Brief Biography of Tom Stoppard
Born Tomas Straussler to Jewish parents in a Czech town, Stoppard's family evacuated before the German occupation and lived in South Asia where Stoppard's father was killed when Stoppard was four. At an American school in India, 'Tomas' became 'Tom.' His mother remarried an Englishman (surnamed 'Stoppard') and moved the family to England. At seventeen, Stoppard became a journalist, never attending university. Stoppard started out writing radio plays but his turn to stage plays earned him immediate success. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead vaulted Stoppard to fame in 1967 and won a Tony Award. Stoppard continued to write acclaimed plays for stage and radio and was in 2013 awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for "determination to tell things as they are."
Historical Context of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
A mid-nineteenth century theater movement largely centered in Europe, the Theater of the Absurd invented a new dramatic style designed to express belief in life's ultimate meaninglessness, absurdity, and incomprehensibility and to expose the futility of human rationality. Plays in this movement conveyed these beliefs by incorporating uncomfortable silences, parodying realism, making characters perform meaningless and repetitive actions, mixing comedy and tragedy, avoiding scenes of resolution or enlightenment, and writing dialogue whose copious wordplay and nonsense suggested the meaninglessness of language itself and its insufficiency as a means of communication. Playwrights of the Absurd included Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard.
Other Books Related to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Aside from Hamlet,
Stoppard's play is also influenced by another major drama: Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett. First performed in 1952, Beckett's play fundamentally changed theater by abandoning traditional ideas of character and plot and by commenting on techniques of play-acting within the play itself. Stoppard's play makes use of many of these dramatic innovations while also referencing Waiting for Godot
more explicitly: like Beckett's, Stoppard's play is built around two men waiting around on stage for action that seems never to come.
Key Facts about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Full Title: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
When Written: 1964
Where Written: England
When Published: 1967
Literary Period: Theater of the Absurd
Setting: nowhere; the royal court in Denmark; a ship to England
Climax: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern read Claudius' letter and discover that it orders Hamlet executed.
Antagonist: The Player
Extra Credit for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead