Free Study Guide: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard - Free BookNotes|
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ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD: FREE STUDY GUIDE / NOTES
The Player haughtily tells them that he knows his way around the castle, and warns them to be careful. Guildenstern tries to get information, or at least sympathy, from the Player, but he tells them simply that life is confusing and uncertain, so they should just act natural and relax. They try to explain why they are there to the Player, but cannot even begin to grasp Hamlet’s state of mind: they suggest he is depressed, crazy, or neither. They really have no idea.
The Player points out that Polonius thinks that Hamlet is in love with
Ophelia. Guildenstern decides to bring some order to the situation, forbidding
anyone to leave, but then immediately lets the Player go learn his lines.
Alone again, and depressed by it, they begin to talk about the future.
Rosencrantz thinks of what it would be like to be dead, in a box. He can’t
decide whether or not it would be better to be alive in a box. He goes
on and on about this, until finally Guildenstern screams at him to stop.
Undaunted, Rosencrantz keeps right on talking, saying that eternity is
an awful idea, because it never ends. He desperately wants someone, anyone,
to come onstage. He wonders when we first learn about death. He reasons
that the knowledge must have been devastating, and yet he can’t remember
it. All of this talk seems to be making him uncomfortable, because he
continues his introspection (usually seen more in Guildenstern) until
he finally decides he doesn’t want anyone to come on, after all.
One must have a keen understanding of Hamlet in order to appreciate Stoppard’s play. Hamlet’s father was secretly murdered by his brother Claudius. Claudius then married Gertrude, Hamlet’s widowed mother. Hamlet has a sense that something terrible has happened, and his father appears to him as a ghost, confirming his suspicions about his uncle (and now stepfather).
For a long time, Hamlet deliberates about whether or not to murder his uncle. He stages a play that mirrors the murder of his father, in order to let his uncle know that he is aware of the murder, and to observe his uncle’s reaction. Claudius, meanwhile, has called in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, friends of Hamlet from his youth, to find out how much Hamlet knows. However, once Claudius sees the play Hamlet has staged, he realizes that Hamlet knows everything. Plus, Hamlet murders Polonius, Claudius’ advisor, in a fit of mad rage. Claudius promptly decides that Hamlet must be eliminated, and sends him to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed by the English King.
Hamlet, however, figures out the plan and switches the letter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have with a forged letter, which says that the English King should kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet returns home and kills Claudius in a milieu that includes many other deaths as well, including that of his mother Gertrude. The silliness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern trying to figure out which direction south is made even more ridiculous by the fact that their efforts are pointless. Clearly, Hamlet’s claim of sanity depending on a south wind was just nonsense. Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to know that, and yet they cannot resist getting caught up in such a ridiculous detail.
They get furious with each other, talking in circles, and reveal their complete ineptitude when they cannot even figure out whether it is morning or night. At the same time, however, the fact that their numerous questions are rarely answered leaves the audience feeling somewhat uncomfortable. All we know is what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell us, which is limited, to say the least. Their confusion keeps us confused.
We are never told, for example, by an omniscient narrator, whether it is morning
or night. Thus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s confusion becomes ominous,
because it makes the audience insecure. It is one thing to laugh at a
fool. But when we are no better off than the fool himself, our experience
of the story changes, even if it is essentially a comedy. When they hope
someone will come in, they seem to be looking at the audience for answers,
or at least entertainment. This is extremely bizarre for an audience who
is used to going to a play for entertainment, to lose themselves in a
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Benway, Nova. "TheBestNotes on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead".
. 09 May 2017