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Friday, April 19, 2013

Grice's Bricks and Slabs --- *****


A commentary on "Wittgenstein’s Language-games, Stoppard’s Building-blocks and contextbased

learning in a Corpus

An analysis of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth as a paradigm for foreign language acquisition"

by Sabina Rehman

Tom Stoppard, in his plays Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth, presents a

unique way of learning a new language.

That is, by active interaction in the target

language in real life situations.

These real life situations are a school ceremony

and a private performance of Shakespeare’s plays.

Though Stoppard’s plays

contain hugely comic and even hilarious episodes, yet the idea of language

acquisition that forms the basis of these plays is important in its application to

language learning in general.

Stoppard draws upon the ideas of Ludwig

Wittgenstein who shows that language is a public activity and its learning

depends upon an operative knowledge that comes thorough active interaction

with its users.

Wittgenstein defines language-learning as a kind of game-playing,

in which the rules of the game are learnt as the players play it.

 These rules of

usage (or playing) are acquired by actively participating in the working samples

of language in actual use, a concept that is often referred to as corpus linguistics.

In her paper the author aims to take the paradigm of Stoppard’s plays Dogg’s Hamlet and

Cahoot’s Macbeth and to examine how it can be applied to the actual learning of

a foreign language in the classroom.

Learning a foreign language is a matter that has been discussed widely by linguists and

educationists alike. In the past a foreign language was usually learnt by memorizing certain rules

of grammar which were then repeatedly practiced for correct usage.

However, the educationists

of the modern day believe in a more interactive approach. According to the modern approach to

language learning the rules governing a certain language are deduced from an authentic

communication in that language, by using samples of that language in a natural setting.


method of language learning is often referred to as “corpus linguistics”.

Corpus linguistics is the

study of language as it deals with the “real world text”; that is, it represents a deductive approach

to deriving a set of abstract rules by which any language is governed. These rules are arrived at

by its users through an active interaction in the target language, which is introduced in the form

of samples taken from a specific corpus. Such an approach also shows the relationship of

language to life in general since these samples of language are usually taken from the concrete,

living world around us. Moreover, corpus linguistics provides a more objective view of language

than that of introspection, intuition and anecdotes. John Sinclair (1998) points out that this is

because speakers do not have access to the subliminal patterns which run through a language.
This objectivity allows corpus linguists to investigate almost any language patterns — lexical,

structural, lexico-grammatical, discourse, phonological, morphological—often with very specific

agendas such as discovering male versus female usage of tag questions or children's acquisition

of irregular past participles. Through corpus-based analysis an investigator can discover not only

the patterns of language use, but the extent to which they are used, and the contextual factors that

influence such patterns. In order to apply the idea of corpus linguistics to language-learning it is

necessary to first have a corpus plan, that is, the step by step induction of samples of language

for learning purposes. A corpus can consist of a body of natural texts that are compiled from the

written or the spoken language. The main focus of corpus linguistics is to discover patterns of

authentic language use through analysis of actual usage.

One of the major advantages of using corpus linguistics for learning a foreign language is

that it allows us to keep track of language register. Language register means the varieties of

language which are used for different situations, like the formal, casual, or intimate ways of

communication, depending upon the degree and kind of relationship between the speaker and the

listener. Guy Aston (1997) claims that a single language can have many registers, which range

from the general to the highly specific. A general register could include the language that is used

for fiction, academic prose, newspapers, or casual conversation, whereas a specific register

would be the sub-registers within any general register; for example, in the register of academic

prose the sub-registers would be scientific texts, literary criticism, or linguistics studies, each

having its own specific characteristics of language usage. Thus, when samples of language are

taken from actual registers, like a newspaper or a television serial, the mode of expression

specific to that register is practiced. Not only is it practiced but the learners also have the

opportunity of paying special attention to the different contexts in which language is being used.

Richard Schmidt, a proponent of consciousness-raising, argues that what language learners pay

attention to conditions the outcome of learning (1990). According to Willis, learners may be

able to determine the potentially different meanings and uses of common words, useful phrases

and typical collocations they might use themselves, the structure and nature of both written and

spoken discourse, and be aware that certain language features are more typical of some kinds of

text than others (1998).

Corpus analysis reveals that language often behaves differently according to the register

within which it is being used, a fact that cannot be easily understood through the more traditional

methods of learning a language, such as rote learning, drilling or grammar-translation methods.

This is something that Tom Stoppard takes up and demonstrates in the two plays that are being

examined in this paper, namely Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth. In Dogg’s Hamlet the

register is the academic environment of a school where a rehearsal and performance of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is taking place, while in Cahoot’s Macbeth the register is the performance

of Macbeth in a private living room theater. Interestingly, both these plays contain a sub-register

as well since the action takes place not in English but in a mysterious tongue “Dogg” which is

completely strange for the audience, and one of the characters. Stoppard explains in the preface

to his plays that the “appeal to me consisted in the possibility of writing a play which had to

teach the audience the language the play was written in” (1980: 8). Stoppard goes on to explain

the factors that contributed to the writing of these two plays and their co-relation to each other:

“The comma that divides Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth also serves to unite the two plays

which have common elements: the first is hardly a play at all without the second, which cannot

be performed without the first” (1980: 7).

