Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

British Literature

Discuss the contribution Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet makes  to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, beyond the obvious lending of characters and the intersections of the dramas, particularly at Elsinore. Are there themes and motifs in Shakespeare's play that make it especially appropriate as a partner and resource to a twentieth-century drama?

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In Shakespeare's work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not given distinct personalities. In Hamlet they are stock characters whose staccato dialogue and Elizabethan wit serve merely as comedic devices. Their primary purpose is to relieve the dramatic tension present within the rest of Hamlet. Stoppard lifts these characters from Shakespeare, but places them in the foreground, although together they lack the depth to sustain the action that Hamlet sustains alone. Yet Stoppard's genius lies in using their lack of depth and inability to sustain action as the very center of the events in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For all intents and purposes, the two are indistinguishable and dispensable. Characters such as Claudius, Gertrude, and even Hamlet often call them by the wrong names; in fact Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are often unable to distinguish themselves. In[Hamlet], they are dispensable, executed for no real reason and unable to garner much sympathy from the audience. In Stoppard's play, however, although they meet the same fate the journey that they take to get there is far different. Stoppard humanizes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by imbuing them with a deep-seated universal desire: the need for meaning. Even though they do not achieve any redeeming purpose, the audience can sympathize with the characters as they vacillate between awareness and understanding - never really achieving the latter.