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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a humorous, absurdist, tragic and existentialist play by Tom Stoppard, first staged in 1966.

The play is structured as the inverse of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Two minor characters in the original, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are the leads in this play, they are on-stage here when they are off-stage in Shakespeare's play, with the exception of a few short scenes taken directly from the original.

The two characters and those they encounter often confuse their names, they are not certain of their own identities. They are portrayed as two clowns or fools in a world that is beyond their understanding, they cannot identify any reliable feature or the significance in words or events. Their own memories are not reliable or complete and they misunderstand each other as they stumble through philosophical arguments while not realizing the implications to themselves.

Several important themes in the play:

  • Existentialism - why are we here? Why should Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do anything unless someone asks them to? They find themselves as pawns in a gigantic game of chess, yet make no effort whatsoever to escape.
  • Free will vs. determinism - is it their choice to perform actions, or are they fated to live the way they do?
  • Search for value - what is important? What is not? Does anything matter? If we are all going to die, why do we continue to live?

These themes, and the presence of two central characters who almost appear to be two halves of a single character are shared with Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and the two plays are often compared.

The play was made into a movie in 1990, directed by Stoppard, starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth[?] in the leading roles, Richard Dreyfuss as the player, Joanna Roth[?] as Ophelia and Iain Glen[?] as Hamlet.

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