Thus, from the very outset, Stoppard establishes the

need for jigging together language pieces for effective understanding of a new language.

Stoppard’s plays are written in an imaginary language, “Dogg”, which is known by

everyone on the stage, except for one character named Easy—and the audience, of course. The

most significant feature of the new language is that it contains the same words as English but

these words carry meanings that are entirely different from their English equivalents. The form

and meaning of the words initially appear to be utterly divorced from each other, yet their link is

gradually learnt and adopted by a direct interaction with its speakers. Stoppard explains in the

preface to the play that the idea from which he has constructed his play is to be found in the work

of the innovative linguist and philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Since the preface contains vital

information about the mentoring behind Stoppard’s two plays I have quoted below a major

chunk of the text, because a clear understanding of the concept behind the play is essential for an

effective reading of how language acquisition takes place in Stoppard and, by extension, in any

language learning activity.

Dogg’s Hamlet derives from a section of Wittgenstein’s philosophical


Consider the following scene.

A man is building a platform using

pieces of wood of different shapes and sizes.

These are thrown to him by a second

man, one at a time, as they are called for.

An observer notes that each time the

first man shouts ‘Plank!’ he is thrown a long flat piece.

Then he calls ‘Slab!’ and

is thrown a piece of a different shape.

This happens a few times.

There is a call

for ‘Block!’ and a third shape is thrown.

Finally a call for ‘Cube!’ produces a

fourth type of piece.

An observer would probably conclude that the different

words described different shapes and sizes of the material.

But this is not the only


Suppose, for example, the thrower knows in advance which pieces

the builder needs, and in what order. In such a case there would be no need for the

builder to name the pieces he requires but only to indicate when he is ready for

the next one.

 So the calls might translate thus:

Plank = Ready Block = Next

Slab = Okay Cube = Thank you

In such a case, the observer would have made a false assumption, but the fact that

he on the one hand and the builders on the other are using two different languages

need not be apparent to either party.

In his book Philosophical Investigations, published posthumously in 1953, Wittgenstein opines

that language acquires meaning by its very use.

Grice of course denies this, in fact he laughs at it.

Wittgenstein says that language is a part of an

activity or of a form of life (1958: point 23). He further goes on to say that meaning is use—that

is, language is not defined by the reference it makes to the objects or things that it signifies but

by the way it is used for effective communication.

For example, there is no need to believe that

there is something called “good” which exists independently of any particular “good deed”

(1958: point 77). Wittgenstein observes that language is not to be analyzed back, through a

hierarchy of forms, to some reality that it is supposed to convey: language is now itself the prime
reality. Because it has no external support, language is not reduced in analysis but is laid bare.

Meaning, for Wittgenstein, is not something that exists beyond language: it is identified by its

very use. Philosophical Investigations is full of reminders that language is a continual process of

renewal and formation.

There are, Wittgenstein says, 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” (1958: point 23).

Pursuing this analogy between language-forms and the games we

play he points to the case where we make up the rules as we learn them and “there is even one

where we can alter them—as we go along” (1958: point 83). Wittgenstein’s idea that language

learning is like playing games, in which we learn the rules as we play, matches Stoppard’s use of

the new language “Dogg” in his plays.

 From the perspective of Stoppard’s plays Wittgenstein’s

idea that language is a game-like activity acquires a new meaning: namely, that language cannot

be learnt simply by a process of introspection but is acquired by active interaction among its

users. Like games language too is a group activity, almost a form of life, and a means of

expression capable of being learnt by anyone who takes part in this activity. Wittgenstein goes

on to say: “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” (1958:

point 197).

The example of building blocks upon which Stoppard himself builds his play is also

taken from Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein gives this example in the first few pages of the

Philosophical Investigations (1958: points 7, 8, 19 20, etc).

In trying to show that language is a

public activity, Wittgenstein takes the example of a team of builders and explores the various

theoretically possible meanings that their calls such as “block”, “slab” or “pillar” might have.


demonstrates that it may not be the purpose of these words to evoke images and that senses other

than simple descriptions of the building materials might thus be conveyed.

 It is this specific

example of the team of builders which Stoppard develops in creating a situation where Easy, the

lorry driver, discovers that all the other characters are using a language with different (and

usually contrary) senses from his own, and it is the comic confusion engendered by their

misfiring attempts at communication which provides the core of the play.

The audience both

enjoys the slapstick comedy of miscommunication and confusion as well as observes the gradual

and playful manner in which the learning of this new language takes place.

In presenting Dogg

language to Easy, and to the audience, Stoppard erects as few linguistic barriers as possible,

since the language’s structure, syntax, rhythms and intonations are broadly the same as English.


Only the sense of the words is altered, which provides a lively verbal and situational humour.


setting of the play is the prize distribution ceremony of a school in which the boys are to perform

Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Easy, the only non-Dogg speaking character in the play, brings a lorry

full of the building material for constructing the platform for the ceremony.

