Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Tom Stoppard
Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-11-23

The book of the play "Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead" is an absurdist approach to Hamlet through the eyes of minor characters "Ros" and "Guil", a funny, almost silly, perspective since they are, as the book blurb notes, the equivalent of a Shakespearean Laurel & Hardy. Their wordplay is glorious and clever, and their verbal interactions are effortlessly amusing. Their viewpoint changes throughout from being part of the story to stepping outside of it, a different and interesting method used by the author. I have to admit that I had Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in my head as I was reading it, since they starred in the movie version of the play, but that just added a little extra fun to an already enjoyable experience. I definitely recommend it.

Reviewed: 2018-07-03
This play is brilliant and I'm sure it deserves 5 stars. My only reason for knocking it down a star is that you really can't read it in a vacuum. You have to have some knowledge of Hamlet for it to work.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's two childhood friends. This play is written about the time that they are off-stage in the play. Not the time the actors playing these parts are off-stage but the times that the characters are off-stage. Essentially, at those times they have no purpose because the playwright hasn't given them anything to do. This is their search to figure out who they are when there is no script. It's like looking at the back of a piece of tapestry. What matters is what's on the front and everything on the back is just a jumble of seeming meaninglessness.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't even sure who they are when they have no scripted parts. When their parts are on, they speak in brilliant Elizabethan English. When they are off, they struggle to figure out what's going on in the world and the dialogue can get confusing, deliberately so. It's very funny and quite clever. It deals with issues of reality and identity. I don't usually enjoy modernist literature but this is one of my favorite British dramas I've ever read.

If you were to read this cold, with no background, you'd probably give it up like I did years ago when I first had the book. I couldn't make heads or tails of it but with the right bit of knowledge going into it, it's just really fun and thought provoking. Tom Stoppard himself put out a movie version that's available on Youtube with Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz. It doesn't follow the play in every detail but it is great fun to watch.
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