Today I want to introduce you to the brilliant work of art that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the play by Tom Stoppard. A brilliant play and fantastic film – although in the film nothing really happens and it got a bit panned by critics. But POO to them – Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are brilliant. You should see it. Really!
The play covers the adventures and misadventures and musings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In a nutshell, Hamlet is the story of a Prince, who comes home from his travels to find his father (the King) dead, and his mother (the Queen) married to his uncle, who has also taken the throne. Hamlet acts insane whilst he tries to figure things out, and stop his uncle’s plots to kill him.
The play focuses on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s actions, and takes place when they are ‘offstage’ in Hamlet, except for a few scenes in which both plays coincide. Rosecrantz and Guildenstern are friends of Hamlet’s, and are “sent for” to be used by the king in an attempt to find out Hamlet’s motives and to plot against him. Hamlet, however, mocks them and outwits them, so that they, rather than he, are killed in the end. Our duo spend much of the play trying to figure out what’s going on.
And what attracts me to it and makes it one of my all time favourites? “Tom Stoppard has a love for cleverness and language. It treats language as a joy, a toy, and a confusing system loaded with ambiguity.” Which it is. :)
Tim Roth as Guildenstern & Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz in the 1990 film.
Here’s some dialogue to get you in the mood…
Rosencrantz: Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it. It never occured to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure.
Rosencrantz: Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Rosencrantz: Nor do I, really. It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You’d wake up dead for a start, and then where would you be? In a box. That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly. That’s why I don’t think of it. Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you’d be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you’re dead. It isn’t a pleasant thought. Especially if you’re dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, “I’m going to stuff you in this box. Now, would you rather be alive or dead?” naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You’d have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, “Well, at least I’m not dead. In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out.”
[bangs on lid]
Rosencrantz: “Hey you! What’s your name? Come out of there!”
Guildenstern: [long pause] I think I’m going to kill you.
Rosencrantz: Do you think Death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no… Death is “not.” Death isn’t. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
Rosencrantz: Shouldn’t we be doing something… constructive?
Guildenstern: What did you have in mind? A short, blunt human pyramid?
Rosencrantz: Do you want to play questions?
Guildenstern: How do you play that?
Rosencrantz: You have to ask a question.
Guildenstern: Statement. One – Love.
Rosencrantz: I haven’t started yet.
Guildenstern: Statement. Two – Love.
Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Guildenstern: Foul. No repetition. Three – Love and game.