The other main

characters are Dogg, the headmaster, and a small group of school boys, chiefly Abel, Baker and

Charlie, who are preparing to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As the play opens, the audience’s

first response is complete disorientation, soon followed by a hunt for the ‘correct’ meanings of

Dogg language vocabulary:
Empty Stage

Baker: (Off-stage) Brick!

(A football is thrown from off-stage left to off-stage right. Baker receiving

ball) Cube.

(Able enters…with microphone and stand which he places down stage.

The microphone has a switch.)

Abel: (into the microphone) Breakfast, breakfast…sun – dock – trog…

He realizes the microphone is dead. He tries the switch a couple of times
and then speaks again into the microphone.) Sun – dock – trog – pan –

(The microphone is still dead. Abel calls to someone off-stage.)
Haddock priest! (1980: 15)

This language initially gets the audience completely confused and the only way out for them is to

try to make sense of what is going on before their eyes.

Thus, the viewers have to translate these

exchanges for themselves in order to keep up with the play. In a way, this proves to be a simple

enough affair: “Brick” means “here”, “cube” means “thank you”, “breakfast” means “testing”,

“sun, dock, trog” is a sequence of numbers that stand for “one, two three” and “haddock priest”

means “the mike is dead”. The audience’s task here and throughout the play is eased very

considerably by the explanatory visual context which Stoppard provides to help them place the

seemingly “wrong” words into their “right” context. It quickly emerges, for instance, that “git”

means “sir”; “Cretinous pig-faced, git” sounds like an insult, but when it is addressed

respectfully to the headmaster by young Abel, the headmaster looks at his watch and answers

with the correct time. Again, sometimes harmless English words translate into insults or

inappropriate slang in Dogg.

Thus, when Easy tries to say “Afternoon, squire” to his supervisor it

seems like a normal greeting; but, as Stoppard notes in the translation brackets, “Afternoon,

squire” in Dogg means—“Get stuffed, you bastard”.

The idea of the imaginary tongue “Dogg” is not just a clever application of

Wittgenstein’s theory nor is it merely a random word substitution; rather it is a unique example

of Stoppard’s early genius.

Stoppard’s creation of the new language, Dogg, at first seems like a

random combination of words and meanings.

However, upon a close scrutiny one comes to see

that many of the words of Dogg language are very carefully chosen.

The meanings of numbers or

digits in Dogg, for example, contain some visible though remote semblance to their English

equivalents. Since these digits are from everyday language they can serve as effective context

clues too, as is shown by a parallel analysis of the numerals in Dogg and in English that is given


Quite (Dogg) 0 or Zero or nil (English)

Sun (Dogg) 1 or one (English)

Dock (Dogg) 2 or two (English)

Trog (Dogg) 3 or three (English)

Slack (Dogg) 4 or four (English)
Pan (Dogg) 5 or five (English)

Sock (Dogg) 6 or six (English)

Slight (Dogg) 7 or seven (English)

Bright (Dogg) 8 or eight (English)

None (Dogg) 9 or nine (English)

Tun (Dogg) 10 or ten (English)

What (Dogg) 11 or eleven (English)

Dunce (Dogg) 12 or twelve (English) (1980: 25)


At a broader plane this co-relation between the two languages can be applied to the field of

literary studies in general; for example, the language of Shakespeare himself can at times

become somewhat unintelligible for the modern students.

It is possible that present day students

of literature may have problems with Shakespearean texts because of the unfamiliar words and

their seemingly far-fetched application. Shakespeare’s vocabulary, in particular, can become a

stumbling block for the modern students, especially for the readers of his plays who have only

the written text in front of them. In performance the viewers can understand the play better, since

the speaking actor frequently relies upon tone, semantic drive, narrative context and body

language to communicate the sense of utterly unfamiliar terms, references and phrases; however,

on the page such words can be impenetrable for the modern reader of English.

It is at this point

that context learning pays off which allows the learner to judge the meaning of words by

understanding the general context or situation in which these words are used.

The context is equally self-defining when Charlie starts singing to the tune of ‘My Way’:

Engage congratulate moreover state abysmal fairground.

Begat perambulate this aerodrome chocolate ├ęclair found.

Maureen again dedum-de-da ultimately cried egg.

Dinosaurs rely indoors if satisfied egg.(1980: 19)

Here the crucial context clue is musical and even the rhyme scheme plays an important role in

decoding the language that is being used. At the time when Dogg’s Hamlet was written, the song

“My Way” sung by Frank Sinatra was very popular.

It had become the signature song for

Sinatra, even though Sinatra himself did not rate the song very highly.

 The lyrics of “My Way”

picture a dying man, facing the final curtain, looking back in his life and deciding that he is

satisfied with the way he lived it. Given below is the text of “My Way” in English along with its

translation in Dogg.

