Discuss the parallels between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and SToppard’s Rosencrantz and GUildenstern are dead and how Stoppard has transformed these parallels for a modern audience. Make reference to the context and text.
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The plays Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard contain many parallels such as themes, character comparisons and through the basic plot. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has been heavily influenced by Hamlet, Samuel Beckett s Waiting For Godot, and several other plays and playwrights. In addition to these literary influences, a key factor in the transformation of the play, and the parallels contained within it and Hamlet, to a modern audience has also been the time in which it was written. Stoppards transformation of the play has been heavily influenced by absurdism in style and existentialism in philosophy and thought.
Ultimately however, we can see that the play Hamlet has been transformed from the early 17th century to 20th century values and beliefs. The play focuses on the life of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern during the play Hamlet, while they are not in Hamlet. As they are not major characters and have minimal roles in Hamlet, Stoppard has turned the original piece on its head and focused on these two. For much of the play we see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in an off-stage world, which ironically is on-stage. One could say it is as if on one great stage, the plays of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are both occurring parallel to eachother in time, briefly coming into contact with eachother, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern emerge in Hamlet. Some of Stoppards work has been appropriated from Shakespeares original Hamlet. This is what connects the two plays in both time period and setting.
Both writers have written for their target audience, using the language and style appropriate to convey their messages in an appropriate manner. Stoppard appropriates from the original Hamlet, but at times speaks in an anachronism through these parts. An example of this is the talk of syllogisms and the theory of probability, which are generally topics from modern day literature, displaying the absurdity of it all.
Stoppard has adopted the play to the newer society, with different values, beliefs and morals of the time in which he composed the play. This time frame presented us with a social revolution, that being a dramatic change in human views of the world. It was a time of questioning the status quo and challenging the system. People broke boundaries and went against conventions, and this non-conformist rebellion has emerged in Stoppards work. New ways of thinking have developed through three centuries of societal and political alterations, two world wars and times of hardship and depression.
The 1960 s also presented us with a society where people were irreverent. This concept has taken Stoppard to take one of, if not the most revered works of literature, Shakespeares Hamlet, and has played around with it , creating an explanation for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being in Elsinore. Stoppard has transformed his play to make two of Hamlets bit characters the heroes of his respective play.
Both art works include the obvious parallel of including characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but Stoppard has re-created these two unimportant nobodies making their life the central focus. This is an important factor in the 20th century transformation as it is now a common style in modern literature to focus on the anti-hero, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being these, the common person.
In Hamlet they have little significance, simply being played and manipulated with by the King spying on their friend Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are seen as clowns, comic figures continuously sucking up to higher powers such as the King and Queens. Elizabethans would have found this courtier-like action amusing. In the transformation they are depicted as innocent, bumbling fools. It is notable that Stoppard has chosen to focus on these people without power and base the play on their insignificant lives.
In the transformation, Stoppard has maintained many important parallels to the original piece Hamlet. We can see however, that the corresponding themes and issues have been transposed to focus on modern day views and ideas such as existentialism. A principal difference between both plays is that in Hamlet we tend to concentrate on the development of one main character, Hamlet with his personal struggles and destiny. Through the transformation, Stoppard has moved the focus towards a more everyday exploration of the themes of Hamlet.
Shared themes include humanities place in the universe, life and death, illusion and reality, chance, fate and destiny.
The notions of fate and destiny are central to both plays, the distinction occurs when Shakespeares Hamlet has the illusion of choice and control over his life. Hamlet has choices and options, being not only influenced by external forces, but appears to direct the action towards himself. In contrast, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern rely on other characters for their direction, are constantly confused and uncertain and have little or no control over the action. An underlying fact of the play is that from the outset, Shakespeares Hamlet has previously sealed their fate.
The possibility that there is no plan, no reason for life and why things happen is raised by Stoppard. This supports the very existential attitude produced in the work. Shakespeare often delves deeply into the concepts of life and its meaning, why we are here on earth and what is our ultimate purpose. Through the transformation to a modern audience, Stoppard has examined these questions again and put forward his own views, that there is possibly no real or rational explanation for them.
