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“Hm, Kafka…”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead dramaturg Nell Bang-Jensen will take us through Tom Stoppard's breakthrough play. Check back for notes and behind-the-scenes content for the Wilma's upcoming show!

“Hm, Kafka…”


Tom Stoppard is notorious for repeating his own jokes. Lines in his plays will appear in his novels, or other plays, years later. He is the playwriting king of upcycling. This method of collaging is a central feature of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In it, Stoppard mixes Shakespeare’s text, as well as bits of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, with his own words. (Many critics focus on the direct links to Waiting for Godot specifically.) Despite this, Stoppard seems unconcerned about the intertextuality of his work. He believes plays are events to be experienced, not literary documents to be analyzed. As he says, “Playwrights try to move people, to tears or laughter. To sit in the theatre and mutter, ‘Ah Pirandello!’—or ‘Hm, Kafka….’ Would be curious indeed.” Although by their very nature, both the play and the characters in it, are dependent on other narratives, what would happen if we experienced this story on its own? Who would R&G be without Hamlet?

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“The most expendable people of all time.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead dramaturg Nell Bang-Jensen will take us through Tom Stoppard's breakthrough play. Check back for notes and behind-the-scenes content for the Wilma's upcoming show!

“The most expendable people of all time.”

When Tom Stoppard set out to write Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, he was not interested in creating a parody of Hamlet.  For Stoppard, it was the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (R&G) who invited dramatic potential; not their Shakesperean context. As he says: “Something alerted me to the serious reverberations of the characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic."  R&G are so undeniably ordinary that the questions they ask transcend their specific context and point toward larger philosophical ones.  As they try to understand exactly what play they’re in (and how to avoid the fate that the play’s very title determines), larger questions are raised about free will, and our sense of purpose. Are we all merely actors in someone else’s script, and if so, how do we gain control of the story? Would we want to?