And now, the end is here (En-gage con-grat-ulate)

And so I face the final curtain (More-o-ver state a-bysmal fairground)

My friend, I'll say it clear (Be- gat per-am-bu-late)

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain (This aer-o-drome choc-’late e-clair

I've lived a life that's full (Mau-reen again (pe-can) dedum—)

I traveled each and ev'ry highway (Ma-rau-der fig de--da Ul-ti-mate-ly

cried egg)
And more, much more than this, (Di-no-saurs re-ly in-doors)

I did it my way (If sat-is-fied egg) (1980, p. 19)

As in all good language acquisition the audience learns the Dogg language slowly, as Stoppard

teaches the audience the essentials of linguistic survival in a place where only Dogg is spoken.

The audience becomes familiar with words for directions, as “Cauliflower” means “Left” (20),

“Onyx” means ‘Right’(20), and “Tissue” means ‘Straight ahead’ (20). They now know that

“Upside” stands for “Have you seen it?” (17) and “Useless” represents “Good Day”, or “Good

Afternoon” (17). Dogg also appears to have gender pronouns as “Git” means “Sir”, while “Get”

means “Madam” (16, 29). The connotations are all juxtaposed so that “Pig-faced” represents

“Please” (16), “Cutlery” is “Excuse me” (30), “Afternoon” stands for “Get Stuffed” (16),

“Squire” is the name for “Bastard” (21) and “Vanilla” is “Rotten” (16). “Marmalade” denotes

“Approval” (25), while “Gymshoes” stands for “Excellent” (28). It is only with paying attention

to the context in which these language games are taking place that the audience is on its way to

learning Dogg. Context learning is also visible when Charlie turns on his radio and the pace and

intonations of the speaker’s voice make it clear that he is listening to the day’s football results,

even if the team’s names are themselves indecipherable:

Cabrank dock, Blanket Clock quite; Tube Clock dock, Handbag dock; Haddock Clock

quite, Haddock Foglamp trog; Wonder quite, Picknicking pan. (1980: 25)

In all these cases, the clarity and familiarity of the context is such that the meanings can mostly

be understood. Context-based learning of a language, one of the major techniques in corpus

linguistics, is seen literally taking place both on the stage and among the audience.

Sharing our confusion, however, is Easy; when Abel asks him for the time—“Cretinous

pig-faced, git?” —he gets an undeserved box at the ears for his troubles; and when Easy offers an

amiable “Afternoon squire” to the headmaster he soon gathers, to his cost, that in Dogg this

means “Get stuffed, you bastard”. As might be anticipated, though, the mutual confusion is at its
greatest when the boys form a chain to help him construct the speech-day platform by joining the

building blocks:

Dogg: (Calling out to Abel loudly – shouts) Plank! (To Easy’s surprise and relief

a plank is thrown to Baker who catches it, passes it to Charlie, who passes it to

Easy, who places it on the stage. Dogg smiles, looks encouragingly at Easy.)

Easy: (Uncertainly, calls.) Plank!

(To his surprise and relief a second plank is thrown in and passed to him the same
way. He places it.) Plank!

(A third plank is thrown in and positioned as before. Confidently, calls.) Plank!

(A block is thrown instead of a plank.) (1980: 21)

And so it continues, occasionally as Easy intends, usually as he does not, since “plank” in Dogg

language means “ready”! At the same time, he (like the audience) gradually pieces together one

or two of the more basic meanings of Dogg, and by the start of the boy’s production of Hamlet

he is able to demonstrate his growing grasp of the jargon by introducing it over the microphone:

“Hamlet bedsocks Denmark. Yeti William Shakespeare” (1980: 38). Perhaps the most humorous

and revealing section of the play is the address of the dignified lady who is the guest of honour

for the afternoon and whose main speech provides the most comic example of Dogg language in


Lady: (Nicely.) Scabs, slobs, yobs, yids, spicks, wops …

(As one might say Your Grace, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls …)

Sad fact, brats pule puke crap-pot stink, spit; grow up dunces crooks; rank

socks dank snotrags, conkers, ticks: crib books, cock snooks, block bogs,

jack off, catch pox pick spots, scabs, padlocks, seek kicks, kinks, slack; nick

swag, swig coke, bank kickbacks;…frankly can’t stand kids.

(Applause. Lady comes down …) (1980: 28)

Here, with great obviousness but with almost equal hilarity, Stoppard splashes the stiff-necked

lady with the colours of the comic, combining slang and rough colloquy with crudely

onomatopoeic syllables which point a meaning diametrically opposed to that which she intends.

Like Easy, the audience has now started deciphering the new language, and is beginning

to learn the codes of Dogg. As Cahoot says later, in the second play, “You don’t learn it, you

catch it” (1980: 74) showing that learning is more of a process of “tuning in” to the correct

structures than of acquiring by rote (Brassell 1985: 239). The process of learning Dogg is

designed to make this very point. Here, Stoppard is using an entire language system to be

deciphered like a code. For codes, jargons, clich├ęs, etc, are like Wittgenstein’s language-games

which are learnt as one plays them.

This idea is further shown in the truncated version of the

performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which comes as an island of English in the sea of Dogg.

