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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
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139 of 149 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
R&G Are Dead has much to recommend it. It is the story of two of the bit players from Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. If you haven't read or seen Hamlet, the book will probably not be of much interest, but, in a nutshell, R&G are Hamlet's school chums who are called to Denmark by Hamlet's uncle, the King of Denmark, given the task of cheering him up and, when this fails, and the King realizes that Hamlet is a threat to his life, are given the task of sending Hamlet to his death. Hamlet turns the tables on this plot and has R&G killed instead.
R&G, although bit players, are actually in a surprising number of scenes (most of which are cut out from stage and film productions of Hamlet) and this play, interweaving these scenes with others, produces a rich picture of these two characters, entirely missing from Shakespeare's epic play.
The most obviously interesting part of this work is its attempt to explain why these characters die. When you learn at the end of Hamlet that R&G have died, you are left with a nagging sensation that something is wrong. This play fleshes this out. All of Shakespeare's tragedies are, by definition, bloody (as the Players in this work make evidently clear) but R&G's deaths are not demanded by the plot or by the passions of any of the characters.
We do not dwell on R&G's deaths in Hamlet because more important and tragic events consume us. This book makes us focus on the gratuitousness of R&G's deaths. In addition, it makes their deaths as tragic as those of the main characters in Hamlet by putting them the center of the story. Of course, we do not get any real answers as to why these characters die. Other than by changing the story of Hamlet, there can be no answer to this question. However, simply dwelling for a longer time on these characters' fate at least gives their deaths importance, if not meaning.
On another level, this book deals with themes of fate and luck. R&G have been swept up in events beyond their understanding and/or control. This book takes a philosophical approach to these issues (and definitely is reminiscent of Waiting For Godot). Since we can all identify with this to some extent, R&G's deaths become compelling and as tragic as Hamlet's death.
Finally, much of this work is comedic. R&G do provide comic relief at various points in Hamlet, so this play does well to play up the comedic aspects of their lives. Even if you have no interest in the deeper meanings of this work, you will enjoy it for the comedy.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
A previous reviewer condemned this book as being derivative, poorly written, and -- most scandalous of all -- unfunny. This play, however, takes a certain kind of outlook to enjoy. It would be nice if everyone could get the same benefits from the play as everyone else. That's not going to happen, however. One thing we CAN depend on is that the point remains the same. This is the only existentialist play apart from _Waiting For Godot_ that even has pretensions of wit. Since it's a known fact that people learn more when they're laughing, it makes it easier to convey the play's inner message of whether we are free as individuals, whether we are capable of making our own decisions apart from our society, and whether that freedom even matters once a decision has been made by (for?) us. Worth reading, but not everyone will be equally entertained.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
In this play Tom Stoppard has pulled two minor characters from Hamlet and given us a glimpse of what may lay behind the mundane exteriors of everyday life and more importantly the limits of possibility of meaning contained in the world of literature. What is important about this is that Stoppard is showing us that the lives of common people and minor characters can also make for some great literature too.

Philosophically, I would tend to say that this play is securely grounded in the genre that has been called the Theater of the Absurd, which in turn owes much to the thinking of Albert Camus. Having said this, I have to say that this play has some definite similarities with the works of Beckett, especially Godot, but also that of Harold Pinter's, "The Birthday Party", especially in terms of dialogue, plot direction, and character development. So if you like the work of these playwrights you would certainly enjoy this, which would also be of great interest to Shakespeare students/fans as well as anyone interested in the ideas of existentialist thought.

