Play goes on with minor characters from ‘Hamlet’

2009-11-29T15:45:00Z Play goes on with minor characters from ‘Hamlet’By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian missoulian.com
November 29, 2009 3:45 pm  • 

In his comedy "As You Like It," William Shakespeare eloquently wrote that, "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and entrances; / And one man in his time plays many parts ..."

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would know a little about that.

Though the two fictional schoolmates of the Prince of Denmark only appeared briefly in Shakespeare's great tragedy, "Hamlet," they've since enjoyed thriving lives of their own, from W.S. Gilbert's 1891 play, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern," to this year's film musical, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead."

Their most celebrated stage turn came in Tom Stoppard's 1964 absurdist comedy, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." Structured in mirror form to Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Stoppard's play follows the action from the viewpoint of its own title characters: Exits from the one play become entrances into the other, as it were.

All the world's a stage, yes; but as Stoppard reminds us, the meaning of the drama very much depends on who's standing in the spotlight.

"We're all the main characters in our own stories," said Carrie Ann Mallino, director of the production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" that opens next week at the Crystal Theatre. "And even though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the smallest characters in ‘Hamlet,' they're their own main characters in their own lives. It's an interesting idea that Stoppard turns into all sorts of different layers of meaning, and that's why I think it's such a great play."

Stoppard's play, which was made into a film in 1990, follows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as they travel to Elsinore at the behest of the king and queen. Unsure of the reason for their summons, the two pass the time by betting on flips of a coin. After Rosencrantz wins 92 bets in a row - by only calling heads - Guildenstern theorizes that they may be "‘within un-, sub- or supernatural forces."

It's a humorous moment that sets the tone for the remainder of the play, as the two characters struggle to get a grip on what's happening around them, stumbling on moments of insight that they usually fail to understand. If Shakespeare's Hamlet struggles with the question of whether to live or act - "To be or not to be" - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern grapple with the more fundamental question of whether we are living in the first place, and who determines our actions.

***

"With ‘Hamlet,' once you get past the flowery language, you have a very simple story that you can follow," said Mallino. "In ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,' you're dealing with straightforward English but very complicated philosophical ideas - what is death, what is life, what responsibility do you take for your situation. I think everybody who sees it comes away with something different, because there's so much in it."

It may be impossible to discuss "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" without mentioning "Hamlet," but Mallino is quick to note that it's not necessary to know Shakespeare's play in order to enjoy Stoppard's.

"There's a fairly amazing moment between the two characters where they sum up ‘Hamlet' in less than half a page of dialogue," said Mallino. "It's brilliantly written and funny, but it also will serve as a kind of quick ‘Cliffs Notes' for anyone who isn't entirely familiar with it."

Of course, with MAT's production running concurrent with the University of Montana's production of "Hamlet" (see related story), it's a good time to become familiar with both plays.

The timing of the two productions was no coincidence; MAT artistic director Grant Olson and University of Montana professor Greg Johnson hatched the idea to do the two plays simultaneously last year. Mallino, who had wanted to direct "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" for years, jumped at the chance to get involved.

"I love Shakespeare of course, and Tom Stoppard is one of the few modern playwrights who is not only incredibly thoughtful and brilliant in his own work, but you can tell from the script that he really loves and is respectful to and inspired by Shakespeare," said Mallino. "I'm really hoping that audiences find it as fascinating as I do."

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, jnickell@missoulian.com.

 

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Hellgate Wind Ensemble

Hellgate Wind Ensemble

The Hellgate Wind Ensemble plays part of Missoula composer David Maslanka's "Give Us This Da…

Missoula Art Museum’s Ruby Jubilee

Missoula Art Museum’s Ruby Jubilee

Celebrating four decades of contemporary art

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

JuBELLation Handbell Choir of Missoula First United Methodist Church plays "We Wish You a Me…

Holly & the Ivy

Holly & the Ivy

JuBELLation Handbell Choir of Missoula First United Methodist Church plays "Holly and the Ivy."

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter

JuBELLation Handbell Choir of Missoula First United Methodist Church plays "In the Bleak Midwinter."

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

JuBELLation Handbell Choir from Missoula First United Methodist Church plays "Deck the Halls."

The Missoulian gears up for the biggest paper of 2014

The Missoulian gears up for the biggest paper of 2014

Join editor Sherry Devlin in the pressroom for the details on our Thanksgiving newspaper.

RMBT in Rong' an County, China

RMBT in Rong' an County, China

* Members of RMBT explore Qilou Street, the oldest sector of Rong' an which was a thriving a…

RMBT in Rong' an.

RMBT in Rong' an.

Members of the RMBT greet fans after their performance in Rong' an.

Deals & Offers