Hardison, “Stoppard, Tom,” in Contemporary Dramatists, 5th ed., edited by K. A. Berney, St. James Press, 1993, pp. 636-40.
Nightingale, Benedict, “Git Away,” in New Statesman, Vol. 98, No. 2522, July 20, 1979, pp. 104-05.
Otfinowski, Steven, The Czech Republic, Facts on File, Inc., 1997, p. 37.
Rusinko, Susan, “Chapter 10: Minor Stage Plays,” in Tom Stoppard, Twayne’s English Authors Series, Twayne, 1986.
———, “Chapter 11: Political Plays,” in Tom Stoppard,
Twayne’s English Authors Series, Twayne, 1986.
Stoppard, Tom, Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, in The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays, Grove Press, 1998.
Fleming, John, Stoppard’s Theatre: Finding Order amid Chaos, University of Texas Press, 2001.
Fleming offers the first book-length analysis of Stoppard’s plays in almost a decade, taking an extensive look at Stoppard’s three newest plays—Arcadia, Indian Ink, and The Invention of Love. In addition, the book gives a thorough overview of Stoppard’s career and studies some of Stoppard’s previously unpublished works.
Havel, Václev, and Karel Hvizdala, Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala, Vintage Books, 1991.
Havel, a former playwright, helped lead the struggle against Communism in Czechoslovakia and became president of the Czech republic. This book collects a series of interviews that Hvizdala conducted with Havel and offers an in-depth perspective of his experiences.
Kipfer, Barbara Ann, The Order of Things: How Everything in the World Is Organized into Hierarchies, Structures & Pecking Orders, Random House Reference, 1998.
Although technically a reference book, this eclectic and comprehensive information guide offers an engaging look into how everything in the world follows a specific order or structure. Kipfer is a language guru known for her thesauruses.
McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English, Penguin USA, 1993.
This highly accessible book, the companion to the PBS series of the same name, offers an in-depth, illustrated view of how English evolved into the language it is today. It is a great overview for those interested in the rich linguistic history of English.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations: The English Text of the Third Edition, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, Prentice Hall, 1999.
Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings influenced a number of writers and academics, including Stoppard, who based Dogg’s Hamlet on one of Wittgenstein’s investigations. In addition to language, Wittgenstein investigates the concepts behind objects, categories, symbols, sensations, and other aspects of the human experience.