Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967) by Tom Stoppard is a play about identity, and understanding one’s sense of self. At some point in our lives, we were all confused about who we were. We questioned what we want to be when we grow up, who we were as a person, and if that person is the same in a different setting.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go through the same journey that we did in not only in hopes of self-discovery, but a sense of self between different environments.
Stoppard’s play is based off of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, both Ros and Guil are stumped on where they are and why they were sent there after trying to think of the first thing they remember. After they come into contact with a theatrical group, the Tragedians, they introduce themselves to the spokesman, The Player. However, they do not introduce themselves correctly; Ros states, “My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz” and quickly corrects himself to “I’m sorry--his name is Guildenstern, and I’m Rosencrantz” (Stoppard 18). When first reading that line, not only was I confused, but I was curious as to why Ros introduced himself as Guil. At first I thought that it didn’t mean much, but after deep consideration, I realized that Stoppard would not have included it if it didn’t mean anything. Stoppard was trying to show the confusion of Ros and Guil in the play. In the beginning, we see that they are confused on where they are and why they are there. On top of that, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don’t even know who they are. Ros and Guil do not know their identity and that is what they are trying to find throughout the play.
Although I have never introduced myself as someone else, nor mistaken myself for someone else, I have pondered on my own identity like Ros and Guil. When deciding on what school I want to go to, or what career I would like to have, I had to question who I am as a person, my beliefs, my qualities, my personality, and much more. There are many aspects to an identity of a person. I can call myself an actress, but does that still ring true if I am not on the stage? If I am sitting in class, am I still an actress or am I now just a student? Without the presence of the cast or a script, is my identity still valid? In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the Tragedians and the Player put on a show and Guil questions:
GUIL: Well...aren't you going to change into costume?
PLAYER: I never change out, sir.
GUIL: Always in character.
PLAYER: That's it. (Pause.)
GUIL: Aren't you going to -- come on?
PLAYER: I am on (Stoppard 29).
In this case, by the Player stating that he never changes out of costume and is always in character, he is saying that an actor is always an actor even when not on stage. I find this to be completely true. If a part of your identity is your occupation, in this case, an actor, then you are always an actor no matter the environment you are in. This conversation between Guildenstern and the Player also arises more thoughts into my head. If the Player is always in character, does that mean he is still acting, or just being himself? With this being said, the Player is stating that in all environments, offstage or on stage, he has the same identity. Although this is true, I do believe that different environments can alter some other parts of your identity.
Being a daughter at home won’t change your status of being a daughter if you change your location to a school. However, the personality aspect of identity may change within different environments like at home versus school. With friends and family, I am very outgoing, loud, and talkative. In other environments like a classroom, I am quiet and reserved. If my personality changes with the environment, does that mean I have different identities? Or do I have a singular identity and my personality in one environment is fake and just a “show” for others? Like the Player, one could say I am just roleplaying a character that is quiet while my true identity is loud. The Player states, “Don’t you see?! We’re actors— we’re the opposite of people!” (Stoppard 57). He argues that actors and people are two completely different things. Actors are are just pretending to be people. People live their lives and do their daily activities without an audience. Actors, on the other hand, only find existence when someone is watching them. The Player goes on to explain to Ros how different people and actors are. He tells Ros, “Think, in your head, now, think of the most...private...secret... intimate thing you have ever done secure in the knowledge of its privacy. . . Are you thinking of it? Well, I saw you do it!” (Stoppard 57). He is trying to say that while people would keep their most secret and intimate moments private, actors put their most personal moments, feelings, and actions on display for public view. They are presenting a fake version of what is supposed to be real with their different mannerisms that they use on the stage. This is similar to what we do in real life. When at home with my friends, I can be myself as a loud and talkative person. When on a different “stage” like a classroom with my teachers and classmates, I put on a fake version of myself with different mannerisms that is more quiet and reserved.
Overall, reading the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has not only brought forth many questions, but also taught me a lot about what identity is and what it means. Ros and Guil both show how confusing it can be to find your own identity and use it to figure out bigger things in life. Finding your identity means finding the different sides to yourself that you have. Different environments bring out the different sides of a person which all make up the identity of a person. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern set many examples of how people present a fake version of themselves which is still relevant today in my, and many other lives. The next time I present myself differently in contrasting environments, I wonder if I am still being myself or simply roleplaying a different character.
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