The Importance of Setting in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

January 2, 2021 by Essay Writer

Effect of setting on play in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which features minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a play that consists of a very loose plot line as well an almost nonexistent setting. The two main characters, aliased Ros and Guil, wander around throughout most of the play and end up on a boat that leads them to England. This particular mention of setting, seen in the third act, gives an effect on the overall play by outlining the philosophical meaning behind it.

The beginning of the third act starts with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern waking up in a pitched darkness, not knowing where they are. After some dialogue and confusion, the audience is the first one to understand the characters’ surrounding, which was identified through “ship timbers, wind in the rigging, and then shouts of sailors” (98). Only after the sailors are heard that Rosencrantz understands that they are on a boat. This unknowingness of their surroundings emphasizes the dramatic irony in the act as the audience is aware of the situation well before the characters are. Ros and Guil, throughout the entire play, do not seem to be fully aware of what is going in their lives; in the second act, they both try to find out where they are by licking their toes and putting it up in order to identify the wind’s direction. These foolish acts, in addition to the oblivion of their location, outlines a whole philosophical meaning to the play, which demonstrates the way people are incapable of knowing at all times what is going on in their lives and can not always rely on a natural force, as the wind in the play, to lead them somewhere. In addition to their oblivion and incompetence of being able to live for themselves, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s dependence of a new and more powerful force is seen in the third act. The two protagonists are in a pitch black darkness for a couple of pages in the play, and still not completely aware of their whereabouts. Them sitting in the darkness symbolizes the literal and metaphorical way they are ‘in the dark’; being completely clueless and unaware, just as they are in the play overall. The only way Ros and Guil were fully aware of their surroundings was when Hamlet appeared as the stage “lightens disproportionately” (99). Hamlet lighting the stage, despite it being disproportional, emphasizes the idea that Ros and Guil are unable to do things and lead their way in life by themselves due to their dependence on another force or being. The idea of being completely dependent on an individual is also seen during Guil’s monologue as he describes his comfort in knowing that someone is sailing the boat he is on, despite not knowing where he is going. This goes hand in hand with the philosophical idea of religion, and how individuals can not see who controls their lives – who is God – the exact same way that Guil can not see the captain of the boat but still trusts him with his life.

Overall, there is a general lack of setting description in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but the setting provided gives insight to philosophical ideas that are seen in the play as a whole such as the full dependence on a force or being without being able to control one’s own life.


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