15 of Tom Stoppard’s All-Time Greatest Lines


Happy birthday, Tom Stoppard! The prolific and highly acclaimed playwright and screenwriter turns 75 years old today. Stoppard is one of our favorite playwrights of all time, and is particularly known throughout the world for his wit, winking meta-narratives and deft language-play — not to mention the fact that his plays are wildly entertaining yet still concerned with deep philosophical concepts. So, to honor Stoppard on this milestone of a birthday, we’ve collected fifteen of our favorite, lip-smackingly good lines from across his body of work. Click through to remind yourself of some of the best Stoppard moments (or discover them for the first time) in our collection of our favorite lines from his dramatic work. And of course, these are only our favorites — please chime in with your own in the comments!

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment, in childhood, when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. It must have been shattering, stamped into one’s memory. And yet I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it, before we know that there are words, out we come, bloodied and squalling… with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction and time is its only measure.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“It’s no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst. Isn’t that romantic? Well, good. Everything should be romantic.” — The Real Thing

“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.” — Jumpers

“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?” — Arcadia

“I love love. I love having a lover and being one. The insularity of passion. I love it. I love the way it blurs the distinction between everyone who isn’t one’s lover.” — The Real Thing

“Pirates could happen to anyone.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about — clouds — daffodils — waterfalls — what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in — these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks.” — Arcadia

“How the hell do I know what I find incredible? Credibility is an expanding field… Sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.” — Jumpers

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into the each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it’s been sung? The dance when it’s been danced? It’s only we humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature’s highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and wilfulness have their correction in the vast underground river which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we’re expected! But there is no such place, that’s why it’s called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is a proper question, the only question. If we can’t arrange our own happiness, it’s a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us.” — The Coast of Utopia

“It is a defect of God’s humor that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them.” — Arcadia

“Dotty: Archie says the Church is a monument to irrationality. George: … The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality! — and so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover’s favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one gigantic field of soya beans!” — Jumpers

“G: I think I have it. A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself. R: Or just as mad. G: Or just as mad. R: And he does both. G: So there you are. R: Stark raving sane.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“When I was twelve I was obsessed. Everything was sex. Latin was sex. The dictionary fell open at ‘meretrix’, a harlot. You could feel the mystery coming off the word like musk. ‘Meretrix’! This was none of your mensa-a-table, this was a flash from a forbidden planet, and it was everywhere. History was sex, French was sex, art was sex, the Bible, poetry, penfriends, games, music, everything was sex except biology which was obviously sex but not really sex, not the one which was secret and ecstatic and wicked and a sacrament and all the things it was supposed to be but couldn’t be at one and the same time — I got that in the boiler room and it turned out to be biology after all.” — The Real Thing

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead