Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead Versus Hamlet

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (also known as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) by Tom Stoppard is an existential, absurdist tragicomedy that was first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966. The play expands on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The play is set in Denmark. Tom Stoppard’s play is basically an “in the wings” of Shakespeare’s. There are appearances of major characters from Hamlet who show up and enact little bits of the original scenes. Throughout the play, the two protagonists voice their confusion about the progress of events occurring onstage without them in Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern operate under the King’s command in an attempt to discover Hamlet’s motives and plot against him. Hamlet, however, mocks and outwits them, so that they, rather than he, are sentenced to death in the end. The banter that they have on stage is all very interesting and funny which keeps the audience members always thinking.

Basically, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a classic play that deals with a conflict and how the main character attempts to resolve a conflict. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a contemporary play where the characters have to deal with many conflicts while concurrently trying to figure out how and why these conflicts are occurring.

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The world in Hamlet is depicted as chaotic and troubling, but with Hamlet still in control and able to make decisions toward determining his fate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are also very chaotic, but the characters have absolutely no control over their lives and are allowed no information or personal input about what will happen to them next. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s strange encounters play up and exaggerate what Hamlet goes through in his story, seen from a different, more complicated, and less involved viewpoint. By doing so the audience, assuming they have read or viewed both versions, may be able to understand and observe both texts in a new light.

The 17th-century values and their violence and dramatics are compared with the 1960’s postmodernism existentialism and absurdism through the transformation of Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. According to Martin Esslin, “the major difference between Absurdist and conventional drama is that in conventional drama the audience is anticipating the action, wondering what will happen next; while in an absurdist play the audience is mainly caught up in wondering what is happening now.” There are indications of influences upon society from both the eras in which the texts were made. While R&G appropriates many of the same issues as Hamlet, it differs markedly in technique and it can be concluded that it is transformed by context and perspective.  


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