Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alas, Poor Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern! We Knew Them!


A couple of weeks ago, my friends Beata and Katie, and I attended a mini - theater festival at Purdue: Hamlet on the first night; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, it seemed par for the course that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were dead at the end, along with everyone else in Hamlet. But the next day, I felt so let down by the conclusion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, even though Stoppard's play is jollier than Shakespeare's. Somehow it seemed that the final result for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after two hours of consternation and consciousness - raising, should be an awareness that would somehow save their lives, but no. Still dead.

I saw / read this play once years ago and have always remembered it as funny; but this time it made me sad. I was still dwelling on the gloomy after - effects a couple of days later and discussing them with Beata, when my friend Ann posted an article which seemed to totally explain our deflated mood:

Do You Owe The Reader A Happy Ending?
by Celest Ng

Ng points out that it's the sad stories that seem to stay with us not only the next day, but sometimes for years afterward:
Maybe that’s the best argument for allowing yourself to write an “unhappy” ending where justice is not done, for why it’s okay sometimes to leave readers dissatisfied, or yes, even to break their hearts. “Unhappy” endings—that irritate, that rankle, that perturb—keep the reader thinking about them long after the last page. Like a grain of sand against the skin, they rub at the reader’s sense of injustice, asking them to reflect and question. It’s okay to leave the reader satisfied, with a contented sigh, but you don’t have to. It’s okay to leave the reader provoked, too.
Examples from Ng's personal experience include, Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting (both of which I read several years ago at the request of my son Ben) and Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind (a new title for me -- just added to my amazon shopping basket,) which Ng says, "upset me so much that . . . More than two decades later, I’m still thinking about that book."

As for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I'm still thinking about them.

While there is no obvious resurrection
in this play, there are still a lot of
great quotations to think about
over the Easter Weekend:

Favorite Passages

All your life you live so close
to truth, it becomes a permanent
blur in the corner of your eye,
and when something nudges it into
outline it is like being ambushed
by a grotesque.

"Doubt thou, the stars are fire."
"Doubt that the sun doth move,
but never doubt I love."

Happy in that we are not overhappy.

On Fortune's cap we are
not the very button.
Nor the soles of her shoes?
Neither, my lord.
Then you live about her waist,
or in the middIe of her favours?
Faith, her privates we.
In the secret parts of fortune?
O, most true!
She is a strumpet.

Half of what he said meant
something else, and the other
half didn't mean anything at all.

You understand,
we are tied down to a language
which makes up in obscurity
what it lacks in style.
There's a design at work in all
art surely you know that?

Events must play themselves
out to an aesthetic, moral
and logical conclusion.
And what's that in this case?
It never varies.

We aim for
the point where everyone
who is marked for death dies.
Marked?

Generally speaking things have
gone about as far as
they can possibly go
when things have got about as
bad as they can reasonably get.

Who decides?
Decides? It is written.
We're tragedians, you see.
We follow direction there
is no choice involved.
The bad end unhappily,
the good unluckily.
That is what tragedy means.

Dark, isn't it?
Not for night.
No, not for night.
It's dark for day.
Oh, yes, it's dark for day.

Do you think death
could possibly be a boat?

I don't believe in it anyway.
In what?
England.
Just a conspiracy of
cartographers, you mean?
I mean I don't believe it.
England.
England! I don't believe it!
Just a conspiracy
of cartographers you mean.
I mean I don't believe it and even
if it's true what do we say?

Was it all for this? Who are we
that so much should converge
on our little deaths?

You are Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern. That is enough.
No, it is not enough.

To be told so little to
such an end and still, finally,
to be denied an explanation.
In our experience,
almost everything ends in death.
Your experience! Actors!
You die a thousand casual deaths
and come back in a different hat.

But nobody gets up after death...
there's no applause only silence
and some secondhand
clothes, that's death!

If we have a destiny, then so
had he and this is ours,
then that was his
and if there are no explanations
for us, then let there
be none for him.

Oh, come, come gentlemen,
no flattery it was merely competent.
You see, it is the kind
you do believe in,
it's what is expected.
Deaths for all ages and occasions!
Deaths of king and princes
and nobodies...
That's it then, is it?

We've done nothing wrong.
We didn't harm anyone, did we?
I can't remember.
All right, then, I don't care.
I've had enough.
To tell you the truth,
I'm relieved.

There must have been
a moment at the beginning,
where we could have said no.
But somehow we missed it.
Well, we'll know better next time.

Till then.
The sight is dismal.
And our affairs from
England come too late.

The ears are senseless that should
give us hearing. To tell him his
commandment is fulfilled...
that Rosencratz
and Guildenstern are dead.


**************************

Additional Favorites from my friend Kathie:

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered. “

“[Y]ou can't act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen—it's not gasps and blood and falling about—that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all—now you see him, now you don't, that’s the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back—an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.”

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