The following is a short essay written for an English class.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
is a play
in the genre of the Theater of the Absurd
, and, as such, one of its major concerns is with the issue of free will
. In this play, Stoppard
makes it clear that Rosencrantz
have little to no free will at all. Firstly, the fact that their lives are predetermined
is obvious even from the title and the choice of character
s. The characters of the play are by no means random choices; by choosing the familiar backdrop of Hamlet
as the story, Stoppard is saying that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s lives are already known in advance, since the play has already been written
and it is known that they will die
at the end of it. Thus, they have no free will – try as they might, they will never be able to escape their already prewritten destiny
. Not only is this fact visible in the actions of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, it’s also obvious in their manner of speech
. When they are alone, they have some measure of free speech and they can attempt to discuss what is happening to them. This is best visible in Act 3, when Rosencrantz yells out "Fire
!"(60) However, whenever any of the main characters from Hamlet
enter the stage
, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern revert to their lines from the play, and seem to be puppet
s controlled by some unknown force
; they are powerless to change what they are saying.
Just like their speech, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have some control over their actions in the play as well; however, this control amounts to very little and is of no effect on the actual plot of the play. In the beginning of the play, they are free to toss coins, talk to the players, and discuss their purpose and direction. But they cannot decide on, and much less choose, a direction to go or something to do that would actually advance the action; they have to rely on Claudius and his entourage to burst through and give them a mission before they do anything. Even afterwards, though they want to find Hamlet like Claudius has asked them to, they do not take any action themselves and instead find an excuse for staying put and waiting for the action to happen by itself:
Ros: We could go.
Ros: After him.
Guil: Why? They’ve got us placed now – if we start moving around, we’ll be chasing each other all night. (41)
Again, they sit around and pass their time with idle chatter, until Hamlet comes and talks to them at the end of Act I. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s inability to take action is seen as well in Act II, when Rosencrantz decides to speak to Hamlet (p. 74-75). Though he comes next to him, his nerve fails and at the last minute he backs away. This is also a demonstration of the fact that the story has already been written; since Rosencrantz never spoke to Hamlet in that scene of Hamlet, he does not speak to him here. In p.86-88, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s lack of free choice is showcased even more when they attempt to go find Hamlet as per Claudius’s request. Whenever they take more than a few steps in any direction, they decide it’s the wrong one and turn around, until, eventually they settle down and decide to let Hamlet come to them. They are throwing themselves to their fate and surrendering control of their lives. In Act 3, R & G’s lack of free will is emphasized even more through the symbolism of the boat. Though they are free to act on it, no matter what they do, their ultimate destiny will not change, since the boat will inexorably carry them on to England. This is why they can read the letter sentencing them to death on the boat – there is nothing in Hamlet that says they didn’t – but cannot throw it away and change their destiny. In an absurdist universe, free will does not exist, and this is why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have none.
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