Despite these similarities R&G and at the same time because of them, this work seems at times to be conscious of breaking new ground and testing the limits of absurdity and interaction with the audience. The symbolism, for example, seems to be much more important to the action and meaning of this play than it is in other works of this genre. Whereas, Godot seems to stress the repetitiveness of dialogue, R&G is suggestive of just the opposite--the seemingly endless play of meaning implicit in each uttered word. This comes out through the characters lack of confidence in what they struggle to say, and the way that their views seem to change with each situation, which illustrates the uncertainty of meaning and life. Although many of the plays of this period seem to be focused on the nature of existence and its meaning to humanity, the discursive ways through which it is approached and interpreted make them all vastly unique, puzzling and vastly entertaining reads.
The thing that is, perhaps, most original in R&G's creation, is the way that Stoppard utilizes the thought of Artaud and his idea of the Theater of Cruelty, to at times completely breakdown the barriers between the audience and the actors. It follows then, that if one wants to get the full effect of this play it has to be seen live. But, then again how many people get that chance, thus, this book is the second best thing. I would only suggest paying very close attention to the stage directions, set and scenery, as they are much more important in this play than they are in others.
Finally, simply read R&G for the fun of it, you certainly will not be disappointed. In this play Stoppard has gone along way in breaking down the barriers between the writer and the average reader. With originality, humor, and an important theme, Stoppard has achieved his goal beautifully, giving us all a realistic glimpse into the complex drama of human life, literature and the mystery of existence.
Also check out the movie version with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfus, which is faithful to the production and a joy to watch.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unnecessary characters. Everything they do in the play could have been done by already existing characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not individual characters in this play. There is no Rosencrantz; there is no Guildenstern. There is only Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Shakespeare put them in to resemble the outside world, not to establish actual characters to add to the depth of the play. Tom Stoppard wrote "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" in order to give the duo their own separate personalities. He, just as Shakespeare did, has them resemble our own world. R&G are modern men in a very modern play. Stoppard contradicts Shakespeare by justifying Hamlet's death just as Shakespeare had Hamlet justify R&G's deaths, "He is a man, he is mortal, death comes to us all, etcetera, and consequently he would have died anyway, sooner or later . . . he's just one man among many" (Stoppard 110). Shakespeare uses the same words only to justify the murderous actions of Hamlet, "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!" (3.4.32). Through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Stoppard tells of the reality of death how "death is . . . not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being" (Stoppard 108). Whereas Shakespeare creates a fantasy about death, as Hamlet says, "To die, to sleep-to sleep, perchance to dream" (6.3.64-65). In direct opposition with Hamlet's "to be or not to be", Stoppard writes, "Rosencrantz: Where's it going to end? Guildenstern: That's the question" (Stoppard 44). The beauty in this writing is found in its existentialistic views, whether or not Stoppard intended his play to portray life in that manner. If you enjoy "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", you will love "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett. ~ anthea
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
I've always thought you had to be in a very peculiar mood to truly enjoy and appreciate Waiting for Godot. It's such a fine balance between tragedy and comedy, it's easy to sway one way or the other, either laughing at them and not caring about them or caring about them too much to laugh at them.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead is the same type of play, but much easier on the reader. There are truly funny, funny scenes in this play, many of them, scenes worthy of Abbott & Costello. Perhaps as a result, it is easier to care about the characters, even as you're laughing at their haplessness, and to echo their philosophic cries into the darkness.
So I think this play outdoes the play it copies. I would rather watch it, or read it, anyway.
A word about the Shakespeare -- sure, it adds to the play to know something about Hamlet, but it's probably not necessary. And I don't really think this "logically follows" after Hamlet, like some kind of sequel. They are very, very different plays. The jumping off point is simply that in Hamlet, "R & G" die deaths that don't really make any sense -- and no one really cares. Perfect philosopical place to start an absurdist play.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm not even going to pretend to be a pseudo-intellectual here. I'm no grad student, just a dumb kid with a taste for literature. That said, this play is incredible. Stoppard's poetic voice is comperable to Shakespeare's in "Hamlet"; the association ends there. Unlike the unfortunate Prince of Denmark, "R&G" exist in a surrealistic world also found in works such as Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five", Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude", and J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", all must-reads as well. Lines such as "The colours red, blue, and green are real. The colour yellow is a mystical experience shared by everyone," carry such force they nearly upstage the play's deeper meanings. Every time I read this play (and that's been about fifteen times) a different thought or ideal of Stoppard's hits me and yet the underlying tone and meaning remain the same: We are all on a boat sailing for England without the necessary papers to present the king.
If you read this play for a class, read it again. If you missed the trees for the forrest the first time, read it again. If you enjoyed this play immensely and reccomended it to all your friends, read it again. It's just keeps coming up heads.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
From the uncomparable genius of Tom Stoppard comes a quotable masterpiece about two friends lost in someone else's story. While the rest of Shakespeare's characters remain true to their original script, Ros and Guil step out of the box to explore a variety of topics ranging from the metaphysical to the downright comical. As the title suggests, the story is, ultimately, a tradegy -- but as the reader gets to know the two stars, it becomes a tragedy on multiple levels. One feels that their deaths are preordained, and even the moments of sidesplitting hilarity are laced with the bittersweet knowledge that it WILL end. The story is made still more touching as the characters' early realization of their fate battles with their unquenchable hope. Stoppard has captured in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sense of innocence that endures despite the chaos around them in a world where it seems even the laws of physics have suddenly ceased to apply. A perfect mixture of comedy and tragedy with a philosophical overtone attainable only by Stoppard, this is a play you will want to read, re-read, and act out with your friends in daily conversations.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Seeing the recent trend in philosophical reflection towards litterary theory, nothing tops Stoppard's witty examination of the nature of narrative and characterization through a parody of not only "Hamlet", but philosophy and litterary theory itself. Gloriously executed!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful play, but the Grove edition sucks, just reproducing the original text. But the Samuel French edition (http://www.amazon.com/Rosencrantz-Guildenstern-Favorite-Broadway-dramas/) includes the original PLUS an author intro and additions to the text from staged productions. It's cheaper too (not that a few dollars is the issue).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a hilarious second take on the action in Shakespeare's Hamlet, from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the two unsavory nobles who think they are escorting Hamlet to his death via a distant king.

In this play, the two titular characters are fleshed out to be absurdly, and comically, inept in some ways, and very human and sympathetic in others. They play at deep thought, and this play is meant to lead the audience into musings that aren't necessarily articulated on the stage.

The humor is very off the wall, reminiscent of both Waiting for Godot, to which its often compared, and certain parts of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy.

The showdown between logic and the absurd is always, thankfully, entertaining, and this is as much fun to read as it is to see on stage. In fact, it might be a better read than it is a play, as the slow, thoughtful pace may give some audiences too much time for checking their watches.
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