Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Essay Example

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead by Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead by Tom Stoppard
Thesis statement

Comedy and tragedy have features and characteristics that differentiate them. The Author of “ Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”, Tom Stoppard depicts his characters as travellers, called by a messenger in a wilderness that is bland while tossing coins. The author in his story unfolds a number of events surrounding his main characters Rosencrantz and Guildensternand episodes of death of minor characters. It is a continuation from “Hamlet” by Shakespeare unraveling a play involving the two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.According to the book, it is a stage performance involving tragedians who the main characters met in the forest and royal family of Elsinore in Denmark royal castle. Scenes in castle with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern getting entangled in matters of the royal family,Hamlet, his mother Gertrude and Uncle Claudius depict confusing occurrences of events. Characters in the book are normal, performing normal activities that humans are cable of like switching of letters as Hamlet did.

The scene ends with four dead bodies displayed. It is therefore believed that Hamlet, His mother Gertrude, Uncle Claudius and Laertes are dead. Based on the features of the book, characters and plot, this essay establishes whether Tom Stoppard’s book is a comedy, a tragedy or something in between the two.

The episodes

The author displays features of a tragedy in his book by adopting simplicity among his characters. Plot of the play unfolds with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern roving in King Claudius’ courts where they stop and start playing the coin game. These characters are focused on a straight forward way of determining the winner by simple binaries of head or tail. Unlike comedy where there is diversity and classification of experiences is unlikely, this episode clearly has no twists and turns and reveals consistent wins to one party, Rosencrantz while Guildenstern keeps on losing. As the two characters play with the tragedians, they stick to the win or lose rules where the player lost and since the troupe had no money, a play was staged to repay the bet(Hunter, 2000).

Episode in the boat with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern escorting Hamlet to England reveals features of comedy and tragedy too. While the two are undecided and worried concerning the execution letter wrote by Hamlet’s uncle to the emperor of England, Hamlet is quietly sleeping by their side. However, there is a turn of events later on when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fall asleep and Hamlet exchanges the execution letter for another written by himself. The episode can classify this play as a tragedy in that violation of the norm where letter is exchanged for another is what led to the tragedy of the whole Denmark’s royal family being dead (Stoppard, 1967, p. ). The scene depicts low tolerance to rational dissention by the characters and play plot. On the other hand, the episode is also comic where by the unexpected turn of events is displayed in the plot as an opportunity to introduce stage performances of deaths and props that the player and tragedians stage rather than a tragedy and violation of rules.

Ambiguity in the change of scenes in the plot depicts features of a comedy. There is a high tolerance of ambiguity that not only confuses a viewer, but the character themselves too (Berry, 2004). There is a turn of events in the scenes where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are playing coin game with the tragedians in the courts of Claudius Empire but end up within the castle where they are forced to participate in a Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” staged by the player. They become more confused when Claudius asks them to inquire what is disturbing their childhood friend, Hamlet. As the characters act leading to their own deaths and that of Polonius in “Hamlet”, they are not aware that they are also sanctioning their own deaths. This ambiguity brings out the humor in comedy as the plot is not played to make sense out of every episode (Johnston, 1997).

The plot also displays divergent thinking where imagination and playfulness has been depicted. The switch of scenes leaves the viewer imagining what happened between the time Rosencrantz and Guildenstern together with the tragedians were playing in outside courts of Denmark’s castle and how they found themselves in the castle. There is no a clear understanding why they are forced to play roles in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” by both Claudius and Gertrude(Stoppard, 1967, p. 3). The plot of the play points out possible needs for a range of answers yet it also fails to find the answers, depicting that it is not necessary to solve every question. The plot seems to lack an explanation behind the death of Hamlet’s father and subsequent bitterness that Hamlet harbors which leads him to behave strangely.

The plot of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” displays a high tolerance of disorder where episodes keep on switching in a manner that is not orderly. As the scenes are played at random and characters switch from play to play, a number of loose ends are left untied. The characters and plot itselfkeep on improving all through the play.

