Prince Hamlet of Denmark sets out to avenge his father’s murder, all the while trying desperately to keep his sanity in one piece. That’s all very well for Hamlet — but how does the prince’s erratic behavior appear to casual bystanders not clued in on Hamlet’s schemes? In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, playwright Tom Stoppard turns one of the most famous plays of the Western world on its head by putting two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and presenting the madcap antics of the royals through their eyes.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been summoned to Elsinore by the king, Claudius. He and Queen Gertrude, wish for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to glean what sudden sway of madness has affected Hamlet. The duo sets out to achieve their task, meeting a ragged troupe of players along the way. Brief glimpses of scenes from Hamlet show the trials and tribulations of the royals; our two heroes are largely left in a state of waiting. They pass the time playing games, posing questions, and tossing coins, until they gradually realize that their fates have been taken out of their own hands. They are merely characters in a larger story in which they have no say. Part Shakespearean tragedy, part Laurel and Hardy comedy routine, part Waiting for Godot absurdity, Tom Stoppard’s masterful debut play calls fate, free will, art, reality, communication, and the very constructs of theatre into question, all the while leading two most honorable, adventurous, brilliant, and inept characters on their path to their unfortunate, unavoidable, infamous fate.