A: Tom Stoppard Pf: 1997, London Pb: 1997 G: Drama in 2 acts S: The Underworld, 1936; Oxford, 1877–80; Worcestershire 1881 and 1897; London, 1882–97 C: 21m, 1f, extrasThe poet and classical scholar A. E. Housman has died and is being ferried across the Styx by Charon. The scene transforms to his arrival at Oxford at the age of 18, where he meets Moses John Jackson, a science scholar. At Oxford, indulging in witty and learned discourse are also John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Benjamin Jowett, and the young Oscar Wilde. Housman reflects on Catullus' invention of the love poem, but Pater is reprimanded for cultivating the homosexual friendship of an undergraduate, who is sent down. The dead Housman (AEH) discusses textual criticism with his younger self, who admits that he also writes poetry. In the 1880s Housman and Jackson are living together and working in London. At a men's club, politicians and journalists discuss the press and the successful campaign to raise the age of sexual consent to 16. Housman watches Jackson win a race, while a colleague divines that Housman is in love with Jackson. Housman believes that his lengthy research into Propertius' elegiac love poems establishes his ‘humanness’, because it is ‘useless knowledge for its own sake’. Housman confesses his love for Jackson, but they agree to live apart. By 1897 Housman has written poems to Jackson, and published his successful A Shropshire Lad. AEH meets a disillusioned Oscar Wilde after his prison sentence for homosexuality.
A: Tom Stoppard Pf: 1997, London Pb: 1997 G: Drama in 2 acts S: The Underworld, 1936; Oxford, 1877–80; Worcestershire 1881 and 1897; London, 1882–97 C: 21m, 1f, extras
In this exploration of Housman's career as both classical scholar and poet, Stoppard displays his considerable erudition, while at the same time interestingly juxtaposing, in the manner of his Travesties, famous characters from the past. The play turns on the ‘invention of love’, first in the poetry of the ancients then in the more recent acknowledgement of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. Like Propertius, his classical forebear, Housman writes love elegies for a love that never was.