Summary and Analysis Blog: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Author: Tom Stoppard. Born in Czechoslovakia, his family escaped due to Hitler. He spent most of his life in Britain, and writes plays. He is still alive, in his 80’s.

 

Setting: Takes place in Elsinore, and in the boat that Hamlet is put on at the end of Hamlet. Takes place during the same time as Hamlet.

 

Plot: The plot is the same as Hamlet, only it is told from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. R and G are on their way to Elsinore, because they were summoned by Claudius. On the way there, they are flipping a coin that keeps coming up heads. They meet some Players, a group of actors, and interact with them before arriving at Elsinore. They talk with Claudius and Gertrude, who welcome them, and ask R and G to question Hamlet about his madness. After this scene, R and G work on questioning each other to prepare for Hamlet. They do this in a very absurd way, playing a game of questions.

 

After their meeting with Hamlet, they bemoan how they were outsmarted by him in the questions that they asked and his answers. The Player comes back, talks with R and G about life and how to go with the flow, and leaves. Claudius and Gertrude enter, and they ask R and G about Hamlet’s condition.

 

We see the Tragedians perform a rendition of the Murder of Gonzago, only this one shows representatives of R and G dying on a boat. There is a cut to the scene where R and G are asked to find Polonius’ body. They set up a comical trap with their belts, that fails to catch Hamlet. They eventually find Hamlet and deliver him to the King.

 

We have a scene with the boat on its way to England, with Hamlet in tow. They open the letter with their instructions, and see that they are going to have Hamlet killed. The Players jump out of barrels on the ship, saying that they are escaping Denmark. Suddenly, pirates attack and Hamlet is shown having jumped ship. R and G bemoan their fate, and reread the letter, seeing that it now calls for their deaths. Guildenstern snaps and tries to kill the Player with a dagger, which is revealed to be a trick dagger. R and G’s death are now acted out, and the end has each say a few lines, then vanish (dying). The play closes with the ambassadors from England saying that R and G are dead.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – the main characters of the piece. Very hard for others to distinguish between, as they are very similar in mannerisms and absurdity.

 

The Player – a know it all character, who seems to have already read Hamlet as a play. He is witty, and knows his fate, but he goes along with it. He often interacts with R and G and tries to reassure them.

 

Hamlet – He is still in the play, but his influence is that he is a puzzle for R and G to solve for the King and Queen. He has no new lines added.

 

There is no narrative voice, since this is a play. The author’s style is very interesting. The point of view leans towards R and G, since they have the majority of the lines. The tone is very absurdist, where very few things have emotion or seriousness attached. The only emotional lines happen near the end, where Guildenstern almost kills the player. There isn’t much imagery other than the stage directions, which tend to emphasize the place being very generic and plain.

 

There is a lot of symbolism throughout the play. Pirates can be likened to a disaster happening all of a sudden, which the non stop heads can show a high or low in life. In general, this play had a lot of intertextuality, like one of the articles we read about it. There is also a lot of back and forth between what is real, and acted, and the real world vs acting.

 

“Pirates can happen to anyone” – This quote shows that life can be confusing, and horrible things and good things can happen at random. The pirate ship was good for Hamlet, but it proved deadly for R and G.

 

“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.” – This is a very interesting question that he poses, and it reminded me a lot of schrodinger’s cat. It also shows how R and G feel that they would rather be immortal than mortal, even if their lives were terrible. It is quite similar to how they are living their lives anyway.

 

In R&G, Stoppard comments on the futility of human purpose in a world where people are confined to a role that they cannot control. (1st Hour)

 

R and G are put into a world that they have no power over. They even mention it at the start of the play, saying that there must have been something they could have done to not have ended up with this conclusion. The title of the piece seems to say that their fate is fixed, and nothing they can do will ever change that. The setting is mostly one of Elsinore, which Hamlet describes as a prison. R and G focus on that statement as well, after their talk with Hamlet. In a prison, you have a lot less free will than outside, in the world. The imagery that is given is harsh and unassuming, seeming to restrict them to one choice. The play (Murder of Gonzago) foreshadows their deaths, and also shows that no matter what happens, they will die on that boat.

Response to Course Materials 3/25

We finished our Hamlet discussion first. I think I got a lot out of that discussion, as listening to other people’s ideas is always fun. I do remember some of the conspiracy theories we started throwing around, and while they were entertaining, I feel like we should have stayed more on task.

 

We then started Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. This play was rather confusing at first, like the American dream. So much of it seemed repetitive and boring. As time went on, however, I realized that the author was making differences in the dialogue to show us something. Yes, this is an absurdist play, but as we discussed in class, some of the lines were misused idioms, or a line would be repeated with a different subject.

 

There are a few parallels I noticed between this piece and the American Dream. For one, we lose some characters by the end, with something changing. R and G fade away, as does Grandma in some ways. The American Dream also has a seemingly omniscient character (Grandma), with R and G having the Player.

