Books: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Thomas Stoppard

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Shakespeare. The name sort of takes over a page doesn't it? It dominates, stealing the spotlight from whatever you might have actually been writing about. The man and his works are such a literary institution, so contentious and widely loved that just the name alone almost represents an entity beyond the person. Either that, or I'm (metaphorically) talking out of my ass.

Now, try and keep both of those ideas in mind for this next bit. Imagine a work that doesn't just steal the spotlight from Shakespeare, but does it using his own play. Impressive eh? Unless you think I'm full of crap. Then you'll have to actually judge the piece on its own merits. Luckily, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a play by Tom Stoppard. It follows two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet through the background of said play as they fumble about with existentialism, fate, and probability (among other things).

Now, I'm going to commit a crime here and tell you the ending: They die. Course, if you didn't know that already, you shouldn't be reading this play. While not technically vital, you really should have a decent enough knowledge of Hamlet to at least know the plot. Without it, you might be able to follow the dialog (maybe), and you could probably piece together a few of the deeper themes through out the story, but much of the humor and pretty much the entire plot will be lost on you.


To put it simply, I feel this play is a masterpiece. Bloody brilliant. The dialog, while difficult to follow the first time around, is ingeniously crafted, containing more layers then a onion. First is Rosencratz and Guildenstern's fumbling attempts to figure out what is happening about them (something anyone who's tried to analyze Hamlet can relate to), below that are continual references to the play of Hamlet itself, and below that are deeper questions of fate and existentialism which actually tie in with the initial dialog on a surface level.

Reading the play straight can be a tad difficult the first go around. My recommendation is to get the movie (a decent adaptation directed by Stoppard himself) and watch that first, then go back and read the play.

You'll find yourself playing questions in no time.


Sigmund A. WerndorfAbout the Reviewer:

Sigmund A. Werndorf is a Los Angeles born student residing in San Francisco California, where he can be found hunting down antiquities and curiosities, passionately pushing the boundaries of radical culinary experimentation, exploring the dangerous world of modern music, and writing reams upon reams of papers that no one actually reads.

He is also curator for the correspondences of Johan B. Hackworth.