As soon as I knew the play was on the schedule for this season, I knew that I wanted to see it. The only Tom Stoppard plays I have seen performed at Arcadia (which, oddly, I have seen on three separate occasions: once in Atlanta; once in Montgomery, Alabama; and once in at the Folger) and The Invention of Love. Being a great lover of Hamlet, it irked me that I’d never had the chance to see this particular play.
For much of the play, it is just the two characters on stage, alone. Other characters walk in an out, but they are peripheral to the ‘real’ world of Hamlet. It’s at once hilarious and terribly sad and if you’re in DC, I hope you’ll see it at the Folger. It made me think of the lines from the Pink Floyd song, Wish You Were Here: Did you exchange/a walk on part in the war/for a leading role in a cage?
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trapped as walk on parts in a cage, without any real agency. They exist only to propel the progress of their betters/greaters, i.e., the leading characters in Hamlet. It left me feeling very melancholy because it suggests that it may never be possible to understand one’s purpose, even if one knows one’s purpose, and that knowledge could be meaningless because it comes without a view of the larger picture.
It is probably also the only play I have ever seen that addresses George Berkeley’s metaphysics (in a short, bastardized form: does anything exist if it not perceived?).