Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern



It is of import to observe that Hamlet itself is a transmutation, of signifier every bit good as thoughts, which is based upon other transmutations. Indeed the metatheme of Hamlet is transmutation ( whereas Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is about the inability to consequence transmutation or alteration ) . Tom McAlindon, in an article entitled What is a Shakespearian Tragedy, draws our attending to the fact that Hamlet, like Shakespeare ‘s other calamities, has an intense focal point on the phenomenon of alteration:

… alteration is non merely one of secular lucks ; it is above all else interpersonal, moral, and psychological alteration. An indispensable portion of the hero ‘s experience is the horror-stricken find that the universe he knows and values, the people he loves and trusts, are altering or have changed absolutely. He feels cheated and betrayed ‘to the really bosom of loss ‘ . ( p.6 )

Shakespeare was composing in the tradition of Revenge Tragedy, sometimes referred to as Theatre of the Blood. Elizabethan and Jacobean versions of retaliation calamity borrowed to a great extent from the calamities of Seneca ( 4 BC-65 AD ) , a Roman playwright whose calamities were published in 1581. Seneca, in bend, based his calamities on Greek mythology and he appeared to hold been influenced by Aristotle ( 384-322 BC ) . Students should introduce themselves with the characteristics of these calamities.

Shakspere borrowed, and so transformed his calamities from the classical signifier in a figure of ways, such as the inclusion of amusing elements ( amusing alleviation, sarcasm, mocking, lampoon etc ) , the “ common adult male ” character and demoing on phase Acts of the Apostless of violent passion.

Shakespeare besides appears to hold borrowed rather extensively from a coeval of his, Thomas Kyd ( 1558-1594 ) whose retaliation tragedy The Spanish Tragedy was non merely tremendously popular but really influential to all in the Elizabethan and Jacobean play industry.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Stoppard has written three, what some would mention to as irreverent, transmutations of Shakespeare ‘s calamities: Dogg ‘s Hamlet, Cahoot ‘s Macbeth and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This endeavor is rather brave as he is non merely transforming dramas but modern classics. When asked why he chose Hamlet he responded: “ [ Hamlet ] is the most celebrated drama in any linguistic communication, it is portion of a kind of common mythology ” .

Stoppard besides writes in a tradition ; in his instance the tradition of the Theatre of the Absurd. The literary term Theatre of the Absurd was coined by the critic Martin Esslin and refers to inclinations in play to portray life as meaningless and absurd which emerged in Paris in the late fortiess and early 1950s. Absurdist Theatre itself can be seen as a transmutation of Dadaism and Surrealism, two early 20th century aesthetic doctrines which focused on a sense of obfuscation at the force, corruption, and hopelessness they believed endemic to the human status in the 20th century. By disputing conventional theater and traditional positions The Theatre of the Absurd attempted to floor the audience into oppugning its ain values and premises. The play portrayed was non meant to be regarded in the same footings as realist play but instead as a play of thoughts. Dramatic characteristics frequently included nonmeaningful exchanges due to a misgiving of linguistic communication as a agency of communicating, a portraiture of life as meaningless through a deficiency of dramatic suspense, abstracted and minimalist scenes, amusing intervention of traditional subjects and a blurring of world and fiction. There is frequently a sense of gaiety at times pulling attending to their ain ruse.

There is besides a close nexus with existential philosophy. Existentialism is a philosophical motion that explores the inquiry of being and how it is defined, peculiarly in a universe in which significance appears to hold disappeared. The awful events of the two World Wars accelerated the waning of spiritual religion which had started with the Enlightenment. There was a general temper of disenchantment with so called civilised values. The absurd dramas of playwrights such as Ionesco, Genet, Beckett and Pinter all depict humanity as bewildered and dying in the face of a loss of significance. Stoppard uses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as a vehicle to show these thoughts and draws upon what is likely Shakespeare ‘s most experiential work, Hamlet. Hamlet ‘s celebrated “ To be or non to be ” address is the intertextual reverberation that resounds throughout Stoppard ‘s drama.

