Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a play in which Tom Stoppard resurrects and extrapolates on the lives of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and forces the major characters of Hamlet, like Hamlet himself, into minor roles. Chrysostomos, St. John’s theater ensemble, put on the play this past weekend at St. John’s College. David Carroll, director of the play here at the college, called it “an existential investigation of the two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which invites one to wonder what life means in the wings, whether fate is the final arbitrator, and if ‘deserve’ has anything to do with it.”
The play merged on metaphysical as it played with ideas of what it means to be a major or minor character, ultimately shedding light on the fact that most of us are, in fact, quite minor characters on the stage of life, but that one experience falls inevitably and certainly upon all the characters alike: death. Stoppard explores these two painfully insignificant characters, not because he seeks to prove that they are actually significant, but precisely because he paradoxically believes that insignificance carries its own importance and worth. The production was told as if a kind of detective story, but rather than dealing with a tangible mystery, such as a murder, it dealt with the mysteries of chance, fate, death, and the meaning of life.
The play was pervaded by a constant confusion–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern asking why they were here, where they came from, in which direction they should continue on–which served as metaphor for the existential question: why are we here and what should we make of it? The play was dealing with largely serious and philosophical implications, but it did so through a humorous and lighthearted lens. The two students who played Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are themselves best friends, which made their banter realistic and genuine. Life can’t be all serious, and the characters’ authentic friendship made the audience more receptive to the play’s concepts.