Thinking Aloud: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”

June 4, 2015 by Darius 

I recently went to a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.  The play is considered to be one of the mainstays of modern theatre.

As the title implies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead focuses on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two unimportant courtiers from Hamlet who are ultimately tricked and killed by Hamlet.  Stoppard tells Hamlet’s story from their perspective.  Throughout the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are lost, seeking direction, and caught up in events larger than themselves.  It asks the audience to imagine what it would be like to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; in Hamlet they are bit players, but in their own lives, they, like we, are the lead characters, trying to find meaning and purpose and get on as best they can.

Stoppard’s play struck me as an inventive mashup of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Sartre’s Huis Clos, and Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine, sprinkled with snippets of Hamlet.

There was one image close to the end of the play that I found particularly insightful.  As per the events of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have boarded a ship to England, charged with delivering Hamlet to the king of England but in reality going to their own deaths.  Guildenstern says of their lives, “Where we went wrong was getting on a boat.  We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us along as inexorably as the wind and current.”

Not a bad metaphor for life.

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