Godot Comes: Rosencrant^and Guildenstern Are Dead
J O S E P H E. D U N C A N
TE decade after the first productions of Tom Stoppard's H
Are Dead, critics frequently re-
marked on the similarities between it and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Strong similarities exist, chiefly in characterization, but Stoppard's two courtiers encounter a predicament and represent an experience essentially different from those of Beckett's two tramps. While Beckett's characters face interminable waiting, Stoppard's face sudden and inexplicable change. One of the most important distinctions is that in Stoppard's play Godot (as interpreted by various of Beckett's critics) comes. Critics have seen the lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as paralleling those of Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon. Robert Brustein observed that like Beckett's two tramps, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern "alternate between vaudeville routines and ruminations on the vacancy of life in general and theirs in particular." From the beginning of the play "their fate of waiting" for something — anything — to happen is established, wrote C. J . Gianakaris, and "as with Waiting for Godot, limitless biding of time constitutes a horizontal axis of the play." Similarly, John Russell Taylor wrote that as soon as we meet the principals "we know (primed with Beckett and all that crush) that Godot will never come, nothing will ever change, the two will remain perforce waiting in the wings for the rest of their lives." C. W . E . Bigsby characterizes the play as "a kind of Waiting for Godot in which Vladimir and Estragon have become university wits" who follow Beckett's characters in playing Wittgensteinian games, seeking security in conversation, and reaching out to one another. Recently, Kenneth Tynan has observed that "the sight of
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two bewildered men playing pointless games in a theatrical void while the real action unfolds off stage inevitably...