Coming after a prolonged exposure to the Dogg language, Shakespeare sounds more like a

breath of spring than ever before. The play within the play opens with the Prologue delivered by

the headmaster of the school. The prologue is a sketchy resume of key lines from the play,
cleverly tailored to resemble the typical generalities of a headmaster’s speech. The performed

version itself is a remarkably ingenious compression, extracting only the most essential

exchanges of Shakespeare’s play to create ten unbelievably fast scenes. In these scenes all the

extraneous descriptions, explanations or poetic embellishments are removed, and cut-outs of the

sun and the moon flick up or down to suggest night or day. The fidelity to Shakespeare’s text is

mostly observed, and, in spite of the minor changes in the presentation of the characters, most of

the speeches and interpolations follow their true sequence:

(Enter Ghost above the wall built of blocks)

Hamlet: Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Something is rotten in the

state of Denmark! Alas, poor ghost.

Ghost: I am thy father’s spirit.

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

Hamlet: Murder?

Ghost: The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown.

Hamlet: O my prophetic soul! My Uncle?

(Exit Ghost. To Horatio.)

There are more things in heaven and earth

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

(Exit Horatio) (1980: 33-34)

The compressed version of Shakespeare’s most famous masterpiece is then repeated in the final

two-minute “encore” in which almost the same number of characters rushes on and off stage,

with their speeches desperately truncated. Though the text of the fifteen minute Hamlet remains

substantially the same, its meaning changes with this new context and cast, and it now
contributes to the larger whole that is Dogg’s Hamlet. With Easy, the audience has entered a

linguistically bewildering but tacitly familiar dramatic world, and now we see the inhabitants

themselves trying to learn a Shakespearian language which we already understand. Their absurd

condensation of Hamlet now suggests a woefully inadequate grasp of its tragic richness; but it is

also, of course, ‘a lightly satirical comment on our own reductive schooling’ (Whitaker 1983:

155). Nevertheless, we have experienced here the fact that human beings can transcend all such

differences between worlds through a playful education in language.

Dogg’s Hamlet redefines the process of language acquisition and shows a performed

explanation of Wittgenstein’s ideas about language, meaning and usage. The play shows that

language can never be private and that it exists solely by virtue of its public presence. Its learning

is not a process of introspection alone. Language must be a group activity, a means of expression

capable of being learnt by others, just as Easy, along with the audience, has gradually mastered

the initially un-understandable Dogg language.
In the second play which comes as a sequel to the first one, Stoppard shows how the

learnt language Dogg is put to actual practical use.

Here the text taken for dramatic purpose is

Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Stoppard shows that the language of a literary text has an authority of its

own which is shared by its users. Where the first section, Dogg’s Hamlet, is concerned with the

learning of a new language based on the theoretical framework of Ludwig Wittenstein the second

section shows how the learnt language can be practically used as a tool of power.


Wittgenstein’s ideas from the perspective of the Czech political scenario, Tom Stoppard shows

how language, text, and authority can be juggled together to create a sparkling comedy.

However, the actual social and political conditions of Czechoslovakia during the writing of the

play were far from comic. We again turn to the author’s own words which show the conditions in

which Cahoot’s Macbeth was written. In the preface to the 1980 edition Stoppard writes:

Cahoot’s Macbeth is dedicated to the Czechoslovakian playwright Pavel Kahout. During the

last decade of ‘normalization’ which followed the fall of Dubcek, thousands of Czechoslovaks

had been prevented from pursuing their careers. Among them are many writers and actors”

(1980: 8). He further explains the banned actor’s decision to perform in spite of all oppression:

A year later Kahout wrote to me: As you know, many Czeck theatre-people are not

allowed to work in the theatre during the last years. As one of them who cannot live

without theatre I was searching for a possibility to do theatre in spite of circumstances.

Now I am glad to tell you that in a few days, after eight weeks rehearsals—a Living

Room Theatre is opening, with nothing smaller but Macbeth’. (1980: 8)


Thus Stoppard in Cahoot’s Macbeth portrays how force is employed by the political authorities

to subjugate these left-wing actors and to stop them from acting, but these actors in turn use their

own command over language to defeat the oppressors and to effectively carry out their artistic

agenda. The dictatorial forces are here encapsulated in the figure of the Inspector who, as his

anonymous common noun suggests, stands for the nameless “law” enforcing agencies which

have every right to barge into an artistic production and to try to put an end to the proceedings.

At a more dramatic level, the intrusion of the Inspector suggests a Pirendellian realism which

allows Stoppard and the audience to poke more fun at the authority figure, especially when the

actors switch to Dogg language as a code of communication from which the police force is

essentially barred.

