Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Fate and Free Will
“Inside where nothing shows, I am the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins, and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past.” (1.56-57)
Fate is introduced at the very beginning of the scene where consecutive coin tosses keep coming up heads, which indicates that at this point, the laws of chance have been halted. “A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith … in the law of probability (1.12)” The theme of fate in this play follows the words of William Shakespeare owing to the play being grounded on Hamlet.
For this reason, the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was written in the 17th century. Any time that this play has derailed from Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves bored and apathetic. When these two plays are interconnected, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Continue to wonder to what extent are their lives dependent on fate and chance?
When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern become aware of the switched letter, the latter realizes that getting on the boat has guided them to their deaths. Guildenstern notes that although they can move, clatter around and even change direction on this boat, their movement is still controlled by a bigger one that strings them around as adamantly as the wind and the current. Here, the freedom of movement becomes analogous to free will, and the boat represents fate. According to Stoppard, the course of life events is independent of free will. No matter the actions people pursue or the direction they take in their activities, the destination does not change, and in the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, death by execution.
The theme of language and communication
ROS: What are you playing at?
GUIL: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on. (Pause.)
ROS: Shouldn’t we be doing something – constructive?
GUIL: What did you have in mind?… A short, blunt human pyramid…?
ROS: We could go.
GUIL: Where? (Stoppard 1.300-306)
In Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he creates characters that often play with words. These two title characters constantly pun off each other’s words without much direction to the dialogue or having a purpose for it. On the contrary, they goof around like children tossing a ball at each other back and forth. The consistent model of poor communication in the play is a hint at a broader breakdown in understanding between the characters that set the stage for the play’s tragic spiral. Lingualism purports that with the absence of language, there is no thought. Language is used to shift thought from a mind to the next. It is sometimes viewed as a powerful tool for writing the fate of oneself. But for the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, language is just but an impotent tool that they use to speculate. Because language feeds the mind with information and result in individuals entertaining certain thought with profound consequences, it influences the resulting behavior, meaning the lack of use of language by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to this effect sends the two characters to tragedy.
The Theme of Death
“Guildenstern: You see him now and then you don’t see him”
Death is a central motif in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as it describes the convolution of life, the complexity of death, and the events that lead to it. The theme of death is significant in depicting the theory of determinism vs. free will. The time when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead was written, a number of people were questioning the existence of God and the afterlife.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ponder over what happens when a person dies and seem to mutually conclude that after one dies, nothing is left of them but their body. This play questions every aspect of living with death as the only certainty. Death is an inevitability that is guaranteed by the play’s title and one that the characters, regardless of their questioning, have no power to avoid. This play uses William Shakespeare’s hamlet as a motif that dictates the course of the story. On the other hand, the human condition directs its course as well. Indeed, human condition answers the characters’ everlasting questions on where they are heading as well as their questions regarding fate. Death for every human thing and living creature is both a destination as well as a destiny. Guildenstern reiterates that “Death is … not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being.” In doing so, death is painted as the ultimate certainty (the path for every mortal) while at the same time being the ultimate uncertainty (nobody has an idea of what death is). The only presumption Guildenstern can come up with is that death is the opposite of life.
Guildenstern’s obsession with finding the meaning of death prolongs to his disagreement with the player. In his argument, Guildenstern believes that death is too significant to be sufficiently depicted on stage; the player in his defense does not see any difference with actual and implied death. Death does not hold any special import to the player and is instead the most certain-and thus routine-thing of all.
The Connection Between Life and the Stage
Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead highlights the close association concerning life and theatre. Various features of this play are dedicated to emphasizing this link, an important point that this production asks its spectators to take up that the characters in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet are actual, and a narrative to their story needs to be created from a different perspective. Within the play, the Tragedians and their play depict events that will ultimately befall Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The actors in the play have two characters that resemble Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who eventually die in the same manner Stoppard’s characters do. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also do not help but notice that the two characters the roles synonymous to their own are dressed in the same attire as them. Rosencrantz becomes so confused by the reason he identifies the actor outfitted as he is and later tells him that he is not the person (the actor) supposed he was. In summary, theater is a perfect reflection of life to the extent that Rosencrantz cannot tell one from the other.
Guildenstern, on his part criticizes the actor for his assumption that their performance on the stage can portray feelings, particularly the fear of demise. The actor’s reply comes in 2 perspectives. That portrayed death is the only real death because the audience and people, in general, believe in it, and it is what they expect. He goes on to create a demonstration of his point with the help of Guildenstern, who pangs him with a pretend blade. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are finally converted by the actor’s depiction, which supports his assertion that people really buy what theater sells. Indeed, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern believe in death when it is portrayed in theater as they cannot bring themselves to accept as true their particular looming deaths and for which they cannot visualize any anticipations.
Stoppard, T. (1967). Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead: a play in three acts. Samuel French, Inc..