Stoppard has besides appropriated Beckett ‘s influential absurdist drama Waiting for Godot. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern mirror the quandary of Vladimir and Estragon, “ two lost psyches waiting for something to go on ” . They are stranded between modernness and postmodernity. They long for the security of a expansive narrative to do sense of their lives but can merely prosecute in ineffectual guess about the significance of it all. They are on the brink of a discovery to an credence of their postmodern status of atomization, but do n’t rather do it.

Stoppard ‘s transmutation of Hamlet can be seen as a formalistic twentieth century statement sing the nature of truth: it is contingent, contextual and finally unknowable. This, of class, is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ‘s quandary ; they are trapped in oblivion between cognizing and non cognizing.

Stoppard has been criticized for excluding certain scenes ( e.g. III, two and three ) which portray Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in a visible radiation other than “ two bewildered inexperienced persons ” . However it should be remembered Stoppard is interested in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as victims. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is his creative activity. He has taken an thought from Hamlet and developed it dramatically. What he is non interested in is reviewing Hamlet.

Students should do lists of the scenes in Hamlet which have been incorporated into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and compose down what has been added and what has been changed. Then you should see how these contribute to Stoppard ‘s intent.



The flourishing of Revenge Tragedy in Shakespeare ‘s clip was fuelled by the tremendous alterations taking topographic point in Elizabethan and Jacobean society. His was an age characterized by convulsion and uncertainness. The division of the church in England divided the people into Catholics and Protestants. Religious uncertainty, albeit carefully disguised, was going more prevailing. The attendant agitation and intuition frequently resulted in surveillance and treachery in personal dealingss every bit good as in the broader societal and political domain. Assassination efforts on Elizabeth and James resulted in cruel and barbarous revenges.

There was besides the of all time present menace of foreign invasion to add to the feelings of insecurity.

Medieval feudal system was in diminution, but it was deceasing a noncompliant decease ; the nobility resorted to harsh steps to shore up its authorization and keep the hierarchal order which had served it so good.

Hamlet dramatically reflects this challenge to tradition, the political instability of his society and the spiritual inquiring.

Medieval-renaissance-modern ; feudalism-sceptism-humanism-individualism ; old universe moral absolutes-new universe rational agnosticism ; spiritual certainties-inner uncertainty and psychological probing.

Humanitarianism and impression of individuality. Hamlet asks the modern inquiries, who am I? and what am I making here?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Stoppard began composing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in 1964 and it was foremost performed in 1966 at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre. The twentieth century, and more specifically the late twentieth century, was a clip of alteration and convulsion.

The 1960ss was characterized by an irreverent temper born out of a period of rebellion and challenge to bing constructions and beliefs. In all countries of societal activity Stoppard ‘s society ( which is chiefly first universe, capitalist, democratic and comparatively flush ) was undergoing transmutation. Many qualify this historical period as the “ bend on, melody in, bead out ” coevals because of its experimentation with drugs, alternate life styles and sexually promiscuous attitudes. Others characterize the 1960ss as a decennary of student political protest. They cite the anti-Vietnam runs, atomic disarming protests and the Paris pupil public violences as of import landmarks in the politicization of immature people. The British popular civilization scene included telecasting comedy in the signifier of Monty Python ‘s Flying Circus and England ‘s first soap opera Coronation Street, the dad music detonation boot started by the Beatles, phase musicals such as Oliver, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar.

The temper of oppugning, rebellion and gaiety can be seen in the manner that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead farces Hamlet ; the tragedians, serious in their intervention of Death and keeping a “ mirror up to life ” in Hamlet are now reduced to comics and possible porn merchants in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The intervention of decease has besides undergone a transmutation from the profound to the amusing, from high calamity to slapstick comedy.

twentieth Century despair-nihilism-death of god-existentialism and the impression of identity-swinging sixties-optimism and disillusionment-modernism-postmodernism-Theatre of the Absurd-nonheroic-Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ask the modern inquiries, who am I? and what am I making here?



* Consistency and incompatibility

* Tradition and advancement

Hamlet is about alteration and passage whereas Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is about the inability to consequence transmutation or alteration. Where Hamlet undergoes a transmutation in position and Acts of the Apostless to act upon events, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are seen as impotent small work forces unable to act upon events.


* What is decease?

* What is it to decease?