As in the first part of Stoppard’s twin plays, in the second section too we have a truncated

version of a Shakespearean tragedy, but far from the venue of a school function, here the setting

is of a private flat in Prague, where a group of persecuted and banned actors perform

Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the homes of friends and sympathizers. As Stoppard explains in his

preface to the play, the origin of Cahoot’s Macbeth lies in a real life version of Macbeth,

performed by a “Living Room Theatre” group during the summer of 1978 by the persecuted

playwright Pavel Kahout and Pavel Landovsky, and some other actors who had also fallen foul

of the authorities. Stoppard retains the name of Kahout in his play to authenticate the factual

basis of the idea, while at the same time fictionalizing the other details. Chief among these is the

figure of the Inspector who interrupts the performance on two occasions, firstly to deliver a stern

warning of possible repercussions, and secondly to physically attempt to put an end to the

performance. He further attempts to use his authority to tamper with the text of the play by trying

to end it with the crowning of Macbeth and lauding it with his own ominous banalities: “Very

good. Very good! And so nice to have a play with a happy ending for a change” (1980: 58). This
draws a grim analogy between Macbeth’s usurpation and the “normalization” of Czechoslovakia.

The Inspector is a further demonstration of Stoppard’s claim that politically repressive systems

are linguistically repressive too, and so the Inspector thinks that he can do whatever he wants

with language:

I’ve got the penal code tattooed on my whistle, 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 organized group, which I can make stick on Robinson

Crusoe and his man any day of the week. (1980: 61)

Already he has shown how language can be molded to serve one’s purpose: “Words”, he

announces, happily, “can be your friend or your enemy, depending on who’s throwing the book,

so watch your language” (1980: 59). However, in spite of the political nature of the Inspector’s

figure and its oppressive undertones, Stoppard invests his figure with essentially comic elements,

striving to highlight the paradoxes of the repressive system in the most humorous light possible.

Particularly interesting are the interrogations of Landovsky by the Inspector:

Inspector: Who are you, pigface?

‘Macbeth’: Landovsky.

Inspector: The actor?

‘Macbeth’: The floor cleaner in a boiler factory.

Inspector: That’s him. I’m a great admirer of yours, you know. I’ve

followed your career for years.

‘Macbeth’: I haven’t worked for years.

Inspector: What are you talking about?—I saw you last season—my

wife was with me…

‘Macbeth’: It couldn’t have been me.

Inspector: It was you—you looked great—sounded great—where

were you last year?

‘Macbeth’: I was selling papers in—

Inspector: (Triumphantly) –in 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?’ (1980: 54)

Moments later, another echo of the authoritative tone is caught as the Inspector starts to quiz

“Lady Macbeth” with the same kind of circular pseudo-logic:

Inspector: Could I have your autograph, it’s not for me, it’s for

my daughter—

‘Lady Macbeth’: I’d rather not—the last time I signed something I

didn’t work for two years.
Inspector: Now look, don’t blame us if the parts just stopped

coming. Maybe you got over-exposed.

‘Lady Macbeth’: I was working in a restaurant at the time.

Inspector: There you are, you see. The public’s very funny

about that sort of thing. They don’t want to get

dressed up and arrange a baby-sitter only to find

that they’ve paid good money to see Hedda Gabler done

by a waitress. (1980: 55)

Ironically, the jibes of the Inspector at the actors only point more poignantly at the plight of art

and artists in a dictatorial state, where the actors are restrained from working with freedom. Even

a great play like Shakespeare’s Macbeth has to be performed in the limited capacity of the

private apartments, and, if necessary, be camouflaged in the passwords of Dogg. Thus, where the
reduction of Hamlet in the first section of the play is pure Stoppardian fun, the reduction of

Macbeth is a brutal necessity—the only conceivable means of presenting the play in any form

under the pressure of the Czechoslovakian police state of the time. Yet, in spite of the shadow of
the political authority, the language of Stoppard’s Macbeth remains essentially true to

Shakespeare’s text. The drama retains most of the original dialogues and scenes, the only

difference being the interruptions of the Inspector. These interventions are, however, beautifully

interwoven into the text of the play with an ironic appropriateness. The first intervention comes

immediately after the murder of Duncan, with a prophetic undertone:

Macbeth: I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

Lady Macbeth: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.

(A police siren is heard approaching the house. During the

following dialogue the car arrives and the car doors are
heard to slam.)

Macbeth: There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried


One cried ‘God Bless us!’ and ‘Amen’ the other,

(Siren stops)

As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.(1980: 52)

At this very moment, ironically, the Inspector raps at the door to coincide, with exquisite timing,

with the knocking that wakens the Porter and leads to the discovery of the murder. It also shows

how the figure of the Inspector acts as a kind of an outside force which puts a break upon the

artistic proceedings:

Hostess: I’m afraid the performance is not open to the public.

Inspector: I should hope not indeed. That would be acting without

authority—acting without authority!—you’d never believe

I make it up as I go along. (1980: 56)

This relates the Inspector to Macbeth himself, as he becomes the oppressor in Cahoot’s Macbeth,

as when he declares: “If I walk out of this show, I take it with me” (56). Thus, Stoppard
demonstrates the ironic parallels between the tyrant Macbeth and Czechoslovakia under the

tyrannical secret police. When the Inspector returns for the second time, his approaching siren

creates a still more devastating effect:

Macduff: Bleed, bleed, poor country!

