Stoppard And Beckett Comparison Essay, Research Paper
Normally an author wouldn’t say whether or not they have been directly influenced by another author or playwright. When you actually read their work however, it becomes clear that some authors share common views on certain subjects or admire another author or playwright so much that their own style begins to directly reflect the work of another. I believe this is the same connection shared by the modern dramatists and absurdist writers Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett. The connection between these two authors is clearly shown through the study of Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, are very similar to Beckett’s characters Vladimir and Estragon. Their beliefs and behavior clearly show this. Stoppard’s characters parallel Beckett’s by inheriting their failing memory, confused identity, uncertainty, lack of decision making skills, and even the use of verbal game playing to pass time. Like Vladimir and Estragon, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to be uncertain of their own identity and especially their own destiny.
Both sets of characters are constantly searching for answers. In Waiting for Godot, Didi and Gogo are waiting with constant frustration and uncertainty for possible answers to life’s questions. They feel that Godot may hold the answers. They pretty much can’t, and don’t, make decisions for themselves; instead they’d rather wait and see what Godot would do. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trying to understand the meaning of the events which they find out are actually carrying them to their own deaths. They exist in an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion. They’re essentially two characters lost in their own play. In a way they are actually waiting for Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also have difficulty in making decisions for themselves. They are essentially the kings pawns, doing everything he says. This becomes clear when they don’t even prevent they’re own deaths. Instead of attempting to change their fate, they simply go with the flow. They go on to England and try and follow their original plan; which ultimately leads to their deaths.
Both sets of characters want or wanted to feel an importance in life. Early in Waiting for Godot, Vladimir points out to Estragon that they should have been the first to jump off the Eiffel Tower. This shows how meaningless they find life to be in that they would have actually found meaning in killing themselves. Its as if they would’ve felt a sense of accomplishment if they’d have jumped off of the Eiffel Tower because they would have been the first to do it. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also want to feel important. After finding out that they were intended to be put to death in England, Rosencrantz says, “Who’d of thought that we were so important?” Throughout the whole play they were trying to feel useful by helping the King and following his demands, but in the end they feel important because their deaths were being plotted the whole time. In the end they’re not worried about their deaths, just like Estragon and Vladimir don’t worry about their’s, they just want to find meaning to it. They figure that if the King wants them dead that they must be very important; that their lives actually had some worth.
Stoppard and Beckett both make great use of game playing in these two plays. Vladimir and Estragon make use of game playing to pass the time as they wait for Godot. Playing games keeps them busy and occupied as they wait. Beckett uses game playing to symbolize Vladimir and Estragon’s boredom of life and of their present situation. Game playing also shows the lack of depth of the characters. They have nothing better to do then to try and pass time in an unconstructive way. They essentially have nothing better to do with their lives but to sit and wait and play games. This goes along with the absurdist way of thinking. Life is meaningless from an absurdist view. Vladimir and Estragon are seen constantly playing word games with each other and attempting to play games to keep themselves busy. This keeps them from dwelling on their current situation, which is their wait for Godot and their search for a meaning to their own existence. Stoppard’s characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also found playing many games. This is essentially used for the same purposes that Beckett used it for with the exception of the coin tossing. The coin tossing does show the boredom of their situation, but it also sets up a main focus in the play which is the power of chance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also play at a game of questions for the purpose of reliving themselves of boredom. They even treat their duty to the King, similar to Hamlet, as a game. This is evident on pages 56 and 57 when this conversation between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern takes place:
Guil: We played it close to the chest of course.
Ros (derisively): ” Question and answer. Old ways are the best ways”! He was scoring off us all down the line.
Guil: He caught us on the wrong foot once or twice, perhaps, but I thought we gained some ground.
Ros (simply): He murdered us.
Guil: He might have had the edge.
Ros (roused): Twenty-seven? three, and you think he might have had the edge?! He murdered us.
