On 2 November 2013, the National Theatre in London celebrated its 50th anniversary with an amazing event, showing scenes of the most important plays performed at the NT since 1963 (a summary of the great evening you can read here). Benedict Cumberbatch took also part in the festivities and played together with Kobna Hold Brook-Smith an excerpt from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”.
The play was written in 1966 by British playwright Tom Stoppard and was first performed in 1967 at the National Theatre. Stoppard, born in 1937 in the former Czechoslovakia, is one of Britain’s most important contemporary playwrights. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead was Stoppard’s major breakthrough, which was followed by numerous other plays and works.
In 1990 he made his successful play of the two Hamlet figures into a film, and in 1998 Stoppard was the screenwriter of the award-winning film Shakespeare in Love.
What is it about
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are originally two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the two ill-fated school friends of the Prince of Denmark, who have been set on Hamlet by Claudius and Gertrude.
In Stoppard’s play they are the two main characters who retell the tragic fate of Shakespeare’s original from their perspective. They are clearly overwhelmed with the assessment of the operations, neither understand Hamlet’s behavior nor the meaning of their own destiny.
Bizarre and with a lot of humor the two friends remind us of the protagonists of “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, waiting for their friend Hamlet, who doesn’t seem to arrive. And while waiting, they play question-and-answer-games, talk, argue and quarrel, think (within their own world), they are sad, happy, adorable and cunning. But where does this strange journey end? Are they really dead at the end as announced in the tragedy?
“The sight is dismal;
And our affairs from England come too late:
The ears are senseless that should give us hearing,
To tell him his commandment is fulfill’d,
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead:
Where should we have our thanks?”
(Hamlet, Akt 5,Szene 2)
Here is the short scene from the play:
The play is available on Amazon.
Image Credit: BBC