(Police siren is heard in distance)

Malcolm: It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash

Is added to her wounds.

Macduff: O Scotland, Scotland!

O nation miserable,

With an untitled tyrant, bloody sceptred,

When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?

See who comes here.

(Siren stops)

Malcolm: My countryman; but yet I know him not.
(Inspector enters) (1980: 72)

This “countryman”, then, attempts to bring the curtain down by force, since the actors had

ignored his earlier warning and had resumed their performance. Incidently, the flat is bugged, so

the police are fully aware of what is being said or done in their absence, which further gives the

idea of how things are constantly held under surveillance and check.

At this time Easy comes in with his lorry full of the building material. He again tells of

his bizarre accident on the A412, but this time in Dogg: “Blankets up middling if season stuck,

after plug-holes kettle-drummed lightly A412 mildly Rickmansworth—” (1980: 71). Indeed, he

now seems as fluent in Dogg as he was in English in the first section. Here we see a parallel

between the two languages: English is to Dogg in Dogg’s Hamlet as Dogg is to Czech (which is

presented as English by Stoppard) in this play. The linguistic relationship among the dissidents is

thus quickly formed, and we see the Inspector literally groping for words:

Inspector: Who are you, pig-face?

Easy: Poxy queen! [Twenty past]

Inspector: What

Hostess: He doesn’t understand you.

Inspector: What’s that language he’s talking?

Hostess: He’s got a two-ton artichoke out there.

Inspector: What??? (1980:73)

At this point, the political authority of the Inspector is openly jeopardized by the linguistic

innovation of the defiant actors, particularly when they have the weight of Shakespeare on their

side. Inspector and Shakespeare stand at opposite ends of the scale, with the index triumphantly
inclining towards the latter, a visible proof of which comes when our actors quickly switch to

Dogg in order to press ahead with their performance. When the Inspector asks where Easy learnt

Dogg, Cahoot replies: “You don’t learn it, you catch it” (1980: 74), a point which the Inspector is

unable to understand as he remarks: “She’s making it up as she goes along”, as “Lady Macbeth”

starts to translate Shakespeare into Dogg. Language, thus, becomes the means of repelling the

authority of the Inspector, as his threat that anything they say will be taken down and played

back at the trial meets with the response, “Bicycles! Plank!” (1980: 75). The Inspector is at a

complete loss as language is wrested from his control, and now it is the he who appears to be

gibbering nonsense: “Wilco Zebra over,” he shouts in his walkie-talkie, “Green Charlie Angels

15 out” (1980: 76). His earlier claims to monitor the language of the actors are thrown back at

his face, as he watches the performance of Dogg-Macbeth in helplessness.

Inspector: May I remind you we’re supposed to be in a period of

normalization here.

Hostess: Kindly leave the stage. Act Five is about to begin.

Inspector: Is it! I must warn you that anything you say will be taken

down and played back at your trial.

Hostess: Bicycles! Plank....

Inspector: (in the phone) Did you get all that? Clear as what? I want

every word in evidence.

Lady Macbeth: Hat, daisy puck! Hat, so fie….

Inspector: (into the phone: pause) How the hell do I know? But if it’s

not free expression, I don’t know what is. (1980: 75)

Without knowing it the Inspector has admitted that language is the only form of dissent over

which the oppressive political state can have no control. By teaching his audience Dogglanguage

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”

(Sammells 1988: 121). The power of the Shakespearian text, combined with the innovativeness

of the actors, wrenches the self-ordained authority from the Inspector and leaves him dethroned

of his dictatorial crown. The crown is, interestingly, duly placed on Malcolm’s head, further

literalizing the metaphor of shifting authorities. The final analysis thus upholds not only the

universal authority of the Shakespearian masterpiece, but also maintains the freedom of language

itself from all attempts to curtail it. It is this freedom of language that turns the tables over the

dictatorial state in the final round, knocking out all the political Macbeths of “normalized”

Czechoslovakia. Interestingly the theme of usurpation of the rightful authority in Macbeth itself

serves as an indirect paradigm for the way in which the Inspector tries to encroach upon the

individual rights of these actors. Yet, just as Macbeth could not carry on his autocratic rule in

Shakespeare’s play and was ultimately undone by his own misreading of the witch’s equivocal

language, similarly, the Inspector too is left powerless when faced with the task of interpreting

an entirely unfamiliar tongue. Language is the most powerful tool of establishing one’s authority,

even more powerful than political and strategic oppression. The power of language is finally

established as the learnt language, Dogg, now becomes a successful ploy at the hands of the

actors to assert their own linguistic individuality.
Cahoot’s Macbeth shows the practical application of the language that was learnt in

Dogg’s Hamlet. Together the two plays bring out the uniqueness of context-learning based on a

real life setting. Viewed at from a pedagogical perspective, Stoppard’s plays serve as a literal

instance of putting the ideas of corpus linguistics to the use of language acquisition and

application. In other words, the first play, Dogg’s Hamlet, serves as the theoretical basis for

driving home a unique way of acquiring a foreign language, while the second play, Cahoot’s

Macbeth, becomes a practical example of how the theoretical premises can be applied to an

actual setting. Therefore, when the actors in Cahoot’s Macbeth switch from Dogg to English and

vice versa we actually see the success with which the characters and the audience had learnt the
Dogg language in Dogg’s Hamlet. Thus, Stoppard not only provides a theoretical basis for

putting corpus linguistics to classroom education, but also displays a natural setting in which

such a theoretical foundation is actually implemented.