They use a scoring system to see if they are making any progress in their duty to the King. They figure that in their first meeting with Hamlet that they made pretty much no progress, “half of what he said meant something else, and the other half didn’t mean anything at all.” This whole scene ties in with a previous scene where the two are playing at a game of questions. This shows that they use game playing even in their serious duties and that much of their existence is boring.
Neither of these characters can really go on without the companionship of the other; they are totally reliant on each other. In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon rely on each other for comfort, support, and most of all, meaning. Vladimir and Estragon need one another in order to avoid living a lonely and meaningless life. At the end of act one, Didi and Gogo talk about their relationship, saying:
Estragon: Wait! (He moves away from Vladimir.) I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t have been better off alone, each one for himself. (He crosses the stage and sits down on the mound.) We weren’t made for the same road.
Vladimir: (without anger). It’s not certain.
Estragon: No, nothing is certain.
Vladimir slowly crosses the stage and sits down beside Estragon.
Vladimir: We can still part if you think it would be better.
Estragon: No, it’s not worth while now.
Estragon: Well shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes lets go.
They do not move.(35-36)
The same conversation takes place again at the end of Act Two:
Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.
Estragon: If we parted that might be better for us.
Vladimir: We’ll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause). Unless Godot comes.
Estragon: And if he comes?
Vladimir: We’ll be saved. (61)
In these scenes they consider leaving each other but actually never do. This inability to leave each others side reflects their uncertainty of life and their reliance on each other. They are caught constantly questioning their position in life. They don’t know whether to stay, to kill themselves, to stay friends, or what. They are just totally overwhelmed by life and extremely confused characters. They have no idea how to handle life. Without each other to keep themselves company and somewhat free from boredom each character would be totally lost and wouldn’t know how to handle themselves. If they couldn’t handle life as a pair, they’d be doomed on their own. On the right hand side of page 12, Estragon shows a fear of being alone, when he says:
Estragon: (with effort). Gogo light- bough not break- Gogo dead. Didi heavy- bough break- Didi alone. Whereas-
Estragon is afraid that if Vladimir is hung first and killed, that he’d be left alone if his attempt at suicide fails. He actually fears being without Vladimir more then being dead. The same connection can be made between Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. These two characters are never split up during the play until the end when they “disappear” or are put to death. They need each other to keep each other occupied especially in such an incomprehensible world. This is evident in the following lines of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:
Guil: All right? you go that way, I’ll go this way.
They walk towards opposite wings. Ros halts.
You go this way? I’ll go that way.
Guil: All right.
They march towards each other, cross. Ros halts.
Ros: Wait a minute.
I think we should stick together. He might be violent.
Guil: Good point. I’ll come with you.
Guil marches across to Ros. They turn to leave. Ros halts.
Ros: No, I’ll come with you.
They turn, march across to the opposite wing. Ros halts. Guil halts.
Ros: I’ll come with you, my way.
Guil: All right.
They turn again and march across. Ros halts. Guil halts.
Ros: I’ve just thought. If we both go, he could come here. That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?
Guil: All right? I’ll stay, you go.
Guil marches to midstage.
Guil wheels and carries on marching back towards Ros, who starts marching downstage. They cross. Ros halts.
I’ve just thought.
We ought to stick together; he might be violent.
Guil: Good point.
These lines on pages 87 and 88 show how reliant upon each other the two characters really are. No matter what the case they refuse to part from one another’s side. They even go so far to make up excuses so that they won’t have to be alone and so that they don’t have to take any responsibilities without the companionship and help of the other. They constantly negate their previous statements and go against their original thoughts. This makes the play more comical but also shows how dull the characters are and how they struggle with decision making. This also shows how socially weak the characters really are, much like Vladimir and Estragon.
