Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Centered around Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, two minor characters from Hamlet, this absurdist play treats serious themes about death, chance, and the relationship between the theater and life with humor.
The protagonists are commanded by Claudius to glean insight into Hamlet’s behavior since he is not himself, inside or out. Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are often baffled by the circumstances in which they find themselves, having trouble remembering what pulled them into the story in the first place. Rather than proactively address their task, they passively wait for events to transpire.
Rosencrantz and Gulderstern engage in farcical word play that on first pass seems meaningless but often reveals hidden truths. The play has some wonderful lines: “I’ve lost all capacity for disbelief. I’m not sure that I could even rise to a little gentle scepticism” and “We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered” are two of my favorites.
As funny as the play is, it stumbles to its inevitable conclusion. “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.”