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Transformations Essay

Tom Stoppard transformed William Shakespeares Revenge Tragedy Hamlet (circa 1601), by utilising his
values and attitudes and reshaping them to give us a bleak world varying from fruitless verbal tennis to
thought provoking philosophical dialect. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967) embodies
notions of transformation demonstrated through themes human fate and mortality, life and death and the
style and language, offering a tragi-comedy applicable for newer audiences of a secular age.

Stoppard reshapes the values and attitudes in Shakespeares theme human fate and mortality to confront
his audience with the idea that we are helpless victims in a world where we have no control. Hamlet is a
Humanist and Renaissance man, simultaneously operating in a religious context constrained by Christian
values, evident in his dismissal of self-slaughter. The Elizabethan paradigm shift is demonstrated
through Hamlets conflicting philosophical beliefs, as he is thwarted by his Christian beliefs and
bounded by a nutshell. Placing himself in the hands of providence, how all occasions do inform
against me / and spur my dull revenge, Shakespeare employs equine imagery and metaphorical
language to convey Hamlets innate animal instincts to avenge his fathers murder. His fatal
procrastination embodies his freewill to act as he chooses to don an antic disposition and perform is
filial duty by restoring order to the corrupt Danish court. In Ros and Guil, on the other hand, there is an
absence of choice as his protagonists are passive spectators waiting in the wings of a confined stage
where they have no direction, none at all. The pun on direction implies a purpose for existence,
simultaneously, Stoppards stage directions, juxtaposing to the Shakespearean belief in a divinely
ordained fate. As tension arose from fears of the Cold War society was led to believe their lives were
predetermined and exploited, as for the Player, symbolic of authorities of our times, script is destiny:
Decides? It is written? This is heightened through the boat symbol and coin-flipping motif, as Guil
assures Ros, We are free to move, speak and extemporise. Ironically, they have no control over the
direction of the boat and left to rue their awful inevitable literary deaths. Metaphorically the run of
unbeaten heads reinforces their sealed fates, for it will always land the same. Stoppard presents a different
attitude towards the values and social phenomenons in Shakespeares theme of human fate and mortality
by executing his protagonists as universal figures, because their fears are so easily ours too.

Due to the shift in our social and cultural paradigms, Stoppard transforms Shakespeares theme of life and
death through his protagonists attempts to discover a purpose in their lives beyond that of mere existence.
Life and death is an ever-present phenomenon at Elsinore Castle as Hamlet invokes questions in his
iconic To be, or not be soliloquy. Shakespeare employs rich imagery and a rational tone for his
protagonist to explore the advantages and disadvantages of life and death. Disturbed by lifes sea of
troubles and the inexplicable undiscovered country, it is not until the Gravediggers scene that
Hamlet comes to terms with the inescapable reality of death. Heightened by the metaphorical language,
Hamlet realises that in the end: we all returneth to dust. In contrast to the world of Ros and Guil, the
line between life and death is regarded as merely an endless time of never coming back. Stoppards
ideological climate no longer associated to a divine being or after life, reflected in Guils more
philosophical of death as the absence of presence. In stark contrast to the performance of blood,
violence and poison, distracting Shakespearean audiences from the turbulence of assassination attempts,
Guil rejects theatrical death as untruthful as WWI and WWII brought new ways of bringing death and
destruction. Through the use of the blackouts, Stoppard transforms Shakespeares theatrical death to a
man failing to reappear, as men were drafted off to the Vietnam War during the 1950s and 60s. By
offering applicable notions of theatrical death, Stoppard is reflecting the existential values and attitudes of
newer contexts. Stoppard reshapes Shakespeares plot through his existential attitude, as deaths leads to
neither explanations nor moral restoration, as the Player says by way of justification, You are
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That is enough!

Stoppard reflects his socio-historic context through the style and language that transforms Shakespeares
Revenge play into an Absurdist theatre. Shakespeares amalgamation was moulded into a structured five-
act performance to reflect the ordered society and hierarchical chain of being. Drawing from the Revenge
Tragedy, Stoppard created an Absurd tragi-comedy by focusing on the intricacies of modern-day life. The
Satire Boom created awareness for the common man and ridicules those in figures of authority in the
1950s and 60s. This is shown through the self-absorbed character of Hamlet, a symbol of the
governments and businesses of our time, when he spits into the audience. By breaking down the
fourth wall, Stoppard connects with our collective irreverent attitude by mocking the authoritarian
character of Hamlet. This is also conveyed through the shift in focus from the Prince of Denmark to two
formerly marginalised characters. By placing his bewildered anti-heroes in an off-stage world, which
paradoxically is on-stage, Stoppard reflects absurd influences from Samuel Beckets black comedy
Waiting for Godot. Stoppards oscillation between modern idioms and iambic pentameter exemplifies a
Beckettian language that highlights the absurdity of Ros and Guils unpredictable world. Whereas, in
Hamlet, Shakespearean blank verse and heightened language create mis-en-scene: Tis now struck
twelve and bitter cold. Stoppard also employs dark humour to divert his audiences attention from
our Godless times of turmoil, demonstrated aboard the boat when Guil reassures Ros, No, no, no what
youve been is not on boats, he nonsensically responds, I wish I were dead. Stoppard adapted
Shakespeares original text to create a pastiche evoking the values and attitudes of his cultural context.

Stoppard transformed Shakespeares Revenge Tragedy into a human tragedy to say something different
through the existential search of his two anti-heroes, rather than explore a Renaissance journey for
individuality. Times being what they are, Stoppard took Shakespeares values and ideas and made it
new and exciting for the contemporary age by literally and figuratively expanding the stage.

1028 words!