Get help from the best in academic writing.

The Stagecraft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

The Stagecraft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

“…a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more…”

This quote from Macbeth is a perfect summary of the plot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The dramatisation of the lives of these two unremarkable and virtually extraneous characters from Hamlet is an unlikely foundation for “one of the most…engaging of post-war plays” (Daily Telegraph). However, as with Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” the originality of Stoppard’s concept is not enough in itself to create a masterpiece and it is the brilliance of the stagecraft and writing that establishes this play as a classic.

The presentation of these two characters is an important feature of the stagecraft. Neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern ever leave the stage during the play until their deaths. They are the central focus which directly contrasts with their relative unimportance in Hamlet. The visual effect of their being dressed in Elizabethan clothing is cleverly juxtaposed with their contemporary style of speech. It is comic that their identities seem to be interchangeable; Guildenstern himself investigates this point in Act II,
Guil: Rosencrantz…
Ros: (absently) What?
Pause, short.
Guil: Guildenstern…
Ros: (irritated by the repetition) What?
Guil: Don’t you discriminate at all?
While the other characters such as Gertrude and Hamlet seem to be unsure who takes which name, the fact that they themselves are similarly confused augments this humorous idea.

How they act and what they do are both important factors in establishing their personalities and Stoppard includes comprehensive stage directions in the script.
In Act II there a…

… middle of paper …

…ey are merely actors.

At one point in Act I, Rosencrantz stands at the edge of the stage looking at the audience and remarks that the idea of being a spectator could only be made bearable by the “irrational belief that somebody interesting will come on in a minute”. In Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dull characters. Whatever wit they may possess pales beside Hamlet’s intelligence, they are unable to adequately spy for Claudius and their contribution to the plot is two extra corpses and a few laughs at their expense. However in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard has managed to make these characters interesting. The addition of the more three-dimensional character of the Player, several inventive uses of staging and the imaginative links with Hamlet itself establishes an original masterpiece of a play around two minor Shakespearean characters.

The Symbol of the Heart in The Floating Opera

The Symbol of the Heart in The Floating Opera

The heart is the dominant symbol in The Floating Opera, more important even than the symbol of the showboat of the novel’s title. From beginning to end the book is richly populated by references to the heart on both a literal, physical level, and a figurative, symbolic one. In the first case, literal references are made to Todd’s heart condition. In the second case, the heart plays two symbolic roles; not only does it serve as a symbol of Todd’s emotional and non-rational side, but the frailty of Todd’s heart serves as a correlative for the fragility of all human life. This paper will examine several examples from The Floating Opera that demonstrate this multi-levelled usage of the heart.

Hearts make an early appearance in the text, in the very first chapter, when Todd describes his heart condition; a “kind of subacute bacteriological endocarditis”1. This condition predisposes Todd towards myocardial infarction (heart attack), and consequently Todd writes, “What that means is that any day I may fall quickly dead, without warning – perhaps before I complete this sentence, perhaps twenty years from now.”2 Although this may seem to be a purely literal device, Barth is using Todd’s heightened awareness of the delicateness of his own life as an exaggerated symbol for the vulnerability of all human life.

This early focus upon the heart continues due to the centrality in the novel’s plot of Todd’s decision to kill himself, and his subsequent “change of mind”. At the core of this decision to suicide is Todd’s realisation that his life has been governed by his heart (his emotions), despite his best efforts to live by will, reason and intellect:

“My heart was the master…

… middle of paper …

…when Froebel had Parnassus in his pan?”8

This quotation is demonstrative of both the inability of reason to overcome emotions – the very problem which Todd has grappled with for much of his life, and which lies centrally in The Floating Opera – and also of Todd’s acute awareness of that inability. This, like so many of the “facts” in the narrative, has both a symbolic and a literal meaning, and shows the extent to which the heart and what it stands for permeate the fabric of the entire novel.


Barth, John, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, Anchor Books, New York, 1988.


1 Barth, John, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, Anchor Books, New York, 1988, p. 5. (All subsequent page numbers refer to this book.)

2 p. 5.

3 p. 226.

4 p. 49.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 p. 124.

8 pp. 94-5

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.