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Who Are You, What Are You Doing, And Where Are You Going?

1044 words - 5 pages

William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is one of the most influential texts in western thought. Tom Stoppard took advantage of how widely known the play was and wrote his own play entitled, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, as a ploy off of the final lines of the play Hamlet. Stoppard’s play is “a play within a play” to some extent; he took two of Shakespeare’s flat characters and gave them life. The play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead follows the story of Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in their journey through the play Hamlet. Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, displays many themes or messages, three of which being identity, motivation, and death.
Identity becomes a major theme in this play and can be drawn from the very first lines of Hamlet itself, “Who’s there?” During the play Hamlet and R&G Are Dead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are continually mixed up, leaving the audience guessing who is who. Stoppard uses this to make us question our own identity, making us ask “What makes one themselves?” Is it their face? Or maybe their name? These two factors are what distinguish us from others around us and have since birth. But does one consider their identity to be what they look like or the name that they respond to? Some tend to think that the clothes they wear or the money in their bank account defines them as who they are. A different approach to thinking about one’s identity is to think about their DNA and history. However, can one be defined by someone who lived before them? Is who they are automatically who you are? The answer to the question “who are you” becomes more difficult the farther you look into it. If one only had a single thing to explain to another who they were, what would they choose?
Along with the question of identity, Stoppard brings to question our motivations for our actions. In the play Hamlet, Hamlet says “Conscience makes cowards of us all,” referencing how our own thoughts seem to sway us on the things we do. One doesn’t often question why they do what they do, but why does one make the decisions they do? In the play R&G Are Dead, they say repeatedly, “we were sent for…” meaning that they traveled because it was expected of them. On a daily basis, how many decisions does one make that are really a complete choice for themselves? And are those decisions significant? It seems that in daily life, all the decisions that are important are made for us by others. Along with this question, one is inclined to ask, “Will I ever be really free?” When R&G are on the boat to England, it is said, “Maybe I’ll just jump off the boat, that’ll put a spoke in their wheel. Unless they want me to jump off the boat…I’ll stay on the boat.” This line is an...

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