Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

"Play" in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

A discussion of the implications of the various meanings of the word ‘play’ in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Tom Stoppard’s production Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is highly intelligent in its linguistic style, capability of thought and manner of speech. The two ‘main’ characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (R&G), engage in complicated word play as they comfort themselves in a world they do not comprehend. Their word-play, and the play on the word ‘play’, results in great comedy, as well as acting as a medium for Stoppard to explore the relation between the audience and cast. His absurdist theatre suggests existentialist theory as the bewildered R&G bumble through their indifferent, bizarre universe.

Early on in the play, R&G decide to ‘play’ a game of questions, in the form of a tennis match. They believe that their ‘ping-pong’ enquires will help them interrogate Hamlet about his morose state. A highly entertaining battle of words ensues, reminiscent of the repartee of Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV and the stichomythia of Richard and Anne in Richard III:

Ros: We could play at questions.

Guil: What good would that do?

Ros: Practise!

Guil: Statement! One-love. (33)

Unlike Richard,...

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