Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


Metatheatre is a central structural element of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Metatheatrical scenes, that is, scenes that are staged as plays, dumb shows, or commentaries on dramatic theory and practice, are prominent in both Stoppard's play and Shakespeare's original tragedy Hamlet. In Hamlet, metatheatrical elements include the Player's speech (2.2), Hamlet's advice to the Players (3.2), and the meta-play "The Mousetrap" (3.3). Since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters from Hamlet itself, Stoppard's entire play can be considered a piece of metatheatre. However, this first level of metatheatre is deepened and complicated by frequent briefer and more intense metatheatrical episodes; see, for example, the Players' pantomimes of Hamlet in Acts 2 and 3, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's obsessive role-playing, and the Player's "death" in Act 3. Bernardina da Silveira Pinheiro observes that Stoppard uses metatheatrical devices to produce a "parody" of the key elements of Shakespeare's Hamlet that includes foregrounding two minor characters considered "nonentities" in the original tragedy.[6] Pinheiro notes that Stoppard alters the focus of Hamlet's "play-within-a-play" so that it reveals the ultimate fate of the tragicomedy's anti-heroes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. However, this alteration ultimately culminates in an absurdist anti-climax that runs counter to the effect of "The Mousetrap" in Hamlet, which effectively reveals the guilt of the King. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern confront a mirror image of their future deaths in the metadramatic spectacle staged by the Players, they fail to recognise themselves in it or gain any insight into their identities or purpose.[6]

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