Scientific theatre is an idea difficult at first to grasp. It is, in essence, a paradox, for science is the art of determining sustainable, tangible facts and theatre is the art of mimesis. Science has been described as the systematic and organized inquiry into the natural world in order to gain a deeper and often useful understanding (Railsback). Theatre has been described as an art that touches upon something sensed but bears intellectually elusive meanings in life (Cohen 16). Mixing them evokes a curiosity, a mystery, and, often, an awe that is both mindboggling and captivating. As such, it becomes an object of desire for many writers, one of which is the famed Tom Stoppard. Tom Stoppard is a playwright who, like many of his fellow playwrights, melds science and theatre.
In the following paragraphs I will explain the necessary ideas of quantum mechanics and demonstrate their relationship to Stoppard’s play, Hapgood. There are numerous ways Stoppard relates quantum mechanics to the spy world but I will focus on a few topics that are more prominent in the play. The scientific topics Stoppard discusses are the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment, entangled particles, quantum jumps, radiation, the seven bridges of Konigsberg, and prime numbers. All of these concepts are performative; however, I will focus on the uncertainty principle and the double-slit experiment. Performativity is the demonstration of concepts in the play for dramatic effect. In addition to performativity, Stoppard applies quantum mechanics to the inter-scene and scene changes for theatrical effect, uses the double-slit experiment to demonstrate the value of the dual self within an individual, and employs the current gap in physics’ knowledge to provide evidence for the existence of God.
Stoppard uses the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to tie quantum mechanics and the spy world together. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states “the more precisely the position [of a particle] is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa” (Cassidy). Stoppard interprets this as saying when one quality of an object is known another is forced into obscurity. Through Joseph Kerner he explains the relationship between the uncertainty principle and spies:
The particle world is the dream world of the intelligence officer. An electron [particle] can be here or there at the same moment. You can choose. It can go from here to there without going in between; it can pass through two doors at the same time, or from one door to another by a path which is there for all to see until someone looks, and then the act of looking has made it take a different path. Its movements cannot be anticipated because it has no reasons. It defeats surveillance because when you know what it’s doing you can’t be certain where it is, and when you know where it is you can’t be certain what it’s doing: the Heisenberg uncertainty principle; and this is not...