Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Tom Stoppard

Somehow I found the movie a while ago and I love it. The extras on the DVD told me it was a play first, so I dug up a copy of that. It's quite good.

For me, though, reading a play - any play - is tough. There's less context than in a novel, so (of course) more depends on the dialog. For me to really understand a play requires reading it many times, preferably aloud, and with different people on different parts if that can be arranged.

In this case I never got that far. I did read the play twice, and though I really enjoyed it and can clearly see at least some of the evolution from play to movie, I still don't get a couple of things. More re-reads - particularly good ones as described above - would help.

If you haven't seen the play or the movie, you're in for a treat when you do. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the story of two characters from Hamlet, entirely from their point of view. They are minor characters - almost bit parts - in Shakespeare's masterpiece, so we have very little to go on for background and their actions when they are off stage in Hamlet itself.

What we get is an existential romp, almost a farce. No one - not even Rosencrantz & Guildenstern themselves - can remember which is which, for example. They have no history, and the world is strangely out of kilter for them. There are interesting discussions of death and musings on just how predetermined things are. Of course, since we know what happens in Hamlet, their futures are ordained to end in a particular way, but the play is a discussion of our own futures too, and to what degree we are stuck playing parts.

The dialog is quick and witty, and the ideas presented are interesting and challenging.

I think everyone should become familiar with this one. See it in a theater, read it, or watch the movie. Whatever it takes. It's both funny and deep. Highly recommended.