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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

The Invention of Love

Tom Stoppard

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To purchase The Invention of Love

Title: The Invention of Love
Author: Tom Stoppard
Genre: Drama
Written: 1997
Length: 102 pages
Availability: The Invention of Love - US
The Invention of Love - UK
The Invention of Love - Canada
  • The Invention of Love was nominated for the 2001 Tony Award, losing to David Auburn's Proof (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

A : well-written, often touching drama

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily News . 30/3/2001 Howard Kissel
London Review of Books A 18/6/1998 Adam Phillips
The New Republic C 14/5/2001 Robert Brustein
New Statesman A 10/10/1997 Kate Kellaway
New York C 9/4/2001 John Simon
The NY Observer A 9/4/2001 John Heilpern
NY Post A+ 30/3/2001 Clive Barnes
The NY Rev. of Books B+ 10/8/2000 Daniel Mendelsohn
The NY Times A 30/3/2001 Ben Brantley
The Observer . 5/10/1997 Susannah Clapp
The Spectator A+ 11/10/1997 Sheridan Morley
The Threepenny Review A Summer/2000 Wendy Lesser
Time (Europe) A 13/10/1997 Julie K.L. Dam
The Times A 5/11/1998 Benedict Nightingale
TLS . 10/10/1997 Jeremy Treglown
USA Today B- 2/3/1998 D.P.Stearns
USA Today B 2/4/2001 Steve Jones
The Village Voice A- 10/4/2001 Michael Feingold
Wall St. Journal A+ 4/4/2001 Amy Gamerman
The Washington Post B 4/4/2001 William Triplett

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus. Many see it as Stoppard at the height of his powers, erudite but with a warmer heart than in some of his other recent plays. A number dissent, finding it either entirely too obscure and/or too cold.

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is no plot as such. (...) Under the direction of Jack O'Brien, Love is intoxicating. The play has stretches of scholarly pontificating that might be tedious if O'Brien did not stress that, however troubled the subtext, Love is a comedy. (...) The calisthenics Stoppard provides for the cerebrum leave you giddy and exhilarated." - Howard Kissel, Daily News

  • "The play is fascinating not least because Wilde seems to represent, among other things, Stoppard's own fluency and facility pitted against something, or someone, more reticent and cautious. And it is Housman's vulnerability rather than Wilde's that is made to seem the more inspired, the more resilient." - Adam Phillips, London Review of Books

  • "The Invention of Love (...) may well be the showiest of all of Stoppard's intellectual exercises. (...) There is not enough plot here for twenty minutes of action, but there is enough erudition for a fortnight." - Robert Brustein, The New Republic

  • "This play manages to be dry, strange and touching all at once, rather like, one supposes, the character of Housman himself." - Kate Kellaway, New Statesman

  • "Having been too clever by half in several of his plays, Stoppard has lately managed to be too clever by three quarters. The result is remarkable but not really a play, if by play we mean something that can be followed by an audience with a standard education and average intelligence." - John Simon, New York

  • "(A) play that is particularly welcome for being so irresistibly out of the ordinary. (...) The Invention of Love, all in all, is a thrilling achievement." - John Heilpern, The New York Observer

  • "It is a magnificently funny play, but as fleshily layered as an onion, ideas wrapping around ideas, thoughts jousting at thoughts, all jigging into place like a crazy-quilt collage to offer a picture of English life at the beginning of the 20th century." - Clive Barnes, New York Post

  • "There are many pleasures to be had from Stoppard's play (.....) Like all of his plays, this one is a clever and articulate work written for an intelligent audience. (...) (A) one-sided play about this fascinatingly two-sided figure." - Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Review of Books

  • "Mr. Stoppard is, to put it bluntly, an outrageous showoff, which often makes for good theater. He wants, above all, to charm and amuse and impress. (...) Invention can seem irritatingly arcane, but when you look at it closely, there's not one word or image that doesn't help complete the puzzle." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • "The Invention of Love is a parade ground for Stoppard's talents and for his tics. It is full of interesting material but it is too busy and sometimes repetitious. It has wonderfully funny phrases, but from time to time, even though the Oxford establishment is scarcely revered, the chortle of the high table rings out." - Susannah Clapp, The Observer

  • "The Invention of Love is a great play about a great deal; but in the end it is, I think, about the corruption of texts and men, and the price that the hypocritical and flawed public and private morality of the last century exacted from its greatest talents." - Sheridan Morley, The Spectator

  • "The Invention of Love may well be my favorite Stoppard play of all time: it combines the cleverness of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with the emotional richness of The Real Thing and Arcadia, only more so. There is a contemplativeness to the pace, a willingness to linger, that seem new to his work." - Wendy Lesser, The Threepenny Review

  • "It will entertain, educate, dazzle, bewilder and move you." - Julie K.L. Dam, Time

