Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" gains depth through its sustained allusion to Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

Essay by BOSCO2000High School, 12th grade January 2003

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In Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead many allusions are made to Shakespeare's Hamlet, adding depth to the play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Ros and Guil) would not exist without Hamlet and only come to life when that play begins. From the start of Stoppard's play the only sense of time is provided by its references to Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a backstage look at Hamlet.

Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the backstage view of two minor characters in Hamlet that only exist because Shakespeare created them. Ros and Guil would not come to live were it not for the text of Hamlet. Held in a state of suspended time, Ros and Guil are not freed until the play of Hamlet begins. This point is made apparent in Act 1 where Ros and Guil's coins lands on tails after ninety consecutive times of coming up heads.

Landing on tails signifies the beginning of the play Hamlet and the emergence of Ros and Guil. When this happens the King and Queen join them in the first scene instructing Ros and Guil of their purpose, giving them a task and allowing them to come to life. Left alone again, Ros and Guil quickly lose focus and play meaningless games with each other. The play Hamlet allows Ros and Guil to live, breathe, and function making it pivotal to Stoppard's work.

In the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead the only sense of time controlled and provided through allusions to Hamlet. When Ros and Guil are backstage to Hamlet they are unaware of time passing and play games to try to figure out the time. With Hamlet controlling time, the play also controls the fate of Ros and Guil. Throughout the play of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...