 

Annotating the literary analyses of R and G was very interesting. It is weird how literature can have so many faces, so many interpretations of the exact same story. I think that Stoppard has had more variation of responses when compared with the original Hamlet. I really liked the critique that said something to the affect of all writers being contained by Shakespeare. I feel like we saw this idea at the start of the year, with the book on how to read literature. So many writers have borrowed from Shakespeare, or maybe Shakespeare just wrote about 90% of the human experience. I like the idea of Stoppard complaining through a piece because it just seems like such a human thing to do.

 

We then had our discussion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Evan’s theory of everything writing itself was a little far fetched. Overall, I didn’t like how much we theorized about how this play happened. I feel like we should have focused more on the symbols and discrepancies within the text, rather than some parallel universe theory.

 

I really wish we could have had more time to discuss!

 

Also, somewhere in here we did some poetry multiple choice, which I found harrowing. I need to brush up on my poetry skills. We ended up tying with another hour. The stories we read could be seen in so many different ways depending on what you knew about the specifics the author refers to. For example, we were comparing a physician to a doctor for medical knowledge, or some sort of Frankenstein body digger.

 

2008 Open Prompt Answer

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we are introduced to Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend. He always follows Hamlet where possible, and quickly carries out orders. He appears to care for Hamlet throughout the play. The relationship between Horatio and Hamlet shows us that Horatio is too perfect, and that he was essential in carrying out the death of Claudius.

 

We first see Horatio at the start of the play. He is trusted by the castle guards, who know that he is close to Hamlet. The castle guards show him the ghost, and he endeavours to tell Hamlet the next day, so that he is well informed. Horatio doesn’t go around telling anyone else, nor does he discuss it with the guards. The guards work for the king, but Horatio makes sure that the guards don’t tell anyone, so that Claudius never hears about it. He seems to have predicted every scenario, and does for the good of Hamlet. In this way, Horatio is perfect.

 

We later see Horatio and Hamlet in a number of scenes. Horatio is often advising Hamlet of what to do. When Hamlet needs to check if his uncle reacts unfavorably to the play he has put on, he turns to Horatio to watch his uncle. In this way, Hamlet shows that he trusts Horatio with his family members’ lives. That level of trust is almost never seen in the real world showing that Horatio must be very loyal to Hamlet. Later in the play, Horatio receives the letters from Hamlet, the key component that the entire plan rests on. Horatio delivers the letters perfectly, and he does this without letting Claudius know what is happening. Everyone seems to trust him, and not realize he is loyal to only Hamlet. This amount of amiability, and ability to look at a difficult situations and get a solution makes Horatio a “Mary Sue” – someone without any flaws.

 

Near the end of the play, Horatio advises Hamlet on what to do. He warns Hamlet that the entire setup with Hamlet fighting Laertes is a trap, but Hamlet doesn’t listen to him. Horatio demonstrates that he knows the future, or that he is very intelligent. Then, when everyone is dying, he offers to commit suicide as well. This is a huge moment. What kind of friend would willingly die, when everyone is so young? There were many rational decisions that Horatio could have made at this point, as he had demonstrated in the past. Horatio instead does exactly what Hamlet tells him to do, and makes sure that Hamlet’s voice is heard from beyond the grave in the choosing of the next king of Denmark.

 

Throughout Hamlet, we see Horatio and Hamlet’s relationship. The relationship appears to never change, but instead it is revealed to us through the many actions and the amount of trust Hamlet has in Horatio. Horatio is loved by all, but he only appears to care for Hamlet. His unquestionable loyalty, and his extreme intelligence make him a perfect man, someone who proves essential to Hamlet’s quest.

2008 Open Prompt Analysis

 

Author 1:

This author does change what they think the thesis is from the beginning to the end. They initially talk about foil and how they influence each other, but end up talking about how Huang influences just Lindo by making her stronger. There is also a lot of plot summary thrown in. While that is good and illustrates the point, the author could have talked more about the points they were trying to make rather than showing us the points, leaving it to the reader to figure it out. Lastly, I also felt that Huang wasn’t shown as being too much of an opposite with Lindo. Lindo is discussed too much rather than equally. Other than those few things, I think that this author did a really good job of answering the question. They had good answers, and although I disagree a little in the way they approached them, they did it well.

 

Author 2:

The thesis is very strong and talks about how a minor character (the father) causes Celie to feel terrible for the rest of her life. The first body paragraph tackles Maslow’s pyramid of needs, which is a strong literary argument. However, the paragraph starts more and more to explore how females in general are oppressed rather than staying on topic with the relationship between Celie and her father. The paragraphs start to focus more and more on feminism and being a strong female. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I feel like the author should have talked more about the relationship and how it makes an impact on the book, rather than talking about the plot and how the main character grows and learns. I don’t really think that the main character and her father are foils, since they are antagonists with some stuff in common. If they bounce ideas off each other, it might make more sense.

