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Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead Research Paper

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Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead presents the audience with Shakespeare's Hamlet, as seen through the eyes of two characters whose actual tragic roles are so minimal; they can hardly be considered important parts of the original play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are involved in a drama the meaning and import of which they can hardly grasp. Indeed, they cannot even manage to secure their own identities in the work. Stoppard specifically creates these characters in this manner so as to utilize them to present illogical ideas. Specifically, these characters act as tools to define the indefinable. Death has no definition, and yet, Stoppard manages to utilize Ros and Guil to give a clear explanation of death. For Stoppard, death is simply a state of mind. It does not exist beyond humanity's perception of it, because death is non-existence. This argument can be divulged from this work in numerous ways.

Stoppard's direct dialogue between his two main characters is an important explanation of death's nonexistence. Ros questions Guil towards the end of the play, "Do you think death could possibly be a boat?" Guil, obviously the brighter of the two, quickly responds, "No, no, no...Death is...not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not be on a boat." Ros misunderstands this stating, "I've frequently not been on boats." (Stoppard 108) These few lines of communication shared between the two characters demonstrate a sense of Stoppard's comedy, but much more importantly indicate Stoppard's view of his characters and their fated deaths. William Gruber comments that, "Both twisted syntax and twisted logic are appallingly true: wherever they are--on boats, on the road, within a court--it is the fate of Ros and Guil never to be." (Gruber 298) In fact, Ros and Guil never truly exist throughout the play because it is already fated they will die as they did in Shakespeare's work three hundred years ago, and thus they are non-existent. In a sense Stoppard is telling each and every single member of his audience that they too don't exist because they are fated to die and become "non-existent". "We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the words for it, before we know there are words, out we come, bloodied and squalling with the knowledge that for all the compasses in the world, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure." (Stoppard 72) Life is a non-existence in a sense, because it is leading towards the ultimate non-existence.

Furthermore, Stoppard discusses how death is non-existence through the character of the Player. This is the only other character which Ros and Guil have any contact with, and his function in life is to play games. John Weightman explains how such characters are Existentialist commonplace:

...if the average person is so befuddled by contingency that he can only give himself an identity by accepting this or that form of "bad faith" then the actor can become the modern hero, since he sits loose to all identities and plays with them at will. At the same time, he only becomes "subject" by deliberately making himself "object" for contemplation by others. (Weightman 39)

Towards the end of the play, Guildenstern tells the player that he may perhaps enact death a thousand times, but that he cannot really experience it:

I'm talking about death--you've never experienced that. And you cannot act it. You die a thousand casual deaths--with none of the intensity that squeezes out life...and no blood runs cold anywhere. Because even as you die you know that you will come back in a different hat. But no one gets up after death--there's no applause--there is only silence and some second hand clothes, and that's--death--(Stoppard 123)

Upon this statement, Guildenstern stabs The Player, and he, as well as the audience, assumes The Player is dying. However, after only a few moments The Player leaps up and graciously receives applause. Jozef de Vos comments that, "In Stoppard's play this parody of death is even fortified by the subsequent series of deaths enacted by the players. Here it seems the parody turns into a painful, cruelly absurd mockery of life and death, an adequate finale to this sour comedy." (de Vos 156) Because The Player enacts death so many



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