“Breakfast, Breakfast…sun—dock—trog…” (testing, testing—one, two, three…)
Begins “Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth,” Tom Stoppard’s, 1979, two act exploration into communication and politics. It is important to understand that although the pieces in themselves are separate plays, their combination is vital, as Stoppard explains in the introduction, “The comma that divides ‘Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth’ also serves to unite two plays which have common elements: the first is hardly a play at all without the second, which cannot be performed without the first.”
Stoppard isn’t a stranger to Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet, as his most well known play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is an absurdist tragicomedy viewing the Shakespearian epic “Hamlet” through the perspective of two bit characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But, with “Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth,” Stoppard takes his writing to another level of absurdity.
In “Dogg’s Hamlet,” we discover actors that speak Dogg, a language that utilizes english words, but not in that way that we are used to. For example: “Breakfast,” in english, means the first meal of the day, as we all know. However, in Dogg, “Breakfast” means “Testing.” Although this may seem absurd, to those who speak Dogg this is perfectly normal.
Dogg’s Hamlet was inspired by a scenario proposed by philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein in his highly influential work “Philosophical Investigations.” Wittgenstein presents a situation where a builder, A, is constructing something with stones of different shapes. As A shouts, “slab!” “block!” “pillar!” or “beam,” his assistant, B, brings him the appropriate stones.
Now, someone observing this interaction might assume that the words called out by A name the objects, however, another interpretation is suggested by Wittgenstein. Perhaps, the assistant already knows what pieces to toss, and in the proper sequence, and that the words— “slab!” “block!” “pillar!” or “beam”—are signals that the builder is ready for the next piece.
A second scenario suggested by Wittgenstein is one which one builder understands words to mean the different shapes of wood, and the other builder understands words as a signification the builder is ready. Essentially, the two builders speak different languages without being aware of this fact. Stoppard puts these theories to use as he has three school children rehearsing “Hamlet” english—even though they, themselves, speak Dogg.
“Cahoot’s Macbeth” is a shortened performance of Macbeth performed in secret under the eyes of the secret police who suspects the actors to be acting in subversion of the state. This piece, much like “Dogg’s Hamlet” had its own source of inspiration.
In 1977, Stoppard met playwright Pavel Kohout in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Kohout and his fellow actors had been banned from working in theater, due to their involvement with Charter 77, by the Communist government. Charter 77 criticized the government for not implementing human rights provisions into many documents it had signed, including the 1960 Czech Constitution. In turn, Kohout developed a production of Macbeth to be performed in living rooms.
The two plays are linked by Easy, a truck driver who delivers materials to build a stage for Dogg’s Hamlet. However, he speaks english compared to the players who only speak Dogg, and hilarity ensues as no one can understand him. Now, when he appears in the living room for Cahoot’s Macbeth, the reverse becomes true, as now Easy only speaks Dogg and everyone else speaks english.
These are the universes in which Stoppard masterfully glides us through, and it is to be expected that by the end of the play, that much like the baffled Easy, the audience may acquire of bit of Dogg themselves.
The Fullerton College production of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth runs May 12, 13, and 14 at 7pm and May 15 at 2pm in the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre. Tickets are $12.50 Presale or $15.00 at the Door.