Anagnorisis and Existence (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)

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Anagnorisis and Existence

The Point of Realization in Stoppard's

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the young prince realizes what living is.

Yea, from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records, 105

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

That youth and observation copied there;

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain,

Unmix'd with baser matter (Hamlet, I, v. 104-110)

Upon realizing his fate – that he must save the "state of Denmark" – Hamlet must literally discard his prior knowledge and start anew. Aristotle argues that the exact moment when Hamlet realizes his fate – by moving from innocence and ignorance to knowledge – is the cause of tragedy in drama. Aristotle's calls this realization that all humans must have anagnorisis. For all the moaning and a whining about his situation, Hamlet will fight whatever is "rotten in the State of Denmark." (Hamlet, I, iv, 67) Though this self discovery is integral in Shakespeare's tragedy, Stoppard's two characters do not even address their fate. And, the result of this lack of action and lack of any anagnorisis in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead when framed against the proactive Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes is an interesting commentary on human beings' reactions to mortality.

Death is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over… Death is not anything… death is not… It's the absence of presence, nothing more… the endless time of never coming back… a gap you can't see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound. (R&D, 124)

To Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, death is lying in a box – bored. Their inability to comprehend death's complexity stems from the fact that even when alive, they are hardly present, barely hanging onto their existence.

If we stopped breathing we'd vanish. (R&D, 112)

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