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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In: English and Literature

Submitted By anamika3
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In what ways does Stoppard make it clear to an audience that the world of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead is absurd?
Stoppard’s play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” is a form of absurdist theatre where the otherwise unacceptable, unbelievable happenings of the universe are taken in by the audience and absorbed as part of the play. The main absurd component of the play revolves around the idea of existentialism where the central characters are completely unaware of their past or why they exist. They are surrounded by absurd events, which they are unable to understand or explain.
This is one of the signs that the world of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is absurd as they are set ‘in a place without any character’. This opening introduces the audience to the absurd with a meaningless world of no obvious setting or environment as ‘(Guildenstern’s) attention (is) being directed at his environment or lack of it’. This also emphasises not only a lack of background to their location but also their own background. The pair of them have no memory of where they come from nor what they were doing but dwelling on their “unremembered past” – until they recall that they were summoned, giving them a purpose and direction to their life.
There are several events in the play that emphasise how absurd this play is, such as the coin tossing incident with “eighty-five in a row” of consecutive ‘heads’, which under natural forces is completely impossible, but in their absurd world anything is possible, even the sudden change to ‘tails’ just as the scene shifts as they enter Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’. Rosencrantz’s claim that “the toenails, on the other hand, never grow at all” also shows this absurdness as in the natural world we know that isn’t true but in their world, anything the author has scripted is possible.
There is also naturally a lack of natural forces at play in this world, allowing a warping in the laws of chance and time. As Guildenstern states, “probability is a factor which operates within natural forces”, as they aren’t within those forces, they are subject to what the author scripts, not what should happen in the natural world. They are in a place where “time has stopped dead” as they have no memory of their past nor do they know how long they have been there as they have been “spinning coins as long as (they) remember”.
One of the most absurd parts of the play is that they aren’t real and they acknowledge that to some extent as the player states “that comes under realism”, showing that they know that they aren’t real, especially the player, whose character is one of pretending and not being real. The characters of the play aren’t real until the author “woke (them) up” and realised them as having a purpose to their life, which can be seen through Guildenstern’s character who questions his surroundings while Rosencrantz is happy to accept what he is given. Only when they realise their purpose are they given some form of background and knowledge of who they are. The fact that they “have no control” shows that they are “within un-, sub- or supernatural forces” and anything can happen to them though Stoppard makes the audience feel that this shouldn’t cause any worry in the way Rosencrantz is perfectly happy to accept what is going on without any worry or doubt in mind and lets events unroll as they present themselves.
Overall, Stoppard makes it very clear on the outset that the setting of this play is in a very absurd world where almost anything and everything can happen, from ninety consecutive heads on tossing a coin to the central characters not even knowing where they come from, showing existentialism where the occurrence of man being here is due to randomness and chance, not any superior forces with a purpose. This is evident in the central characters right from the start as they aren’t controlled by anything and are left to their natural resources to try and discover why they are where they are.

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