Structurally, both plays Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead both include the feature of a play within a play. The plays both consciously discuss this idea of a play being within a play, introducing the themes of appearance versus reality and fate in a human situation, highlighting the concept that we, as humans, are players following a certain script that is already written for us on a grand scale. This could be known as our destiny . This image is taken to the greatest level in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as it involves players for a play, in a play, in a play. We can see that the players in both plays have no input into what they say and do, they can be seen to be a victim of fate, as the script has already been written for them. The convention of a play within a play questions our direction in life, showing we have been put on the stage with no knowledge of our purpose and cause.
Stoppard has transformed the destiny of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, into the destiny of two ordinary people, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We can associate with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern s fears and frustration about the uncertainty inherent in life because ultimately their fate is our own. The two main characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern indulge in verbal patter, are insecure about their identity and memories, constantly questioning everything, and are anxiously confused about what they are doing and why.
Guildenstern is an intelligent philosopher who is incredibly observant to life and things around him. On the other hand, Rosencrantz is a total contrast to Guildenstern. He is the classic comic fool, whose mind works on the simplest of basic levels and is concerned by very little, accepting life as it presents itself. Guildenstern is often philosophical and questions strangeness and oddities occurring in life. This presents a clear parallel to Hamlet in Hamlet, as he at times is seen to over-analyse life and his predicaments. Although the irony in the transformation is that Hamlet s long, philosophical speeches analyse life on a grand plane containing kings, murder, corruption and betrayal, whereas Guildenstern analyses the implications of coin spinning. This displays a clear example of Stoppard mocking Hamlet, reducing the original situation to the more humble pathetic level exhibited in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The coin tossing can be portrayed as comic and ridiculous as they speculate and analyse the ideas of life, chance and fate compared to Hamlets speculation on a several issues of momentous proportion.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s bewilderment and angst, their metaphysical speculations and the games in which they indulge to while away the time and overcome their fears of the unknown.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trapped in a situation that is inescapable; they confront an existential condition and ultimately lament the meaninglessness of their existence in the face of an author who proves no savoir and prescribes for them only eventual death.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern encounter such a world where their queries are made in vain, where meaning is arbitrary and where they become victims of a seemingly random circumstance they neither proscribe nor control.
Stoppard sends up Hamlet s constant philosophising and ongoing procrastination via Guildenstern s lengthy speeches on absurd topics, while still getting the point across to the modern audience. A central image that runs throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is the game of chance, compared to the idea of fate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern begin the play by flipping a coin only to discover that heads are produced 92 times consecutively. After the eighty-ninth flip, Guildenstern begins to ponder this seeming anomaly in an attempt to explain how such a phenomenon could occur. The unorthodox results of the coin toss can be interpreted as an indication to Guildenstern that he and Rosencrantz are within an irrational world devoid of logic and reason. As Guildenstern suggests later in Act I, Stoppard introduces the mathematical theory of probability to help explain Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s “absurd” predicament.
Guildenstern, who understands the theory of probability, uses mathematical principles to mitigate his fear about the kind of world that he and Rosencrantz now inhabit. This is the world where they have no memory prior to their summons to the king, where illusion and reality are indiscernible, and where a supernatural force of some kind seems to be controlling their destiny without regard to their individual will. “The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear.” The factor that Guildenstern fears most, however, is not that he and Rosencrantz are existing in a world of total unreliability . He is petrified by the proposition that he is living in a world governed paradoxically by the theory of probability, a world where initial events seem random but where the end is irrevocably fixed or determined their destiny.
Guildenstern talks about philosophy and intellectual pursuit. He uses philosophical exercises to work out meaning in life, eventually coming to a conclusion that they are in fact ridiculous and absurd. Humans have explanations and formulas for how life functions, simply to make sense of it, but Stoppard is evidently saying these scientific formulas and philosophies are only to make human kind feel content and satisfied with their own justifications on why something has occurred. By employing the theory of probability, Stoppard actually enhances Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s sense of frustration with their circumstances.
Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead contain a parallel where both plays are full of plays on words and double meanings. The plays on words create meaning for the audience and also produce a comic effect. Through the transformation to a modern audience, the actual vernacular has been modified.
There are many occasions and much evidence throughout the two plays that the world is out of balance and things are just not right . Hamlet produces evidence through the appearance of the ghost and the murder of a king, which in Elizabethan days was seen to represent things being out of order. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead present s similar images, although these include the absurd notion of a coin landing heads 92 times consecutively. This is a parallel to Stoppards existential outlook to there being no normal pattern in life, space and time.