By Tim Brassell (auth.)
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Extra info for Tom Stoppard an Assessment
This is not merely a witty surrealist touch: Bunuel is drawing on a long and rich European tradition of subverting, in differing ways, the naturalism to which the British theatre has so steadfastly clung. 6 Yet as early as 1887, Strindberg complained in his Author's Preface to Miss Julie that 'we have not succeeded in adapting the old form to the new content, so that the new wine has burst the old bottles'. 7 Since then, with a variety of successes and failures, the tides of Expressionism, Surrealism, Existentialism and Marxism (to name only the main ones) have washed through the European theatre.
They cannot glean his motives or intentions, and his insight into the duality (at best) of their allegiances makes their position all the more uncomfortable. This is equally true in Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Cuildenstern are Dead, but it is exacerbated in the latter by the fact that Stoppard 'chops' most of Shakespeare's dialogue, incorporating only a few lines from the opening and closing sections of this lengthy encounter on each side of his first act interval! The first five lines provide no more than the prince's initial welcome before the curtain is down and the houselights up; and when the curtain rises again, the final thirteen lines of Shakespeare's scene offer only a series of almost cryptic exchanges that culminate in Hamlet's deliberately oblique I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.
Hamlet then duly escapes, leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to discover the letter which seals their fates and brings home to them most completely the full implications of their powerlessness. What the players seem to have grasped is a truth which eludes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the very end: that the 'on-stage' encounters hold the key to their existence. They are hovering on the edge of a great drama that every so often sweeps them up in its wake as Stoppard works passages of Hamlet into the play, but their only response is baffled incomprehension: As soon as we make a move they'll come pouring in from every side, shouting obscure instructions, confusing us with ridiculous remarks, messing us about from here to breakfast and getting our names wrong.
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