  • "(N)ow the Stoppard heart is ticking almost more strongly than that famously formidable organ, the Stoppard brain. Indeed, The Invention of Love is actually about emotional repression." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

  • "As in Arcadia and Indian Ink, there are sagging moments. (...) Another dilemma which Stoppard treats with less than his usual poise is the polarity he sets up between Housman's academic life and his poetry. (...) Unquestionably, though, the play will send some of its audience to Housman's poetry." - Jeremy Treglown, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love (**1/2) (...) may be a great play, but unless you're schooled in the ancient Greek and Latin poets, you'll be lost. Even the rare theatergoers who are (...) might find this portrayal of British poet and classical Greek scholar A.E. Housman (...) drastically overwritten." - David Patrick Stearns, USA Today

  • "*** out of four (...) (A) brilliantly written, frequently hilarious and often quite moving study of one man's pursuit of personal fulfillment, but it hasn't a sensual or sentimental bone in its body. At times, in fact, the play can seem as coldly cerebral as its key figure." - Steve Jones, USA Today

  • "Stoppard's text, the most enjoyable piece of static, non-narrative intellection I've ever experienced in a theater, takes a longer time than most to wear out its welcome." - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

  • "You're not likely to encounter a more fervent defense of the bookish life than you are here, in a play that's as funny and moving as it is unabashedly highbrow. Mr. Stoppard holds nothing back (.....) What The Invention of Love captures so vividly as it traces its elegant figure-eights in time is the gulf between innocence and experience." - Amy Gamerman, Wall St. Journal

  • "The play wants to ask whether life should be lived as cool detachment or hot experience, but Stoppard hasn't shaped his material to sustain a relevant or illuminating conflict. (...) (T)he play never catches fire intellectually: Stoppard often has the flint of an idea in one hand but nothing to strike it against, at least not in a way that tells us something about the deeply complicated and conflicted Housman. What The Invention of Love does show, and show well, is a man looking back on his life, sometimes bemusedly, other times ruefully." - William Triplett, The Washington Post

Please note and bear in mind that reviews of dramas generally refer to specific performances rather than to the written work itself. (Note also that complete review's reviews refer specifically to the written text.)

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tom Stoppard likes to populate his plays with well-known (and often less well-known) public, historical figures. The subject of this play is English poet and classicist A.E.Housman, author (most famously) of A Shropshire Lad. An influential poet and important classicist, he was an odd and uncomfortable combination of the Romantic and the Classical. He was also, apparently, homosexual, causing him some grief in a world that venerated most Classical thought but not that particular Classical lifestyle.
       Ruskin and Pater also appear in the play, as do Jowett, Jerome K. Jerome (whose Three Men in a Boat is one of the guiding texts behind the play), Oscar Wilde, Frank Harris, and Bunthorne (a character literally out of Gilbert and Sullivan).
       The play opens on the river Styx, as the newly deceased Housman is being ferried across by Charon, a tour de force (and frequently very funny) scene. AEH (the dead Housman) and Housman (the younger incarnation) both figure in the play, as it moves back and forth between 1936 (when Housman died) and his earlier days, at Oxford and beyond. Stoppard deftly moves the action between its various times and settings, from the Styx to three men in a boat -- Housman, and fellow Oxonians Alfred William Pollard and Moses John Jackson -- in Oxford 60 years earlier and to the other scenes.
       It is fellow student Moses Jackson that Housman loves, admitting it finally to him and to himself (though Jackson wants none of it). It is the impossibility of that love that also drives Housman's life, an odd scholarly life of long silences and odd preoccupations.
       Stoppard's genius is, as so often, the intertwining of many threads. Much of the play has to do with classical scholarship, as the various characters debate authenticity and translation. It is a clever and significant argument, showing again how fragile life and thought is, how impossible it is to grasp elusive truth. Stoppard, who never attended an institution of higher learning, captures academia -- and particularly Oxford of the nineteenth century -- very well. He lays it on a bit thick at times, but his genuine love for genuine learning shine through in Housman.
       Oscar Wilde also hovers constantly in the background -- first he is a much-quoted Oxford figure, then the subject of the famous trial, then finally he appears in person, a different symbol of his time.
       Stoppard elegantly weaves together this material, in a touching and very human play. Multifaceted and well-paced, it is a poignant and funny drama, Stoppard again proving that he is one of the foremost playwrights of the time.

       We recommend this play highly, and given its complexity we suggest that there are advantages to reading the text before (or after) seeing it performed.

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The Invention of Love: Reviews: A.E.Housman: Tom Stoppard: Other works by Tom Stoppard under review: Works about Tom Stoppard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British dramatist Tom Stoppard, born in 1937, is author of such notable plays as Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

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© 1999-2009 the complete review

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