Writer's Relief's Reviews > Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
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Aug 23, 12

Read in August, 2012

First, read Shakespeare’s play HAMLET. Next, read Stoppard’s ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. The latter can surely stand on its own, but much like how peanut butter is less than half the combination of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, R&G ARE DEAD is that much better in conjunction with the bard’s legendary play. R&G ARE DEAD is a play that centers on two lesser characters from HAMLET, the dynamic duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Similar to HAMLET, the two characters are always by each other’s side, so much that they seem to combine to form a whole character. There are even times in which they would mistake themselves for the other!

It would be easy to compare this play to WAITING FOR GODOT, as both plays are absurdist tragicomedies, featuring two buffoons. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, in fact, buffoons, they are not without a semblance of intelligence. Throughout, they ponder their own existence and their purpose in life. Guildenstern seems to be the more intelligent of the two. He ponders life and death much further than Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern understands how trapped they are, without escape, as pawns of the Danish court.

Other central characters that only appear on the periphery in HAMLET are The Player and his troupe. More prominent in R&G ARE DEAD, the play-action of the troupe (particularly the death scenes) provide a play-within-the-play (metatheatre). Often, through the players, we find that art and reality are at odds with each other. Guildenstern become enraged at The Player’s portrayal of death.

Ultimately, R&G ARE DEAD is a thinking person’s play. You can read it and laugh at the absurd comedy, yet at the end of the day, you should also look at the complexity of the drama. I implore you to think about what Stoppard was trying to say regarding the absurd notion of trying to find order in a chaotic universe. But don’t think too hard about it, because that would be absurd.
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