Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”

1974

Later than the other drama on my list, Stoppard’s play is more distinctively postmodern in tone. Its split subject (the two minor characters from Hamlet are, like Vladimir and Estragon of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, almost like 2 halves of the same character) is a central trope of the period. The tone of Stoppard’s play is much lighter, funnier, and metafictive than Beckett’s, though. It is staged across many levels, some excerpts from the original play, some dramatic interludes by players, and some weird surrealist events on a boat, where the two characters die. The plot points become preconditions in this play, since it rewrites Shakespeare (think Jean Rhys!). Rather than a linguistic inability being the focus or end-point, as it is in Beckett, here it is the starting point, as the characters not only misunderstand each other, but even forget amongst themselves who is whom (Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon). 

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