Monday, March 1, 2010

The Whole World's a Stage, Part Deux









Yesterday, Sunday, February 28th, was the third meeting of Padfoot and Prongs's Good Books Club. Padfoot and I were joined by Lula O. and Janefan for a discussion of Thomas Stoppard's 1968 play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the tragic tale of its bumbling title characters. Minor comic relief in Shakespeare's Hamlet who met a fatal end, Ros & Guil now take center stage in their very own quest to make sense of the grand events that seem to be sweeping them along. Not only have they been assigned to find out what's eating the Prince of Denmark, they also have to deal with that troop of actors whose play mirrors the plot of Hamlet. What could it all mean???

Padfoot and Lula were convinced that Ros & Guil were already dead from the start. (Their interpretation of two characters, I noted, was akin to the role of the Fisher King in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land.") It wasn't just the title, Padfoot and Lula argued, but the odd vibes they got from the opening scene, with Ros & Guil's ruminations on probability and divine intervention and the impression that they had been playing coin toss - and landing on heads every single time - practically forever. I still wasn't convinced. I countered that the play was leading up to their deaths, in accordance with the overarching themes of art, life, order, and absurdity. "There's a design at work in all art - surely you know that?," says the Player. "Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion." The point of the plot, I felt, was that Ros & Guil were trying to understand a series of causes and determine what the effect of would be on them (death).

We arrived at a compromise: that Ros & Guil were in a limbo of sorts. Neither alive or dead. You got the feeling that the drawing of the curtains did not mean the end - that Ros & Guil were doomed to start the whole thing over again until they finally figured shit out. But they are, after all, characters in a play. So it's basically a metatheatrical casualty loop that Lula compared to "one of those Star Trek episodes." A play within a play within a play, with an invisible scriptwriter somewhere, or, more accurately, a variation of Voltaire's "cosmic clockmaker" who got the whole thing rolling and then walked away. "Wheels have been set in motion," Guil, the more sensible of the two, observes, "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."He then recalls a Chinese philosopher who had dreamed he was a butterfly and spent the rest of his life wondering if he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a philosopher. You have to envy his certainty, Guil concluded.

Meanwhile, Padfoot was properly horrified that I had seen neither the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead movie nor The Princess Bride! I promised to rectify the situation as soon as possible. Although I can't quite bring myself to be all that enthusiastic about a kid's fantasy story, I really must see the film version of this, which was directed by none other than Thomas Stoppard himself. Plays really are meant to be seen, not read, and having already seen Hamlet onstage, I look forward to the translation of Stoppard's words into acting.

Up next: Brave New World, yet another twentieth century Shakespeare reference!

Previous Selections:
Mother Night
Something Wicked This Way Comes




The rest of the group was quite silly over Gary Oldman, who played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films. So while we're on the subject of Shakespeare and sci-fi/fantasy actors, I give you Ian McDiarmid in the BBC's 1979 production of Macbeth, also starring Ian McKlellen (Gandalf in the LOTR films) in the title role.



Can you believe that cute little redhead became Emperor Palpatine???

3 comments:

Caitlin said...

The movie is lovely - this is one of my favorite plays. I'd say it's mostly about the stuff that's happening off the page of the main story. So, there's Shakespeare's Hamlet and all the stuff that happens throughout that play, but there's this other story going on that you get to see in Stoppard's play. Remember - every exit is an entrance somewhere.

E. L. Fay said...

LOL, I completely forgot about that quote! Someone had mentioned it as being one of their favorites. It definitely fits into that sense of Ros & Guil being in limbo or in a casualty loop.

"So, there's Shakespeare's Hamlet and all the stuff that happens throughout that play, but there's this other story going on that you get to see in Stoppard's play."

Exactly! A play within a play within a play! (All of a sudden, I have a headache.)

Emily said...

I liked this play when I was in late middle school but haven't read or seen it in forEVER! I really should re-watch. It was one of those that I remember watching with my parents & they were rolling on the floor but I was too young to really get it.

And I have seen the Princess Bride, but I don't really understand the cult surrounding it. I like Wallace Shawn and Tom Stoppard, but the Buttercup character is so gaggingly boring that I really couldn't care less about whether she ends up with the Errol Flynn type or not. The jokes are OK, but I think I just waited too long to watch it & missed that narrow window in which I would have become a fan. Oh well. :-)

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