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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In response to the bloody battles of World War I, the Theatre of the Absurd was born. Soldiers surrounded by death and destruction often found no other relief but to laugh at the absurdity of noble, but increasingly meaningless traditional rhetoric and patriotism. This laughter was a response to not only the absurdity of their situation, but also to the absurd responses of others to their situation. Out of this response grew what we know today as the Theatre of the Absurd. A classic example of a work from the Absurdist Theatre is a piece known as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In this work, John Stoppard uses allusion to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet to help the audience understand the play. The connection that is seen initially between “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the reliance on romantic irony. In Eliot’s poem romantic irony is expressed in the form of significant assertations and decisions that are made again and again only to be followed by an immediate collapse. Throughout Eliot’s poem decisive statements such as Prufrock’s decision “To lead you to an overwhelming question” (line 10) are followed by procrastination and thoughts that “There will be time, there will be time” (line 26). The humor in this technique is also apparent in Stoppard’s play. This is nicely demonstrated in the opening scenes of the play where Rosencrantz often gathers himself to say something, but before anything can come out, the moment has passed, and Guildenstern has moved on. Just as Prufrock is unable to do anything, Rosencrantz has only managed an unintelligible grunt. Another connection between the play and poem is an allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock through the character of Alfred in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In Stoppard’s play Alfred i...

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