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Comparing Shakespeare's Hamlet And Stoppard's Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

1086 words - 5 pages

Hamlet is undoubtedly one of the most well-studied and remembered tragedies in all of history. Renowned for its compelling soliloquies and thought-provoking discussions about life, death, and love, the play takes a very serious look at the topics it presents. Based on this famous work is another tragedy, known as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In this work, which is interwoven with the original, the namesake characters bumble about in the immense world, over which they have no control. Without a sense of identity or purpose, the two merely drift to and fro at the whim of the larger forces around them; namely Hamlet, who eventually leads them to death. The twin plays follow the same story and end with the same result – nine deaths. The difference between the two is how the audience is led to this catastrophic finale. Hamlet is well known for its stern, sober view of death, in which the protagonist views death as a release from the calamity of life. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the duo considers life to be the ultimate goodness, and thus death must be the ultimate evil. This existential play serves to look at the issues presented in Hamlet from another vantage point, and parodies the original to give the audience another perspective on death.
Prince Hamlet has a very distinct view on his existence in the tragedy bearing his name. "O, that this too solid flesh would melt / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” he says at one point, wishing to leave his Earthly existence behind him. Life has not been good to Hamlet. His father is dead, replaced by the man who murdered him. His mother unknowingly married this murderer, and proceeds to further complicate things for the young prince. Consumed by his rage against his father’s killer, Claudius, Hamlet is nearly driven to insanity while contemplating his options for revenge. He makes his thoughts of death public when he tells the man, "You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will willingly part withal: except my life,” after Claudius states that he will take his leave of Hamlet. This is a slap in the face to Claudius, as Hamlet essentially told him that he would rather be dead than in Claudius’ company. Not only this, but Hamlet makes it clear that he would willingly give up his life at that point. This reinforces the idea that the Prince considers death a release; the solution to all of his troubles. At this point, it is clear to the audience that Hamlet regards death in a positive, almost welcoming manner. In his eyes, it will restore the natural order of things to their predetermined equilibrium. One of the most famous lines of the play, and probably in all of English literature, is from Hamlet’s third soliloquy. "To be, or not to be: that is the question,” Hamlet asks himself, before launching into a full-blown internal clash over life and death. He considers suicide; it would offer him release from everything wrong in his life. However, he is finally scared of death. He doesn’t know...

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