Publication Date: Reprint Edition 1994
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard is a comedy that features two minor characters from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” I must admit, having read the work, I’m surprised that it was not required reading in university. Having taken every Shakespearean topic class that Eastern Michigan University has to offer, it seems that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead must be mentioned in connection with the great playwright. Tom Stoppard’s play, first performed in Edinburgh in 1966, is an interesting look at a classic through the eyes of childhood friend’s of Hamlet called to Denmark by the king to keep tabs on Hamlet and convey inside information. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead they are aware of the events of “Hamlet” and are confused by the snippets they observe, melded with the original work. When not involved in the action, they interact with The Player, the leader of a group of traveling actors.
Experts have speculated that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two sides of the same character. They are certainly opposites. Rosencrantz is trusting and gullible. Guildenstern is shrewd and a long-game thinker. Each is a well-plotted foil for the other. Their quick byplay is entertaining to read. The play format may be a challenge for some readers but even without the direction lines, each player is character-specific and easily adaptable to the reader’s ear. In many of the deep philosophical discussions, the characters are clear. Guildenstern is the leader and Rosencrantz is often distanced from what is being discussed and distracted.
I have seen the 1990 film of the play starring Tim Roth as Guildenstern and Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz with Richard Dreyfuss as “The Player.” The film, by virtue of brilliant acting, is a better watch than reading the work. Gary Oldman especially signs as a comic foil adding a level of absurdity not instantly recognizable in the written word. Oldman and Roth’s scenes alone show a deep chemistry between the actors making it difficult to imagine anyone else acting the roles that well.
Readers who have not read “Hamlet” will be lost. When the play first premiered, it made Tom Stoppard a star for good reason. It is a brilliant commentary that runs beside a classic work but cannot function without it. The characters are bit players and adrift in the ether of the original play. What is most interesting to this reader is the call-back to the classics composed in a modern era embodying different values and yet honoring the spirit of the original piece.
I bought Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for a penny on Amazon from a bookstore vendor. It was received in excellent condition and was an enjoyable read that makes the reader think. If you`re interested in modern works relating to classics, pick this one up today.
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