Comparing Shakespeare's Hamlet and Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Comparing Shakespeare's Hamlet and Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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Hamlet is undoubtedly one of the most well-studied and remembered tragedies in all of history. Renowned for its compelling soliloquies and thought-provoking discussions about life, death, and love, the play takes a very serious look at the topics it presents. Based on this famous work is another tragedy, known as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In this work, which is interwoven with the original, the namesake characters bumble about in the immense world, over which they have no control. Without a sense of identity or purpose, the two merely drift to and fro at the whim of the larger forces around them; namely Hamlet, who eventually leads them to death. The twin plays follow the same story and end with the same result – nine deaths. The difference between the two is how the audience is led to this catastrophic finale. Hamlet is well known for its stern, sober view of death, in which the protagonist views death as a release from the calamity of life. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the duo considers life to be the ultimate goodness, and thus death must be the ultimate evil. This existential play serves to look at the issues presented in Hamlet from another vantage point, and parodies the original to give the audience another perspective on death.
Prince Hamlet has a very distinct view on his existence in the tragedy bearing his name. "O, that this too solid flesh would melt / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” he says at one point, wishing to leave his Earthly existence behind him. Life has not been good to Hamlet. His father is dead, replaced by the man who murdered him. His mother unknowingly married this murderer, and proceeds to further complicate things for the young prince. Consumed by his rage against his father’s...


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...Only too late do they realize that they have been played, and will die because of it. Guildenstern is now resigned to his fate. He has only realized too late that he held power over his own life – but alas, now is too late. The two finally reach the same state as Hamlet: they accept that death will come, and they have little control over the manner in which it will arrive. Unlike Hamlet, though, they only grudgingly release their hold on life and do not willingly pass on.
The view of death presented in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead starkly contrasts that which is presented in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While Hamlet takes a serious, positive view on death, the other tragedy takes the opposite view. The “sequel” to Hamlet serves to balance the views, and to provoke thoughts about characters and life in the audience, which they might not have otherwise considered.

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