HONORS PS1500 - Physics in the Plays of Tom Stoppard

Hapgood --- Plot Summary


Act 1, Scene 1

Some years ago Joseph Kerner, a physicist, defected to the West. Although he initially was supposed to work as a spy for the Russians, his loyalty was turned by Elizabeth Hapgood, head of British intelligence. Kerner's job for British intelligence is to pass false or harmless information onto the Russians to mislead them.

Ben Wates, from the CIA, suspects that Kerner recently has started passing real Star Wars secrets to the Russians. Hapgood insists that Kerner is loyal, so they design a plan to test Kerner. Kerner is assigned to deliver a briefcase containing false information to the Russians. The "meet" is to take place at the men's changing room of a municipal swimming pool. At the changing room, Wates watches as Ernest Ridley, another British agent, intercepts Kerner's briefcase and delivers a duplicate briefcase to the Russians. Ridley delivers Kerner's briefcase to Hapgood so she and Wates can check to see if Kerner has added any Star Wars secrets to it.

Although twin Russians are used to confuse the British agents (especially Merryweather), eventually both of the Russians are captured. However, when Hapgood opens Kerner's briefcase (delivered to her by Ridley), several rolls of film and a radio transmitter are missing. The radio stopped transmitting sometime during the exchange of briefcases. Hapgood tells Merryweather to drain the swimming pool to see what can be found.

Act 1, Scene 2

Kerner and Paul Blair, a high-ranking British intelligence officer, meet at the zoo. Blair tells Kerner that "Some of your research has turned up in Moscow. Real secrets, not briefcase stuff." Blair tells Kerner about the plan to test his loyalty, and about the missing film and transmitter. Kerner guesses that the film was removed because somebody opened the briefcase and added a roll of film before he/she realized that the briefcase was going to be intercepted. Because all of the rolls of film looked alike, all of the film had to be removed from the briefcase to be sure of removing the incriminating evidence. Blair also reveals that a radioactive spray was added to the briefcase and should have marked the person who opened it. Kerner and everyone else was free of radioactivity, so how was the briefcase opened to remove the transmitter and film?

Act 1, Scene 3

Hapgood and Blair meet outside St. Christopher's School where her son, Joe, is playing rugby. Blair tells Hapgood that she was holding the briefcase when the radio transmitter went off the air. Hapgood reviews the events that occurred in the changing room, and realizes that Ridley remarked, "You didn't tell me it was twins." It's true: Hapgood hadn't told him, nor had anyone else. She realizes that Ridley must be a double agent working for the KGB. Ridley remembers that Ridley was involved when agents in previous assignments were killed in Athens and Paris (Ganchev). Blair asks, "Well, what are we going to do about Ridley? We could reel him in for a hostile interview but I'd rather catch him at it." Hapgood replies, "...we'll have to make him do it all again."

Act 1, Scene 4

Blair meets with Wates in Hapgood's office while Hapgood is out buying rugby boots for her son. Wates tells Blair that the radio transmitter has come back on, and that the transmitter is in Hapgood's office. Wates makes it clear that he suspects both Ridley and Hapgood. He recalls that in the changing room, Ridley intercepted the briefcase and delivered it to Hapgood. In Paris, Hapgood was Ridley's alibi (she was with Ridley in a taxi) when Ganchev was killed during a planned rendezvous with Ridley. Wates is having Hapgood followed.

Hapgood arrives in her office and Blair tells her about the radio transmitter coming alive. It turns out that the radio transmitter was found in the pool, where it went dead while under water. When the pool was finally drained, Merryweather found the transmitter and put it in Hapgood's office mail. This clears Hapgood, who was never near the pool, but implicates Ridley, who was near the pool. Hapgood makes it clear to Wates that she is unhappy with him. She goes through her mail and plays long-distance chess --- without a board --- while he is talking. She does not appreciate being followed, and she shows that she is way ahead of Wates in suspecting Ridley. As Blair explains, "...every month, Ridley helps to pack Kerner's briefcase. That's his job. Kerner's job is handing the briefcase over to the Russians. ... The opposition don't care which way Kerner is bent, either way he's a channel for Ridley." There is still the mystery of why Ridley was not marked with the radioactive spray if he opened the briefcase, but Blair reveals that Kerner has a hypothesis: there must be twin Ridleys. The Ridley who opened the briefcase was not the Ridley who tested negative for radioactivity.

Act 1, Scene 5

Hapgood meets Ridley at the shooting range and begins the process of setting a trap for Ridley. She lies to Ridley, telling him that Wates suspects them both and that they are both suspended from duty while Blair runs the agency. She also tells Ridley that Blair suspects Kerner. Hapgood voices her support for Kerner, and Ridley reveals that when he searched Kerner after the meeting in the men's changing room (Scene 1), he found a photo of a young boy in a rugby shirt. The audience realizes that Kerner is Joe Hapgood's father. It is also obvious that Ridley is frustrated in his love for Hapgood.

