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Examining Ian Johnson’s Perspective on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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Welcome to the next edition of ‘thoughts on Ian Johnston’s thoughts’ and this time the focus is not on “Hamlet” but the Hamlet spin off created by Tom Stoppard known as “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” From the remarks Ian Johnston made on the play “Hamlet” as a whole with such unusual but elaborate opinions, one can only assume that this insight will also be a complicated yet slightly fascinating experience as well. In the world of Ian Johnston, his inquires might as well be plain facts and any other claim than the ones he presents would be absurd.

On the topic of absurdity, that is the general focus of redistribute play to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Theater of the Absurd as it is known as, is a theatrical structure that operates on a “anything goes” basis. This is characterized With being tested by mainly modern playwrights who center their plots around dramatic worlds where the smaller conflicts seem to acquire more attention than the larger ones, which means that most of the time, the actions and words within that context do not follow a logical format.

This type of performance is not necessarily meant to be analyzed and understood, but more or less enjoyed by those who want an expanded imagination when it comes to interpreting life. The protagonist displayed in theater of the Absurd are placed in a world that they are not supposed to be able to rationalize and neither is the audience expected to either. Their world all in all, contains no fixed priorities and the anxious characters require constant reassurance.

The title stems from the very last act and scene of the “Hamlet” in which the messenger comes into the aftermath of this deadly altercation and says “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.” During the actual play, they only appear very few times as minor characters involved in a much larger scheme. Those few times were when the king sent for them and when they came back to the king to deliver a message, as well as when they were alone with Hamlet trying to get information out of him. In the story of Hamlet, they were given very limited personalities that were seemingly identical, however, in their play, their separate and similar characteristics are more distinguishable.

Ian connects this revelation of who Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could represent through an ideal known as the Prufrock Connection which to him explains where all the humor comes from. The technique calls attention to romantic irony which translates to the repetitious switch in motivation and energy between the characters as they very often tend to have a strong focus on something then become easily distracted.

For example, Rosencrantz would gather himself to say something but before that moment has passed, Guildenstern would have moved on causing Rosencrantz to lose his train of thought. The two protagonist do not really seem to have any heroic aspirations, they just simply want to survive. They, according to Johnston, are fully aware of their own inadequacies and have to come to accept them because they lack the resources to be able to do anything different. In a basic sense, they do not want to know what the problem is because then they might be inclined to try and come up with a solution.

There is a clear comradeship between them, Johnston also notes; to the point where it reaches high levels of affection that one might associate with their kin or even significant other. It especially apparent within the absurdity of their situation that they do at least have something of value in their lives. Stoppard above all labels their pairing as a duo who ‘retreat with style from chaos’ while Johnston is very persistent about there being a deeper and more relevant meaning behind their relationship and that Stoppard seems to be undermining his own genius.

To conclude, it seems that there is no right or wrong way to interpret this play because the purpose of it was to be the interpretation of another work so the objective of constructing it might of been to just establish another point of view that explains the classic narrative in abstract terms.

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Examining Ian Johnson’s Perspective on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2023, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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