Rosencrantz And Guildenstern A Essay Research Paper

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern A Essay, Research Paper

Tom Stoppard’s play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is

the most famous modern example of a tour de force in which the

action in “Hamlet” is viewed through the eyes of two of the bit

players, Hamlet’s college friends, who accompany him on his trip to

England. We know “Hamlet” is about Hamlet. They think it’s about

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There’s an old joke about the actor

who is hired to play the gravedigger in “Hamlet.” “What’s it about?”

his wife asks. “It’s about a gravedigger who meets a prince,” he


As a play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” is fascinating; we

use our knowledge of “Hamlet” to piece together the half-glimpsed,

incomplete actions of the major players, whose famous scenes we see a

line or a moment at a time. As a movie, this material, freely adapted

by Stoppard, is boring and endless. It lies flat on the screen,

hardly stirring.

What went wrong? Since the original play is such a triumph,

it is tempting to blame Stoppard in one way or another. Either his

rewrite was too drastic, or his anachronistic references to future

inventions are a distraction, or perhaps his camera is not confident

or his cast (Gary Oldman and Tim Roth) is badly chosen.

None of those explanations will do. The rewrite would play

just as successfully on the stage as the original, I suspect, and the

anachronisms did not bother me, and the direction is competent and

the casting defensible on the grounds that Oldman and Roth have been

interesting before and will be interesting again. No, I think the

problem is that this material was never meant to be a film, and can

hardly work as a film.

The theatrical experience of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,”

which I saw in London during its first run in the 1960s, was an

intellectual tennis game between playwright and audience, with

Shakespeare’s original text as the net. There was an audacity and

freedom to the way Stoppard’s characters lurked in the wings of

Shakespeare’s most perplexing tragedy, missing the point and

inflating their own importance – they were the ants, without the

rubber tree plant. The tension between what was center stage and what

was offstage was the subject of the entire evening.

There is no offstage in the movies. The camera is a literal

instrument that photographs precisely what is placed before it, and

has trained us to believe that what we are looking at is what we

should be looking at. Any medium that can make a star out of Mark

Harmon can make heroes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. As for Hamlet

and his uncle, and Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes – if they’re

so important, where are they?

If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were interesting characters

on their own, this movie might yet survive its medium. But they are

not. They are nonentities, and so intended. The most memorable

performance in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” is the one by Richard

Dreyfuss, as the leading player of the visiting troupe, and he

becomes memorable in the time-honored way, by stealing his scenes.

(It is interesting that the Players, essentially dropped from the

recent Zeffirelli-Mel Gibson “Hamlet,” should make their comeback in

this backstage version.) The Dreyfuss scenes contain their own

energy, and do not depend on the tense juxtaposition of the Stoppard

foreground and the Shakespeare background.

The irony, then, is that the parts of Stoppard’s film that

work best are exactly the ones that have nothing to do with the

original inspiration behind “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” To

examine this irony in another way, the movie “Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern” is about a troupe of players who briefly visit a story

about some bit players on the outskirts of a great tragedy. Talk

about opening out of town.


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