Ridley leaves the shooting range and Kerner enters. He explains to Hapgood that he is certain that Ridley must be twins after seeing Wates diagram of Ridley's movements at the changing room. One man could not possibly have followed the path shown on Wates diagram (like the Königsberg Bridges). During their conversation, we discover that Kerner is indeed Joe's father, although Joe believes that his father is dead. Kerner cares for Joe and sends him chocolates. Saying that Kerner's usefulness as a British agent is over, Hapgood asks him to marry her. Kerner replies that "I'm not charmed by this. If I loved you it was so long ago I had to tell you in Russian...." Kerner tells her that he is thinking of returning home to Russia, and that he thought that Hapgood would marry Blair. From Hapgood's response, Kerner realizes that he is wrong about Hapgood's feelings for Blair.

Act 2, Scene 1

The plan to trap Ridley advances. Blair (supposedly now in command of British intelligence) pretends to interrogate Kerner in Hapgood's office as Hapgood (supposedly suspended) and Ridley observe. Blair shows Kerner photos of Star Wars secrets that were obtained by the CIA from their agents in Moscow. Kerner says that he took the photos, and that more Star Wars secrets were encoded onto the computer disk along with the false information he was passing to the Russians at the changing room "meet." Kerner says that he had no choice because "They [the KGB] found out about Joe." They convince Ridley that the Russians have kidnaped Joe because Kerner's computer disk was intercepted and did not reach the Russians. Blair refuses to trade the computer disk with the Russians for Joe, despite Ridley's pleas that Joe's life is worth more than fantasies of Star Wars. Hapgood surrenders the computer disk to Blair, and Blair and Kerner leave Hapgood's office.

Hapgood and Ridley are now alone in her office. As part of the plan to trap Ridley, Hapgood tells him that she gave Blair the phony disk from the duplicate briefcase, and that she still has the real computer disk with the Star Wars secrets on it. The kidnappers have supposedly sent a note to Hapgood saying that they will call her office at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon. Hapgood says that Blair will be watching her too closely for her to take the call, and asks Ridley to help her with her own plan to trade the computer disk for Joe's safe return. Ridley agrees and leaves Hapgood's office.

Blair and Kerner return to Hapgood's office, and Hapgood calls St. Christopher's to speak with Joe. At this point, the audience realizes that the whole scene in Hapgood's office has been a fiction to trap Ridley, using his feeling for Joe and Hapgood to motivate him. Kerner listens to Joe's voice on the phone, and Hapgood asks Blair to have Joe watched, just in case.

Act 2, Scene 2

Ridley goes to the photographic studio of Mrs. Newton, Hapgood's twin sister. As Ridley describes her on the phone to Hapgood, "She may be your sister, but there the resemblance ends. She's a pot-head, it reeks, she's growing the stuff in the window-box, she won't stop talking, she picks her nose, she looks like shit, I mean, it doesn't begin..." He brings her clothes suitable for Hapgood's office. He offers her four thousand pounds to help Hapgood, who he says is in trouble. Mrs. Newton agrees to help her sister, and goes to take a bath.


Ridley's twin arrives in town, presumably summoned by Ridley. The brief glimpse of him confirms for the audience that Ridley is indeed twins.

Act 2, Scene 3

Blair and Kerner again meet at the zoo. Blair is troubled because the photos he showed Kerner of Star Wars secrets were obtained by the CIA from their agents in Moscow. Blair deliberately chose photos that were not sent to Moscow by Ridley (Blair could tell because of how the photos were taken). Blair explains that if he had used Ridley's photos, Ridley would have become suspicious when Kerner confessed that he (Kerner) had sent them. Blair instead used photos that Moscow had of Kerner's research, and Blair is troubled that Kerner did not seem surprised that the Russians had obtained his secrets. Kerner replies that he is estranged and is thinking of returning home to Moscow. Kerner reveals that his Russian contact, Georgi, offered him the opportunity to return, but Kerner says that he has declined the offer. Kerner assures Blair that he would never betray Hapgood.

Act 2, Scene 4

The next afternoon, Ridley and Mrs. Newton are in Hapgood's office. He opens an envelope left by Hapgood that gives him access to her office safe. Inside the safe is a disk box supposedly containing the real computer disk with the Star Wars secrets. (In fact, as will be revealed in Scene 6, it contains a radio transmitter, but the box is sealed with an open once-only seal. The box can't be resealed, so Ridley can't check its contents without arousing suspicions.) Ridley takes the disk box, and they now wait for the phone call from the supposed kidnappers.

Mrs. Newton realizes that Hapgood's son, Joe, is in danger. She says of Hapgood, "She was always the scholarship girl and I was the delinquent. Having the kid was good for her, she always thought the delinquents had the bastards and the scholarship girls had the wedding. It shook up her view of the world, slightly." The "kidnappers" call, and Ridley hurts Mrs. Newton's hand so she will sound convincingly distraught when speaking on the phone. They are told to meet the "kidnappers" at the men's changing room in eight hours.

