Existence without a Purpose
What if everything gets one nothing? What if it was true that man has the power to do whatever he pleases, but in the end all of it will mean - for lack of a better term - nothing? This school of thought is called existentialism, which is crucial in Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - an absurdly written response to William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern experience times of enlightenment, humor, and sorrow throughout their journey, leading them to ponder whether their livelihood actually has some sort of positive meaning. However, the ultimate gift of death crept up on them, without any explanation or hope, for all eternity. The ideas of existentialism are shown in the play through unstable identities, uncertain knowledge of the past, and anti-heroes which lead to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s ultimate fate – their feared deaths. Unstable identities in the play contribute to the idea of existentialism by making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern indistinguishable, emphasizing their need for meaning. When introducing themselves to the Player and the tragedians, Rosencrantz announces, “My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz…I’m sorry – his name is Guildenstern and I’m Rosencrantz” (Stoppard 22). Their own deprivation of identity shows that the meaning in their individual lives is lost, making them into cynical, unrecognizable objects. In addition, they have lost their idiosyncrasies, creating a problem for other characters in distinguishing between the two. During a discussion about the King giving them an equal amount of money, Guildenstern exclaims that the king “wouldn’t discriminate between [them]” (Stoppard 104). To the King, Ros and Guil are simply two objects that are willing to assist in any way possible; to him, there is no point in getting to know them individually. The King’s lack of differentiation between the two shows that Ros and Guil have lost a deeper meaning to...
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