Comparing the Human Condition in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Waiting for Godot

Comparing the Human Condition in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Waiting for Godot

Length: 1328 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Comparing the Human Condition in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Waiting for Godot                       

Inspired by Beckett’s literary style, particularly in ‘Waiting for Godot’, Stoppard wrote ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.  As a result of this, many comparisons can be drawn between these two plays.  Stoppard’s writing was also influenced by Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as minor characters exist within Shakespeare’s world providing Stoppard with his protagonists.  However, the play is not an attempt to rewrite ‘Waiting for Godot’ in a framework of Shakespeare’s drama. 

 In studying these texts, the reader is provoked into analysing, comparing and contrasting them.  In particular the characters in ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ provide intriguing material to consider the human condition.  The characters, their personality traits and responses to stimuli, as well as what directs and motivates them, is worthy of discussion. 

 Stoppard gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern an existence outside ‘Hamlet’, although it is one of little significance and they idle away their time only having a purpose to their lives when the play rejoins the ‘Hamlet’ plot, after they have been called by the King’s messenger: “There was a messenger...that’s right.  We were sent for.”  Their lives end tragically due to this connection with ‘Hamlet’, predetermined by the title, but the role provided them with a purpose to their otherwise futile lives, making them bearable.  Their deaths evoke sadness and sympathy leaving the reader grieving for them.

 In contrast to Stoppard’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’ is much bleaker in the respect that Vladimir and Estragon seem to have no purpose or direction in their lives.  Their only hope rests on the mysterious Godot who never comes, however they do remain alive at the end.  This leads the reader to question which pair of characters are the most unfortunate.  Rosencrantz and Guildensten may not have been saved from death but they have been saved from the futility of life which Vladimir and Estragon exclaim:  “We can’t go on like this” yet ironically they are left to do so. 

 In ‘Waiting for Godot’, we know little concerning the protagonists, indeed from their comments they appear to know little about themselves and seem bewildered and confused as to the extent of their existence.  Their situation is obscure and Vladimir and Estragon spend the day (representative of their lives) waiting for the mysterious Godot, interacting with each other with quick and short speech.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Comparing the Human Condition in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Waiting for Godot." 16 Feb 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead Essay

- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a tragic comedy authored by 20th century playwright Tom Stoppard, tracks the exploits of two minor characters of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The action of the play circles in and out of the plot of Hamlet, and the fate of the two friends, death, is already decided in the Shakespeare’s previous work. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, on a mission to send Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, to the King of England to be killed, struggle with this realization as the play progresses....   [tags: Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]

Research Papers
1067 words (3 pages)

Essay on Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

- During the time of Shakespeare, the line was clearly drawn in drama between comedy and tragedy: not that he didn 't occasionally mix the elements or write a play which defied either category. However, modern plays and movies do not adhere to obvious tragedies or comedies any longer. In an existentialist play by Tom Stoppard, the fundamental questions of Hamlet are explored in a comedic yet tragic drama, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, both following and breaking many fundamental structures in drama, as well as constantly toying with the dramatic fourth wall....   [tags: Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]

Research Papers
1025 words (2.9 pages)

The Comedy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Essay

- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a play in three acts by Tom Stoppard, is a behind the scenes look at what happens in Shakespeare's Hamlet and how the events in the play may have seemed to other fringe characters. These characters are of very little relevance and even if they are removed from the scene of action, with the grotesque act of hanging by death, the impact on the actual play is minimal The play defies easy definition and various critics have labeled it variously as absurdist, existentialist, comical, burlesque, metaphorical or grim....   [tags: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppar]

Free Essays
444 words (1.3 pages)

The Stagecraft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Essay

- The Stagecraft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead “…a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more…” This quote from Macbeth is a perfect summary of the plot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The dramatisation of the lives of these two unremarkable and virtually extraneous characters from Hamlet is an unlikely foundation for “one of the most…engaging of post-war plays” (Daily Telegraph). However, as with Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” the originality of Stoppard’s concept is not enough in itself to create a masterpiece and it is the brilliance of the stagecraft and writing that establishes this play a...   [tags: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Essays]

