Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

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."
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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
  • Genre: Tragicomedy
  • 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

Even More Shakespeare. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead evolved out of Stoppard's earlier one-act play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, which Stoppard wrote in a Berlin mansion in 1964.

Acclaimed in Any Medium. In 1990, Stoppard adapted Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead into a screenplay that he directed himself. The movie won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival that year.