One of the aims of this article has been to examine the scope of individual

experimentation in the classroom teaching of a foreign language. I have tried to use the paradigm

of Stoppard’s plays to explore the use of specific language samples of a particular register in the

classroom. As Stoppard has used the idea of a school rehearsal and a private living-room theater

and has taken up samples both from the Shakespearean text and from the foreign language,

Dogg, so a language teacher can create a specific context and introduce a language sample for

active interaction among the students. However, there are several challenges that are involved in

implementing this kind of use of corpus linguistics for the purpose of language teaching. The

foremost challenge is that of corpus selection. It might need the genius of Stoppard to invent a

methodology and register for a specific corpus selection, and so the teacher has to be

significantly imaginative and innovative for this purpose. However, such a corpus selection can

mostly be done within the academic institution itself. Often the major libraries of any educational

institution contain large corpora, out of which some samples can be readily available to the

teacher. Online services are another major source of searching for language samples. But the

teacher needs to make sure that the corpus is useful for the particular teaching context and is

representative of both the target language and the target register. Although most teachers

acknowledge the utility of corpus linguistics in introducing innovative teaching techniques, at

present one sees corpora’s greatest potential as a source for materials development. Susan

Conrad (2000) suggests that materials writers take register specific corpus studies into account,

while Biber, Conrad and Reppen (1998) emphasize the need for these writers to acknowledge the

frequency which corpus studies reveal of words and structures in their materials design. Another

option is that the teacher can construct the corpus, especially when the target register is highly

specific. This can be done by using a textbook, course reader, or a bunch of articles which the

students have to read or are representative of what they have to read. Furthermore, a corpus

needs not to be large in order to be effective: in fact a limited yet highly focused corpus can be

more useful.

The primary considerations are that the corpus should be relevant to the students’

needs, it should be selected with the learning objectives of the class in mind, and should match

the ability and capacity of the students.

Related to the issue of corpus selection is that of corpus bias, a thing which can cause

frustration for both the teacher and the students. Corpus bias means that the data presented by the

selected samples can be misleading; if one uses a very large general corpus, it may obscure the

register variation which reveals important contextual information about language use. The pitfall

is that a corpus may tell us more about itself than about language use (Krieger 2003). Thus, if in
Dogg’s Hamlet, the foreign language, Dogg, is allowed to encroach upon all the proceedings of

the play it would have resulted in total confusion among the learners, and would have led to their

losing interest in the entire thing. However, as any language teacher might notice, Stoppard has

very ingenuously balanced the target register and language in Dogg with the use of

Shakespeare’s text, yet keeping both within grasp by his own explanatory directions in everyday


In spite of the early confusion, the viewers/readers start putting together the pieces of

the linguistic jigsaw, and then gradually begin to even enjoy the play. Moreover, Stoppard uses

the element of comedy to lighten up the language learning activity as both verbal and situational

comedy keeps the viewers/readers glued to the text, not to mention the parallel movement of

performances in both Shakespearean language and in Dogg. It can be a good cue to the language

teacher not only to not outdo the corpus selection and implementation but also to make it

interesting by introducing comic undertones. Though it would be asking too much from a

language teacher to actually plan the classroom activity with the innovation of a playwright, yet

some clues to this effect can certainly be drawn from Stoppard’s genius.

Another obstacle that can confront a language teacher in using corpus linguistics is the

comprehensibility issue. An extended and complicated use of the corpus can be quite difficult for

the students, and even for the teacher, to understand and might lead to overlooking the major

information that the data provides. This problem can be overcome by allowing the students to

use their own innovation to decipher the language that the samples present. The important thing

here is that each student has an individual style of learning, which may be different from that of

another. Thus, direct interaction among the students themselves can serve as a good problemsolving

approach, as some students can “catch” the language more quickly, allowing others to

learn from them just as Easy learnt the initially unintelligible Dogg from the other boys. All of

these points reinforce the fact that careful consideration is required before the approach of corpus

linguistics can be introduced in the language classroom.

Yet if intelligently applied corpus

linguistics can also serve as an extremely effective language teaching technique, since it not so

much teaches language as it offers the opportunity to use it and to learn it while using it.

My present article is an attempt to draw upon the analogy of Stoppard’s plays for using

corpus linguistics as a language acquisition device in the classroom. Yet it is easier said than

done, since the use of samples of context based language requires specific knowledge and

considerable imagination on the part of the teacher. However the teacher can draw inspiration

from the way in which Stoppard has used samples from both Shakespearean text and the unique

Dogg language to bring about a successful acquisition and application of a new language.


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