Throughout literature there is a strong connexion between truth and decease. The quest for significance is seen in footings of killing and decease. The tragedians offer yet another position: they see decease as the flood tide of great calamity.


The humanist theoretical account ( see Liberal Humanist reading below ) sees Hamlet as typifying the human status. It takes for granted a universalism of human nature and individuality which transcends clip and topographic point.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have no fixed individualities. Stoppard is researching the twentieth century impression of existential philosophy which is basically concerned with the job of ego individuality. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as representatives of the human status, have no control over their destiny and are the victims of arbitrary fortunes. They have no past and no hereafter and merely exist through other people ‘s definitions of them, and are unable to accept the deficiency of counsel and manner their ain hereafter out of the here and now. Their experiential place is echoed throughout the drama as they continually try to happen an account for their being. In the same manner that Hamlet maps as a metaphor for the human status so do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent modern humanity ‘s experiential desperation.

Capital of rhode island, destiny, fate

The impressions of free will and determinism are cardinal to both dramas. Hamlet has the free will to move but is thwarted by his belief system. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent the thought that our lives are predetermined because even though we do hold picks in life, we do non hold adequate information to take intelligently.

Existentialism, faith and the significance of life

Shakespeare ‘s England was really spiritual. The Christian church was an active participant in all countries of societal and political life. Hamlet excessively operates in this Christian context and all events in the drama should be regarded in this visible radiation ; so spiritual belief is frequently a provoker or inhibitor of dramatic action.

The twentieth century is frequently referred to as the century that killed God. In Western society there has been a diminution in the figure of Christians and of the significance of the church in mundane life.

Stoppard evokes the temper of twentieth century desperation through his appropriation of the philosophical motion called existential philosophy. By dramatising the loss of centres ensuing in a despairing desire to cognize and to believe, Stoppard is noticing on the nature of twentieth century being.

Appearance and world, semblance and truth

The participant in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “ truth is merely that which is taken to be true. It ‘s the currency of life. There may be nil behind it, but it does n’t do any difference so long as it is honored. One acts on premises. ”

See the construct of truth as it is dramatically realized in Hamlet.

Analyze how both dramas use things such as imagination, symbols, vesture, the play-within-a-play device, role-playing and linguistic communication to put up mirrors for world through which to dispute our impressions of semblance and truth.

Appearance and world is a dominant subject in Hamlet and Elizabethan audiences would understand that there is a truth behind the camouflage.

Rational ground and scientific rationalism

Rational ground was the footing of Humanism and was the on the job doctrine of Shakespeare ‘s clip. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern effort to detect forms and intents in their being by usage of scientific logic.

Theatre as a metaphor for life ( and the nature of art )

There are several illustrations in both dramas where the boundaries between the histrions and the audience are erased. Shakespeare and Stoppard employ metatheatre in order to notice on the analogy between play and life: both concept worlds.

Hamlet is a theatrical drama. It is about moving and, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is full of theatrical mentions. Theatrical nomenclature and imagination abounds, characters act or attempt to move, characters are instructed and instruct others in the art of moving, there are dramas within dramas and the audience are reminded that it are non merely watching a drama but that it might be the histrions in person else ‘s drama! Both dramatists smartly use construction and signifier to pull our attending to the nature of truth and world. Stoppard himself is moving upon Shakespeare ‘s text.



The genre-Tragedy-Revenge Tragedy-Aristotle-Seneca-Elizabethan/Jacobean-Shakespeare

Structure-stagecraft-dramatic techniques ( shade, monologue, drama within a drama ) -language-imagery-setting

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

The genre, Theatre of the Absurd, modern and postmodern features ( medley, sarcasm, lampoon, word games, music hall, burlesque, self reflexiveness, absence of a frame of mention )

Intertextuality ( The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T S Eliot and Waiting for Godot, a drama by Samuel Beckett about powerlessness and desperation, position of life as hopeless ) . Prufrock and Godot are both illustrations of modernist texts where the romantic tragic hero is regarded as a myth. We have the anti-hero or ordinary individual on Centre phase cut adrift in a play over which he or she has no control, aimless and looking for way and theorizing about the significance of it all. Modernism is characterized by nostalgia for the certainty, religion and authorization of the past. Therefore there is a tone of plaint, pessimism and desperation.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is modernist in this sense but there are facets of postmodernism, e.g. the philosophizing, theorizing and agonising by Hamlet over expansive issues ( such as significance of life, decease and faith ) is treated in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as travesty through the manners of sarcasm, sarcasm, burlesque and lampoon.

