Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

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Synopsis

Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eve view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

Tom Stoppard was catapulted into the front ranks of modem playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened in London in 1967. Its subsequent run in New York brought it the same enthusiastic acclaim, and the play has since been performed numerous times in the major theatrical centers of the world. It has won top honors for play and playwright in a poll of London Theater critics, and in its printed form it was chosen one of the “Notable Books of 1967” by the American Library Association.
 

About Tom Stoppard

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When the National Theatre needed a last-minute substitute for a canceled production of As You Like It, Kenneth Tynan decided to stage Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a work by an unfamiliar author that had received discouraging notices from provincial critics at its Edinburgh Festival debut. Of course, the play, when it opened in April 1967, met with universal acclaim. In New York the next year, it was chosen best play by the Drama Critics Circle. In such an unlikely way, Tom Stoppard came to light. Born in Czechoslovakia, a country he left (for Singapore) when he was an infant, he began his literary career as a journalist in Bristol, where play reviewing led to playwriting. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Stoppard's reputation suffered through the production of a number of minor works, whose intellectual preoccupations were shrugged off by reviewers: Enter a Free Man (1968; "an adolescent twinge of a play," N.Y. Times), The Real Inspector Hound (1968; "lightweight," N.Y. Times), and After Magritte. But in the 1970s, the initial enthusiasms aroused by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were more than vindicated by the production of two full-length plays, Jumpers (1974) and the antiwar play Travesties (1975), whose immense verbal and theatrical inventiveness made them absolute successes on both sides of the Atlantic. Stoppard's method from the start has been to contrive explanations for highly unlikely encounters---of objects (the ironing board, old lady, and bowler hat of After Magritte), characters (Joyce, Lenin, and Tzara in Travesties), and even plays (Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, The Importance of Being Earnest, Travesties, and The Real Thing, 1982). In the 1970s, Tynan called for Stoppard---as a Czech and as an artist---to engage himself politically. But although political subjects have since found their way into pieces from Every Good Boy Deserves Favor (1977) to Squaring the Circle (1985), politics and art seem to have become just two more of the playwright's irreconcilables, which meet, but never join, in the logical frames of his comedy. The presence of political material---such as the Lenin sections that nearly ruin the second part of Travesties---has occasionally strained the structure of the plays. But in The Real Thing Stoppard is comfortable enough with the satire on art and activism to bring a third subject, love, into the mix. Stoppard has acknowledged his Eastern European heritage nonpolitically, in a series of adaptations of plays by Arthur Schnitzler (see Vol. 2), Johann Nestroy, and Ferenc Molnar.
 
Published December 1, 2007 by Grove Press. 132 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Humor & Entertainment, Education & Reference, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The Guardian

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Trevor Nunn's fine production of Tom Stoppard's 1966 play begins with a striking image: the two heroes seen against the stark background of a leafless tree.

Jun 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

BC Books

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In a poignant moment at the beginning of the play, the portraits are taken down from their places on the walls, and the minor characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern become the major characters, mirroring our own existential anxieties in their comic squabbles.

Nov 04 2009 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

BC Books

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There should be a rule, unwritten perhaps, but written would be nice too, that wherever Hamlet is played, there shall be a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead nearby.

Nov 04 2009 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

The Telegraph

This once exhilarating firecracker of old has been diminished by the years and now seems wearingly clever-clever.

Jun 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

London Evening Standard

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Jun 22 2011 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

Rolling Stone

In making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – two minor characters in Hamlet – the center of a play about the tricks of fate, Stoppard mixed the poetic melodrama of Shakespeare with the doom-laden minimalism of Samuel Beckett and topped it with the slapstick of the Marx Brothers.

Feb 08 1991 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

Creative Loafing Tampa

He's Stoppard's constant reminder that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is just a play, that even the most successful theatrical experience can't prepare us for our lives and deaths.

Apr 09 2008 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

Gambit

Tom Stoppard wasn’t aiming for subtlety with the title Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and much about his play is heavy handed.

Jul 05 2012 | Read Full Review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

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