 

Author 3:

This essay starts out making a claim that Baba and Hassan were foils because they were very similar. Foils are people who are different, and whose relationship is shown to be important. While this relationship was important, Amir often said that Baba and Hassan were similar, that Baba wanted a son more like Hassan. The first body paragraph supports the illogical thesis and introduction, so the author knows how to draw from evidence. They could have stated their point more clearly, and used more than one example to make a point. The third body paragraph moves onto differences between the two. I feel like this should have been explored more in order to have a much better essay that could have answered the prompt a whole lot better. The conclusion has very little to do with the thesis, and could work to answer a different prompt much better. Overall, a rather weak essay.

Hamlet Final Summary and Analysis

Shakespeare is the author, lived during the 1500’s to 1600’s. He was a famous playwright, and had his own theatre that he wrote his plays for.

 

The setting is Elsinore, in Denmark. It is set during a similar time to Shakespeare, or before him.

 

Plot: Hamlet is a moody teenager, whose father recently died. His father’s ghost appears to him, and informs Hamlet that the current king (Hamlet’s uncle) killed King Hamlet, and that Hamlet should get revenge. Hamlet vows revenge. His family worries about him, especially his recently remarried (to his uncle) mother. His mother and his uncle seek out Hamlet’s old friends to spy on him and tell them what is wrong. Hamlet realizes that his friends are trying to spy on him. He also comes up with a plan to make sure that his uncle did actually kill his father, to verify what the ghost said. This plan involves a play that mimics what the ghost told Hamlet, and then watching the King’s reaction. Once the King reacts unfavorably, Hamlet starts making plans to kill him. Hamlet kills Polonius (mistaking him for his uncle) while talking with his mother. He is then sent to England, but he escapes and sends his old friends (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) to their deaths. He returns, realizes his girlfriend committed suicide, and attacks her surviving brother. They all head back to the castle, where his uncle and the brother are poisoning everything. A fencing match takes place, to kill Hamlet, but Hamlet poisons the brother, who poisons Hamlet. The queen drinks a cup of poison and dies. Hamlet makes the King drink poison so he dies. Hamlet hands the throne off to another prince (Young Fortinbras) before dying.

 

Characters:

Hamlet – A young teenager who studies in Germany. His father just died, and he feels a strong sense of revenge against his uncle who killed him. He is quite intelligent, and driven.

 

Claudius – The younger brother of King Hamlet. He is shown to be quite cunning and deceitful, willing to kill his nephew to hold on to the throne with no challengers. He loves Hamlet’s mother, and never fights people in person.

 

Laertes – Overprotective older brother. He loves his family, and is popular with the inhabitants of the castle. Willing to do anything for his honor, including poison. Maybe easy to manipulate, or Claudius is really good at manipulating.

 

Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother and queen of Denmark. She loved King Hamlet dearly, and according to Hamlet had a very happy relationship with him. She makes Hamlet very angry by remarrying, and we see that she has very few doubts or regrets. She does speak with Hamlet before he sets off to England, where she agrees to keep his secrets, and starts to acknowledge that she may have done something wrong. While she loves Claudius, she kept her son’s secret from him.

 

Narrative Voice – Since it is a play, the only narrative voice are the directions, which are brief, and to the point. Very impersonal.

Style – Point of view is everyone, since it is a play, but we get more asides from Hamlet. Since Hamlet is the main character, we get more info from him, but he is not telling the story. Tone feels more dramatic than other Shakespeare plays. Lots of comparisons and flowy writing. Because many people are royalty, Shakespeare gives them blank verse lines, which are usually iambic pentameter. The tone is also serious, since this is a tragedy. There are lots of symbols. Main ones would be the poison that is used, and the “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Another symbol would be the deaths of the people representing the way royalty would be dying and losing power all across Europe.

 

Quotes: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Meaning is to show how a supernatural being can influence us all. Also relates to the poison I mentioned earlier, death, corruption, and decay.

 

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” – this is rather interesting because it is being told to someone who ends up causing many different deaths. Despite the number of people that died due to Hamlet’s actions, his best friend Horatio still believes that Hamlet will go to heaven.

 

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we are taught that inaction is the weakest and worst thing that man can do.

 

Setting – Hamlet is literally a prince. His job is to do things for his people. By neglecting that duty, he dooms Denmark. Plot – Hamlet fails to act on Claudius, preferring to make sure and dilly dally, before making too many bad decisions leading to his death. There is a lot of symbolism (that I saw) with not doing your job (inaction) and something being rotten in the state of Denmark. I can’t think of any imagery that supports this thesis, but the image of Claudius praying while Hamlet doesn’t attack him is fixated in my mind.