Stoppard ‘s usage of Hamlet is in some ways a postmodern gesture. By allowing such an iconic text as Hamlet and showing it from the position of peripheral characters and so “ playing ” upon them for his ain intents, Stoppard demonstrates that the human experience can non be to the full understood by concentrating on the dominant narrative.

The word picture of world as a game or “ spectacle ” , the destabilization of individuality and the inability of linguistic communication to offer security of significance are farther arrows to the postmodern status of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They are so baffled inexperienced persons cast adrift in a disinterested and cold-eyed existence. The inquiring and dismantlement of the single auctorial ego once and for all marks the text as a postmodern enquiry into how significance is constructed.

Remember that the critical difference between modernism and postmodernism is that the former plaints atomization and the latter celebrates it. So be cautious in mentioning to R & A ; G as a postmodern text. It is a modernist text that has some postmodernist features. The intense earnestness of the modernists is diluted by the wit and lampoon of the postmodernists.



The function of linguistic communication in Hamlet is to make significance. It is the vocalization of the “ idol of animate beings ” . It is a empyreal human accomplishment, and so Shakespeare ‘s linguistic communication has been valued throughout the centuries as the pinnacle of lingual prowess. Language in Hamlet expresses beauty, truth and ground every bit good as being a tool of misrepresentation and use. It hence has transcendent significance which when analyzed will uncover “ truth ” . Traditional unfavorable judgment, based as it is on Broad Humanist values, focal points on a cosmopolitan humanity which can be understood through a close analysis of linguistic communication and signifier.

In Hamlet we find Shakespeare ‘s full repertory of linguistic communication accomplishments: poetry, prose, formal, conversational, duologue, monologues, aside, wordplaies, sarcasm, lampoon, a scope of imagination, etc.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Stoppard ‘s linguistic communication on the other manus expresses the equivocal nature of truth. There is no underlying fixed significance in words. The deficiency of control over their lives is mirrored in the atomization of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ‘s linguistic communication and their relentless usage of inquiry.

The linguistic communication games that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ‘s engage in owes an intertextual debt to the influential twentieth century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Stoppard has appropriated one of Wittgenstein ‘s theories of linguistic communication which basically states that linguistic communication can non show a cosmopolitan truth. Language resembles “ moves ” in a game and exterior of the game has no significance whatsoever. This impression of linguistic communication holding no transcendent value is another point of difference between the two dramas.

Stoppard besides reveals his scope of verbal prowess. His drama is rich in the playful usage of clichA© , black temper, sarcasm, wordplaies, burlesque, cultural mention, etc. His usage of conversational and clichA©d linguistic communication to province world ‘s experiential quandary serves to sabotage the value traditionally attached to Shakespeare ‘s elevated poesy. The numinous authorization of Shakespeare ‘s linguistic communication is therefore deflated.

Notwithstanding all this, we should ne’er lose sight of the fact that Stoppard is a dramatist and his purpose is to entertain us. Stoppard ‘s manner, particularly his wit, humor and comedic timing, is the agencies by which the desolation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ‘s ( and by analogy our ain ) quandary is made toothsome through the medium of play.


The audience response to both texts is determined by values, civilization and context. Remember, our class this semester has focused on a “ survey of the linguistic communication of texts, consideration of intents and audiences, and analysis of the content, values and attitudes conveyed through a scope of readings ” .

With that in head, you need to understand the undermentioned critical attacks and acquaint yourselves with the theoretical rules underpinning each of the attacks.

* Traditional Criticism which is based upon a Broad Humanist attack.

* Modern Criticism which is based upon a Post-structuralist and New Historicist attack.

The indispensable difference between the two attacks is that the first tends to concentrate on character and the catholicity of “ the human status ” and the latter emphasizes the influence of context and the application of theory to the procedure of reading.


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