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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as an an Absurdist Play

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Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’, a tragicomedy written in the 1960s, is a play that is a continuation of ‘Hamlet’, which expounds the events faced by both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern upon their arrival to England. The play ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ is of absurd theatre, meaning it is of theatrical style that centers the absurdity and haphazardness of human frailty by the means of frequent incoherent, and iterative dialogue, followed by a plot that is often lacking of pragmatic progression accompanied by characters that are often invested in enigmatic incomprehensible situations. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern display this, as they are unable to keep up with their surroundings and sequential events. Furthermore, throughout the play, they continue to be uncertain of the purpose of their presence and their own absolute values, along with making sense of their fate. Because ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ demonstrates occurrences that reject realism, it is perceived as possessing the elements and being a display of an absurdist play.

As seen in traditional theatre, characters possess defined roles of clarity with established desires and motives; however, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters of the absurd theatre, these are not the traits held by them and this is made at the very start of the play. A game of heads and tails is what opened up the play, a game in which Rosencrantz wins, as the coin lands on heads a total of ninety-two times in a row. A circumstance that is most unusual and may seem impossible; however, as there is a fifty fifty percent chance of a coin landing on either heads or tails, the score is of sense to science. This opening illustrates the unfathomable and obscurity of the sense of their environment.

The play’s opening of strange events expounds the absurd manner of its atmosphere. Following the occurrence, a display of the incorporation of wordplay and theory by articulating evidence that displays sense into an unsensible matter further conveys absurdity within the play.

This can be seen when Guildenstern shares his ideology of why the coin landed on heads more than tails, ‘ …time has stopped dead…’, ‘…the probability is that the law of probability will not operate as a factor…’. Both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are often of misunderstanding to each other during their often occurring philosophical arguments throughout the play, as Rosencrantz is perceived to be more simple-minded and naive in comparison to Guildenstern, who is more aware of his social surroundings. Nevertheless, both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern struggle to comprehend the circumstances they are faced with from the very start to the end of the play. This further illustrates elements of the theatre of the absurd, revealing the extent of which ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ are of that theatrical style.

An underlying theme of the play is the futility of life which also plays a crucial factor in the theatre of absurd, as is often allied with existentialism. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern often converse of meaningless topics; however, even when they engage in philosophy concerning the meaning of life their words fall into lost sense. Specific to Rosencrantz is a conversation between him and a player in which they discuss death, ‘ROS: He’s dead then. He’s dead as far as we’re concerned’, ‘PLAYER: Or we are as far as he is.’ Displayed in this conversation is the contrast in Rosencrantz’s perception of death with the player’s. However, their words are of ambiguity and do not deliver a clear message to the audience just as a work of the theatre of absurd would.

‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ is a play that epitomizes the theatre of the absurd, as Stoppard develops the foregone conclusion and plot of the play through placing both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in situations that signify the theme of incomprehensibility. Followed by arguments that are of existentialism, displaying how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are perplexed individuals with insignificant personalities headed on a journey that is arbitrary to them. Because of this, the play does not deliver a story but rather displays a journey through the concept the concept of absurdity, further lacking the plot and delaying the foregone conclusion. The language utilized between characters displays a misuse of time rather than a way of effectively communicating. All of this is displayed through the recurrent themes of a meaningless world and lost faith, of which are two main components of absurdist theatre. 

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Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead As An An Absurdist Play. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from
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