Research Papers
1186 words (3.4 pages)

The Complexity of Life and Death in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"

- The main theme of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead is the complexity of life, death, and the events that lead to it. It also depicts the theory of determinism vs. free will. These are very similar to the themes seen in Hamlet. There is a complementary structure between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead and Hamlet in the sense that, they are written in different time periods and show different understanding on the subject at hand. In 1602, the time when Hamlet was written, people believed in church and that dead would go to heaven or hell based on their deeds , but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead was written in 1960’s a time of existentialism, when existence of god and essence...   [tags: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, ]

Research Papers
662 words (1.9 pages)

Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Beckett's Waiting for Godot

- Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Beckett's Waiting for Godot are two plays with very similar pairs of characters. The reason for this great similarity is because Stoppard based his pair of characters on that of Beckett. In each set of characters, there is one member who represents the physical part of the pair and the other member represents the philosophical or psychological part. In addition, both pairs of characters seem to strive off of their companion, but in each case there is one partner who needs the other more....   [tags: Waiting For Godot Essays]

Free Essays
776 words (2.2 pages)

Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: The Theatre of the Absurd

- The absurdist plays Waiting for Godot written by Samuel Beckett and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead written by Tom Stoppard both incorporate human needs and concerns within their context through its whimsical and comedic dialogues. Both plays belong in the category of the theatre of the absurd, where the existentialist philosophy underlies all aspects of the plays. The central characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead share a deep friendship, this same friendship can also be seen within the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon who are the protagonists in Waiting for Godot....   [tags: Theater of the Absurd]

Research Papers
791 words (2.3 pages)

Free Essays - The Fools of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

- At first glance, one might believe that the only things Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has in common with William Shakespeare's Hamlet are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the segments of Hamlet Stoppard pasted in his play. Looking more closely, however, one would observe that the most extreme absurdities of Stoppard's play are derived from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Particulars of Stoppard's play that might at first be considered simply ridiculous improbabilities (such as the fact that they cannot remember their own names, and the acceptance which with they view their own deaths) later surface as mockery of disturbing details in Hamlet....   [tags: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Essays]

Free Essays
398 words (1.1 pages)

Comparing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

- Comparing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy In 1967, Tom Stoppard wrote his famous play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead after getting the idea while watching a production of Hamlet. Four years later, Douglas Adams got the idea for his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1978, he would use this idea to produce a BBC radio show, which would be published as a novel in 1979. How can these two works be compared in their use of satire and cynicism....   [tags: Comparison Compare Contrast Essays]

Free Essays
2956 words (8.4 pages)

Essay on The Significance of the Coin Flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

- The Significance of the Coin Flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern   At the beginning of the play "Rosencrantz and Guildensten," one of the two characters found a gold coin during their journey through the desert.  He immediately began to flip the coin to see what side it would land on.  By the seventh flip, two tails turned up.  Every flip after was heads.  The characters fliped the coin over 157 times, and they each after the seventh flip turned up heads.  The significance of the coin flips in this play was not ever specified within the storyline.  However, with a closer look, one can recognize the significanceit had in the plot.  The coin flips warned, foreshadowed and carried of a me...   [tags: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Essays]

Research Papers
605 words (1.7 pages)

Related Searches

  Although Beckett’s characters seem to expect so little from life, Vivian Mercier observes that they are never the less frustrated.  “They expect so little from life, and yet their minimal expectations are frustrated.” (1)  We laugh at the character’s because the scenes are humorous, yet it is human unhappiness that we are laughing at.  Beckett creates this humour in such a way that there is no discernible purpose behind it. 

 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two Elizabethans not easily told apart who play games to idle away the time, relying on others for amusement and impetus.  They resemble Vladimir and Estragon in their interdependent relationship with one another, however characteristically they are very different.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are incompetent and unfortunate.  They continually appear to be bemused and lost, unaware of what they are doing and why they are doing it, yet still feel omnipotent and able to escape.  Martin Esslin comments on their situation; “Beckett’s characters are no antique heroes and they are mostly unaware of the depth of their predicament.” (2)

 At one point Guildenstern says “We are entitled to some direction...I would have thought”. Guildenstern begins to accept this feeling that his life is out of his control and says “We move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation”  “We’ll know better next time”.

