I read this play for a class that dealt with a genre of Contemporary British Literature, which in this case was drama. I mentioned this play in my last review and it occurred to me that a lot of people might not be familiar with it. I know I certainly had no idea about it until I took the class.
Anyway, if you’re into Shakespeare, you might recognize Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They had very minor roles in Hamlet in which they ended up dying. Tom Stoppard’s play plucks them out of their native habitat and gives them a stage all to themselves with the condition of their set mortality – a death they are helpless but to repeat over and over again. The play deals with existentialism, questioning mortality as it pertains to fictional characters (whose greatest desires might be to be real) and talks about freedom to make your own decisions and act in the manner you want to even though you have a set destiny. Sort of like all roads lead to Rome – you can either take the scenic route or not.
The reason I am sharing this with you guys is because there are several dialogues from the play that struck me as quite profound the first time I read it and this feeling was reiterated the next few times I did again. I love the language of the play – the thoughts expressed. And I have a feeling some of you will appreciate Stoppard’s genius as well.
“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”
“Whatever became of the moment
when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment, in childhood, when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. It must have been shattering, stamped into one’s memory. And yet I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it, before we know that there are words,out we come, bloodied and squalling…with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction
and time is its only measure.”
“Rosencrantz: I don’t believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then? “
“Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are…condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one – that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it’ll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we’d know that we were lost. A Chinaman of the T’ang Dynasty – and, by which definition, a philosopher – dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; his two-fold security. “
“There we were – demented children mincing about in clothes that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing each other with wooden swords, hollow protestations of faith hurled after empty promises of vengeance – and every gesture, every pose, vanishing into the thin unpopulated air. We ransomed our dignity to the clouds, and the uncomprehending birds listened. Don’t you see?! We’re actors – we’re the opposite of people!”