Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
This is an extraordinary work ? a tongue-in-cheek comedy and an existential and absurdist tour-de-force all in one and it owes as much to Samuel Beckett as it does to William Shakespeare. In Shakespeare?s play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are no more than incidental characters and what we are really meant to care about is what happens to Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius a trusted advisor to Claudius, Ophelia Polonius? daughter and the love of Hamlet?s life and Laertes Polonius? son. But in Stoppard?s play, everything is turned upside-down. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern assume center stage; they are blissfully unaware of the dramatic events roiling about them; and it is their personal plights which are meant to concern us. And in Stoppard?s hands, the plights that confront Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are predetermined ? or not. They are inevitable ? or coincidental ? or accidental ? or random ? or fated - or a consequence of the exercise of one?s own free will ? or not. In other words, they are just the sorts of events that allow Stoppard?s imagination to take flight and permit him to explore the mathematical and physical paradoxes which so obsess him in Arcadia, Hapgood, Jumpers, and most of the other works which comprise his intellectually exhilarating oeuvre. And yet, on another level, the play could be a re-working of Beckett?s Waiting for Godot. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern could be the very reincarnations of Estragon and Vladimir the protagonists of Beckett?s greatest work and the Player King and his acting troupe who play important roles in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead could stand in well for Beckett?s Pozzo and Lucky. In sum, Stoppard here addresses the fact that we all must go through life with limited knowledge ? and yet we must go on. We, like Rosenkrantz and Guldenstern, don?t really know what?s going on about us, what is transpiring on the other side of the curtain, whether or not our seeming freedom of action is anything more than an illusion. And yet we must go on. The entire cast does a first rate job, but I was particularly taken with Aguirre, Gray and Weber in the principal roles. I think that Stoppard would be pleased. I have posted an expanded review of this play and several other plays on my blog www.aseatontheaisle.blogspot.com.
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