Ridley leaves Hapgood's office. Mrs. Newton then makes the next move in Hapgood's long-distance chess game, and the audience realizes that Mrs. Newton is in fact Hapgood. Her "Mrs. Newton" persona is all part of the plan to trap Ridley.

Act 2, Scene 5

Ridley and Mrs. Newton (Hapgood) are in a cheap motel room, waiting for the time to meet the "kidnappers." Ridley tries to contact Hapgood on a radio transmitter, and is suspicious when she doesn't answer. He promises, "If she's set me up I'll kill her." Mrs. Newton warns Ridley, "If you think she's lying, walk away. If you think bringing back her son will make you her type, walk away." She urges him to Ridley to open the sealed disk box to check its contents. Instead, Ridley grabs Mrs. Newton and asks, "Who the hell are you?" and Mrs. Newton replies, "I'm your dreamgirl, Ernie --- Hapgood without the brains or the taste." They make love as the scene ends.

Act 2, Scene 6

The Ridley twin (Ridley Two) enters the men's changing room, which is in darkness except for the light of Ridley Two's flashlight. Ridley Two meets and embraces his twin. Ridley takes Ridley Two's flashlight, and under the cover of darkness, Ridley Two enters Cubicle 2.

Ridley is planning a switch, so if somebody is setting him up he will not be caught with the incriminating computer disk with the Star Wars secrets. (He does not realize that Hapgood knows about his twin.) There is a towel hanging over the door of Cubicle 1 (supposedly empty), the "kidnapper's" signal of where to deliver the disk. Ridley slides a disk box with a fake computer disk under the door of Cubicle 1, and moves the towel to the door of Cubicle 2. If it is a setup, Ridley has posted nothing incriminating. If it is not a setup, then Ridley Two in Cubicle 2 will intercept the disk box with the real computer disk to trade for Joe.

Mrs. Newton (Hapgood) enters, meets Ridley, and calls out to Joe. Joe answers and approaches her (to her surprise, although she does not show it). Mrs. Newton posts the disk box supposedly containing the real computer disk under the door of Cubicle 2, pulls down the towel, and tosses it into Cubicle 2 to show that the delivery has been made. She and Joe leave the changing room, followed by Ridley.

Ridley Two opens the door of Cubicle 2 holding the real disk box and the towel. He throws the towel into Cubicle 1 to show that the delivery has been made. To his surprise, Wates opens the door of Cubicle 1 and trains a gun on Ridley Two. Wates leaves with Ridley Two under arrest.

Blair enters the changing room, goes to Cubicle 1, and retrieves the fake computer disk. He is about to leave when Ridley comes back in. At first Ridley misinterprets what he sees, and believes that Blair is the kidnapper. Ridley then realizes that Joe would tell who the kidnapper was, so there was no kidnaping. Ridley now knows that Blair and Hapgood have set a trap for him and, he believes, for Mrs. Newton as well. Finally, Ridley realizes that Mrs. Newton is really Hapgood. Hapgood tells him that in reality the sealed once-only box did not contain the computer disk with Star Wars secrets. Instead it contained only a radio transmitter so it could be followed.

Ridley knows that he has been betrayed, and starts to carry out his vow to kill Hapgood. ("If she's set me up I'll kill her.") Hapgood is faster and shoots Ridley. Although she intends only to wound and disable him, Hapgood kills Ridley. Ridley's body is removed while Ridley Two is led away under arrest.

Hapgood is furious that Blair has betrayed her by physically involving Joe in the scheme to catch Ridley. Her spy network is in shambles, and she realizes that she has "been buying nothing but lies and chickenfeed since Joe was in his pram." "It's over," she tells Blair, and of the opposition she says, "we're just keeping each other in business, we should send each other Christmas cards."

Act 2, Scene 7

Hapgood and Kerner meet outside St. Christopher's School where Joe is playing rugby. Kerner's career as a spy is over and he is getting ready to return home to Russia. He has been sending his luggage ahead for several months. Kerner acknowledges that the KGB did indeed find out about Joe, and that he was forced to turn back to work for them. In the meeting with Ridley in Act 2, Scene 1, Kerner "made up the truth." His supposedly false confession was for real. He says "Paul [Blair] thinks that I was a triple [agent], but I was definitely not, I was past that, quadruple at least, maybe quintuple." This makes no difference to Hapgood, who has also quit working for British intelligence.

Hapgood introduces Joe to Kerner, "another Joe." Speaking Russian, Hapgood says that she is sorry, and Kerner replies that he has to get going and will write her after he returns to Russia. He stops to watch the rugby game, however, and lingers watching Joe play. Hapgood notices Kerner's continued presence and with new enthusiasm roots for her son.

The play ends.


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Last modified:  Friday, March 26, 2004 11:11 AM