Sunday, February 25, 2024

About Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

In, of all places, a news item about the death of Stuart Organ, who for many years played the headmaster of Grange Hill school, I see Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead described as “a spin-off of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet”. And the phrase strikes me as totally wrong-headed but the more I think of it, it feels about right. After all, R&G isn’t a sequel, nor yet a prequel. It takes place in the same fictional universe as Hamlet, the action of which is progressing at the same time, and occasionally intersects. It exists in relation to Hamlet in the same way that Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures exist in relation to Doctor Who, sharing characters and narratives, but with a different emphasis.

But then I still wonder whether the author of the piece actually knows that, or just threw the sentence together after a brief Wikipedia check. And do you know what makes me doubt her? It’s the fact that she refers not to “Hamlet”, but to “William Shakespeare’s Hamlet”. Someone who knew about theatre would instinctively offer the title alone, assuming that everyone knows what Hamlet is, who wrote it, approximately what it’s about, even if they aren’t able to quote it by the yard. Which feels a bit harsh, because her definition of Stoppard’s play is ultimately correct. But it’s accidentally correct and I wonder whether that’s good enough.

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