The previous lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead not only dictate the need of companionship by the characters, but they also show a major similarity in the styles of the two playwrights. This similarity is the use of repetition. The use of repetition by Stoppard and Beckett in these two plays is used not only to emphasize ideas, but also to give a feel of dullness and boredom. In Waiting of Godot, Beckett utilized this strategy to show a tedium of existence. This is evident when Vladimir and Estragon continuously state the following lines throughout the play:
Estragon: Let’s go.
Vladimir: We can’t.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot.
This is only one example of repetition in Godot. The play seemingly repeats itself. Act two is pretty much a repeat of act one in the play. Their lives in this play are extremely boring. They constantly repeat the same questions to each other. Should they stay together or not, should they commit suicide and should they part are all questions they bring up and repeat throughout the play. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern repetition creates the feeling of two characters waiting for something to happen. This is evident when they are deciding whether or not to go after Hamlet. They are questioning the fact, but they figure in the middle of their discussion that he may end up going to where they are. They kind of repeat things to pass time in hopes to see if something in their lives would happen. Also Vladimir’s repetition of Estragon’s words and Rosencrantz’s repetition of Guildenstern’s further express the characters feelings of boredom. This use of repetition by the characters occurs very often throughout the plays. By repeating each other it shows that the characters are similar, but also that they are dependent upon each other for thoughts. It shows a likeness between Rosencrantz and Vladimir and also a similarity between Guildenstern and Estragon. The later two are the wisest of the pairs, while the prior two are the followers and pretty much the dullest of the characters.
Stoppard and Beckett also share common themes in these two plays. The unpredictability of life and the power of chance as well as the hopelessness of existence are the two major themes these two plays share. In Stoppard’s work chance is the main force in ones life. This is evident right from the very beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The coin tossing scene that takes place sets the entire atmosphere of the play. A force definitely has control over the events that occur in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s lives. Guildenstern’s losing at the coin toss and the fact that fate plays a part implies that a person has no control over the forces of chance. Beckett shows that chance is a part in one’s life but the hopelessness of existence cancels out any benefit that a person may gain from it. They both feel that chance, not the individual, determines what happens during the course of one’s life. Stoppard knew that, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we are all just minor people in the whole game of life. Their life philosophy is very like the one Beckett created in Waiting for Godot. Just like in Godot, two characters are placed in an open space to find a meaning to their existence.
Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead both have references to an unseen audience. The characters in these plays show a fear of falling out of sight. The Player in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead explains: ” You don’t understand the humiliation of it? to be tricked out of the single assumption that makes our existence viable? that somebody is watching.” If no one is watching then they are pretty much useless as actors. They play to audiences to be seen and heard, and if no one is their watching it is all pretty much useless. Estragon states on page 56: (to Vlad.) “Don’t take your eyes off me.” And on page 58, Vladimir says as part of a speech: ” …. at me someone is looking.” These lines point at an unseen audience. They are afraid to fall out of sight because that would mean that they would no longer exist. This suggest that they may possibly be aware that they are actually part of a play also. And thus their lives would be defined by the play.
Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead both show, as absurdist drama would, the meaninglessness of life. In Godot, Vladimir’s and Estragon’s actions dictate their survival much like ours do. As an audience, we can only watch them do the same things, listen to them say the same things, and accept the fact that Godot may or may not come. The play shows us that we may search for an answer or a meaning to life and our existence, but we most likely will never find it. Godot may never come at all and we must accept the uncertainty of our lives. Through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard tells us that death comes to all living things and is something that can never be understood or explained, but it is just something that is. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern search for answers, but in the end are just left without any real answers. Life to Stoppard just is, it can’t be explained and if they would not have stressed over finding a meaning to it they would have led much happier lives.
As you can see Beckett and Stoppard shared many common views in creating their plays. When reading Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it becomes very obvious that it goes way beyond commonalities in their styles. When reading their plays it becomes clear that some form of idealization or appreciation of Beckett’s work by Stoppard was the main reason for the birth of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The themes, characterization, and even the structure of the plays show that Stoppard did write with an influence from the works of Beckett.