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.