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Modernism

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Anglo American Literature
Dr. Geeti Chandra
Twinkle Lal
3rd Year English Hons.
Assignment 3

If Existentialism in Hamlet is plot driven, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead it is language driven. Discuss.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was published in 1966 as a retelling of Hamlet by William Shakespeare through the eyes of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In Hamlet, Ross and Guild are just stock characters who are there to provide comic relief. But Stoppard in his play brings them to the foreground and humanizes them by imbuing them with an inherent universal desire- the need to know one’s place in the universe and find meaning. In Stoppard’s retelling, language becomes the focus because nothing happens in terms of action as the latter is predetermined. Ross and Guild are part of a script that has already been written by Shakespeare and hence are part of the action that is beyond their control and understanding. Elizabeth Banks in her essay Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Obscured by Language writes that “they are “replaceable pawns in the chess game of history” (Gussow), drifting along in the eddies and whirls of life. Stoppard takes full advantage of this idea in the play, and creates main characters with no clear goals or desires, providing an unusual basis for a play structure in which, much like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, language is the focus because nothing much happens” (5). In the present paper, I wish to study how the language in the play contributes in making it an existential play where meaning no longer has any meaning.

Stoppard in this absurdist play explores the concept of existentialism through language. Existentialism is a philosophy that views the individual as being unique and alone in an indifferent and antagonistic environment. It emphasizes on the feeling of insecurity and loneliness that people feel as a result of meaninglessness. In the play, Ross and Guild...

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