 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s deaths shows how effectively Stoppard created these characters by the audience’s emotional reaction to their vulnerability and predicament. 

 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unable to get their own names correct and similarly other characters in the play confuse them, highlighting their insignificance:  “My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz.  I’m sorry - his name’s Guildenstern and I’m Rosencrantz”.  They obviously cannot register their own identities or value.  This strange lack of identity and individuality is odd as they are actually quite different.

 Human nature is such that we believe we are the centre of our world and yet we are merely insignificant in someone else’s.  Stoppard exemplifies this in ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ by the unique connection the play has with Shakespeare’s ‘‘Hamlet’ on which it is based.  Stoppard integrates the two plays by drawing out two minor characters from ‘Hamlet’ turning them into the protagonists, bringing them to the forefront of the stage in his play.  He creates an identity for them separate to that in ‘Hamlet’.  Likewise the protagonists in ‘Hamlet’ are reduced to minor characters in Stoppard’s production.  Stoppard is known for grafting much of his best works onto plays that are already well established, such as his play ‘On the Razzle’ (1981) which is an adaptation of an Austrian play ‘Einen Jux will er sich machen’ by Johann Nestroy. 

 The first reference to ‘Hamlet’ shows Rosencrantz and Guildernstern’s role in Shakespeare’s play.  They are sent for by Claudius although they don’t know for what purpose.  Claudius greets them “The need we have to use you did provoke our hasty sending.”

 Rosencrantz “We were sent for”

 Guildenstern “Yes”

 Rosencrantz “Thats why were here” < He looks around, seems doubtful>

 Despite their confusion and hesitation, they seem to regain their identity and purpose when they re-enter the ‘Hamlet’ plot.  Hamlet greets them “My excellent good friends!  How dost thou Guildenstern?”

 The other story they become a part of is that of the Player and the Tragedians.  From their speeches it becomes clear how important it is for them to have an audience.  The Player illustrates their dependence on others, because good performers are nothing without an audience and in this quest for an audience they “look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.”


 Central to both plays is the theme of futile waiting and nothing happening which the audience can relate to the feelings of frustration and ineffectiveness.  In ‘Waiting for Godot’, Vladimir and Estragon live their lives in paralysed anticipation in case Godot comes but they may not even recognise him if he does.  This shows the resilience of humans to retain hope, often until the end.  Their whole lives are resting on ‘Godot’ which is never defined.  Whether it is supposed to be God or death or something else is unclear.  Every evening they wait for this ‘Godot’ who they have probably never met; “He’s a kind of acquaintance”, “We hardly know him”.  They seek to pass the time, representative of human fear that the end will come but also afraid that it will not.  Stoppard suggests the outcome to this will be as a result of fate or chance and tries to show how chance can be a key part of human life. 


 The possibility of chance is discussed in the first few pages where the two protagonists are tossing coins and the outcome is left to fate and probability.  All the possible meanings of the word ‘chance’ are shown in the following quotes illustrating its importance. 

 Player  “It was chance, then?”  (coincidental)

 Guildenstern  “You found us.”

 Player  “Oh yes.”

 Guildenstern  “You were looking?” (deliberate)

 Player “Oh no”

 Guildenstern “Chance then” (Luck)

 Player  “Or fate.” (Predestination, fixed destiny idea)

 Guildenstern “Yours or ours?” (subtle irony hinting at the ending of the play)

 Player “It could hardly be one without the other”

 Guildenstern “Fate then”

 Player “Oh yes.  We have no control.”  The Player readily accepts destiny and the unknown future, unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who like to feel that they do have control in their lives.

 In ‘Waiting for Godot’ the subject of chance and probability is also considered: 

 Estragon “I don’t know, there’s an even chance, or nearly.”

 Vladimir “Well, what’ll we do?”

 Estragon “Well, don’t lets do anything, its safer.”
Return to