Annalisa's Reviews > Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
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Aug 06, 08

bookshelves: movies, plays, literary, humor
Recommended for: anyone who enjoyed Hamlet
Read in August, 2008

I watched this movie years ago and thought it was hilarious so I thought I'd check out the play that inspired the film. It's the ramblings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern while Hamlet goes unnoticed, or at least misunderstood, by them in the background. In far over their heads, both in thematic prose and plot progression, what makes this play so hilarious is the irony. One of the few times irony can truly be claimed: the reader is aware of a humor lost on the characters when we have the foreknowledge of the well-known fate of Rosen & Guild. My favorite part is the detached and indifferent discussion of death between Rosen & Guild when they think it's Hamlet forthcoming end but we the readers all know that it is their deaths they are tumbling towards unknowingly.

Their part-insightful, part-idiotic discussions on chance, fate, death, friends, and word play is amusing. One of my favorite lines "A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself" is humorous because it is spoken by a seemingly nonsensical insane Guildenstern trying to appear intelligent about a Hamlet who is "stark raving sane" trying to appear unintelligent. The humor of self-evaluation in "talking nonsense not to himself" is lost on Guild.

I loved the questions game they played where they weren't allowed to make a statement, only ask questions and the rhetoric it produced. The incorrect assumptions they take on the mundane, taking nothing for given, even previously established facts was amusing as well. Such as: "The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter" received questions such as "He's in love with his daughter?" and "The old man is?" going back and forth until "Hamlet in love with the old man's daughter, the old man thinks" sets them straight. While their conversation is often idiotic, it is sometimes insightful, and amusing in both instances.

But while very witty, it was a little bit hard to follow at times, particularly the stage directions. It made me want to pull out Hamlet and reference the correlating scenes. It may be useful to have read Hamlet recently. I forgot what a great play that is. With the quick conversation and the double plays, I think the movie is a better forum for this and I'm putting this movie on my queue for a rewatch (and it was excellent once again). But what an original idea. Very funny. Give it a read or better yet go watch the movie.

A few of the quotes that struck me:
We're actors! We're the opposite of people.
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself. Or just as mad. . .Stark raving sane.
Shouldn't we be doing something... constructive? ... What did you have in mind? A short, blunt human pyramid?
A Chinaman of the T'ang Dynasty - and, by which definition, a philosopher - dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; in his two-fold security.
Everything has to be taken on trust; truth is only that which is taken to be true. It's the currency of living. There may be nothing behind it, but it doesn't make any difference so long as it is honoured. One acts on assumptions. What do you assume?
In reponse to I don't believe in England: Just a conspiracy of cartographers?
We're still finding our feet ... I should concentrate on not losing your head.
Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well, at least I'm not dead.
We move idly toward eternity without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation.
If you're not even happy, what's so good about surviving?
Death is not...not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not being.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Melanie (new)

Melanie I have to say that this play is just much more entertaining when you see if performed than when you read it. I read it first and kind of got the idea of what the author was trying to do but it really gelled and I appreciated it so much more when I saw a video of the performance. Of course then you get the director's interpretation rather than your own. Nonetheless the performance gives you more ideas for how you might want to imagine the setting, body language, etc.


message 2: by Angie (last edited Aug 15, 2008 10:23PM) (new)

Angie I've only seen the movie, though it seems, based on your review, maybe that's just as good. You remind me of how much I love that movie. It goes to show what a great work Hamlet is (like Hamlet really needs more proof) when it has meat for a spin-off as wonderful as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, among others. By the way, thanks for your comment on my review of On the Beach. Also, I see that you're reading/planning to read Inkheart and Pedro Paramo. I'll be interested to see your thoughts on them.


Elaine I don't know you, but I am totally with you on your review. I was having a hard time putting into words what I thought of the book and you have said perfectly what I felt! Thanks!


Annalisa Thanks, it put a smile on my face to pull up this review again.


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