The characters

Characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” by Tom Stoppard display features of tragedy and comic play at the same time by exhibiting militarism and pacifism respectively. The characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are assigned by Claudius, their emperor to escort Hamlet to England with a letter stating his execution. Despite the fact that these characters are aware of the content in this letter, they are unable to make a decision to handle the matter differently. They are forced to carry the letter as it is and oblige to the instructions. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also display values of good soldiers who are subject to their duty, commitment and honor by going to England and face king even after being compromised by their childhood friend Hamlet(Stoppard, 1967, p. 2).

On the other hand, the author also depicts pacifism in Hamlet who performs murder by killing Polonius(Stoppard, 1967, p. 6). As one in the line of an empire’s royalty, the duty of Hamlet is to protect, however, this is contradicted to bring out aspect of comedy. The author uses this character to question values of a warrior and defender. According to the actions of the character, dignity is not a priority in this case but need to save life of this particular character.

Tragedy is Cleary brought out through a character list that is male dominated. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and Polonius, who Hamlet asks to become a nun are the most mentioned female characters by Tom Stoppard in the play. Most characters including the major one, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are all male. Tom Stoppard also displays an imbalance of sexual representation by assigning most important roles in scenes including the climax where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern read Claudius’ letter to male characters(Stoppard, 1967, p. 4).

Staging of the characters in the whole play has portrayed characters in the comic nature and also displayed tragedy. Hierarchy is evidence which presents aspects of a tragedy kind of play while equality is also reflected in the same. Tom Stoppard uses the royal family in Denmark and mentions the England emperor as ranking in societal class. Although Hamlet was a childhood friend to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, dead Tom Stoppard displays him as royalty living in the castle at a different ranking and even welcomes his friends when they visit compared to his peers who the play starts as they stroll in the courts of the castle. This scenes show a comparison of lifestyle and hierarchy in the society (Berry, 2004).

Hamlet, his mother Gertrude and Uncle Claudius belong to the upper class also referred to as royalty in the play. Tom Stoppard uses the same characters to bring out comic features by creating equality among both classes. As characters are invited to stage the play “Hamlet” and “The murder of Gonzago” there is an interaction of both classes alike(Stoppard, 1967, p.16 ). At the scene where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves in Elsinore castle, they are forced to play roles in “Hamlet” by the verse spoken by Gertrude, Claudius and other characters in the Court alike. The author displays a scene of equal interaction between both societal classes. The friendship between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet is another illustration of this interaction that Hamlet was not isolated but also had friends. The lower classes in this case are displayed as the cask of the puns but also feat unexpectedly (Hunter, 2000).


From the discussion, it is evidence that the book “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” by Tom Stoppard embraces both aspects of Tragedy and comedy. The tragicomedy uses its character, plot and episodes to bring out all these features that attract viewers and readers to it. The author, Tom Stoppard, has effectively balanced the two genres while casting a somewhat comparison between the two. The story involves scenes from other plays like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “The murder of Gonzago” that are staged by characters of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”yet embraces the whole aspect of comedy and tragedy. The climax of Tom Stoppard’s work is at the scene where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern read a letter written by Claudius that is carried by Guildenstern stating execution of his own nephew in England. However, this letter creates a turn in the whole plot of the play.

List of References

Stoppard, T., 1967, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Gale Cengage. Retrieved from:

Retrieved from:

Hunter, J., 2000, Tom Stoppard:Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, Jumpers, Travesties, Arcardia. Macmillan.

Johnston, I., 1997, Lecture on Stoppard, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”. Johnstonia

Berry, M., 2004.»Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead». Michael Berry’s Web Pages.Retrieved 23 June 2008.
Ziegler, G., 2008, «Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: Themes, Motifs & Symbols». SparkNotes.Retrieved 2008-06-23.