Friday Favorites: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

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Friday Favorites is a blog series I’m starting dedicated to reviewing my favorite books. These aren’t anything recently read but older books that have really stuck with me over the years. I probably won’t post these every week but as the mood strikes. On to the review!

Title & Author: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Genre: Fiction, Dramas & Plays

I was sold by the cover art: the details of their shoes, the rope ampersand, the scratches/shading in the background…

Let me take you back to 1999-ish. I was about in the middle of my college years and worked multiple jobs at my university. Living at home (thanks, Mom and Dad!) meant that I didn’t really have a lot of expenses. This gave me the opportunity to spend the money I earned from my jobs on stupid things – concerts and clothes – and less-stupid things like books. I would often go to bookstores at the mall and browse for a long time, not looking for anything in particular but wanting something new. That was how I initially came across R&GAD.

The book was displayed on an end-cap in B. Dalton Booksellers [R.I.P.] and that lovely cover intrigued me to no end. I picked it up immediately and was so interested that I bought it with no real idea what it was about. I had to know who these characters were and why they died!

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and R&GAD is a retelling of Hamlet through their eyes. Now at this point, I had never read Hamlet. [Actually, I still don’t think that I’ve read Hamlet, though I have seen pieces of Hamlet movies and have a general gist of the story. I should read Hamlet – 2015 reading list!] I’d also never read anything in play format. So while it was a new experience, the story is very easy to get into. Almost too easy – it felt like it was written specifically for me.

Everything in R&GAD comes across as somewhat absurd and Ros and Guil are genius characters. They’re two halves of a whole, with incredibly dry senses of humor and philosophical outlooks – everything they say means so much more than just what’s said. For example:

Ros: What are you playing at?
Guil: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.

There’s a lot of extremely witty banter and wordplay which Stoppard references that in this scene. Ros and Guil spend much of their time trying to decipher the hidden meanings of what’s being said to them – the meaning of those words. Or take the exchange below:

Guil: I think I have it. A man talking sense to himself is no madder then a man talking nonsense not to himself.
Ros: Or just as mad.
Guil: Or just as mad.
Ros: And he does both.
Guil: So there you are.
Ros: Stark raving sane.

It’s both philosophical and true, and “stark raving sane” is one of my favorite lines of a play filled with a lot of high points. Nothing I can say will truly do the book justice, other than it’s an intricate and witty read. I’ll leave you with this scene from the play, performed by Benedict Cumberbatch [sigh] as Ros and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Guil.


Recommend for: anyone who enjoys Shakespearean characters or witty writing

Price: $8.52 (Kindle) – $9.24 (paperback) on Amazon

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