March 05, 2013
"Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" — Even better after 46 years
I first read this magnificent play in 1967, the year it was published.
I was a freshman at UCLA and this slim work of art (115 pages) absolutely jolted me out of my accustomed way of thinking and jump-started a whole new way of looking at the world.
It was as revolutionary to me as 1968's "Whole Earth Catalog," another book whose appearance during those late 60s days of weirdness and wonder in Southern California lifted my train of being from its accustomed Made in Milwaukee track onto a whole different course.
Below, excerpts that, when I read the play today, made my heart once again sing with their sheer originality and power.
There is an art to the building up of suspense. Though it can be done by luck alone.
The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defense against the pure emotion of fear.
Fearful lest we come too late!! [Too late for what?] How do I know? We haven't got there yet.
Why, we grow rusty and you catch us at the very point of decadence—by this time tomorrow we might have forgotten everything we ever knew. That's a thought, isn't it? We'd be back where we started—improvising.
Otherwise, for a jingle of coin we can do for you a selection of gory romances, full of fine cadence and corpses, pirated from the Italian; and it doesn't take much to make a jingle—even a single coin has music to it.
We've played to bigger, of course, but quality counts for something. I recognized you at once—[And who are we?]—as fellow artists. [I thought we were gentlemen.] For some of us it is performance, for others, patronage. They are two sides of the same coin, or, let us say, being as there are so many of us, the same side of two coins.
But they cannot match our repertoire... we'll stoop to anything if that's your bent....
We keep to our usual stuff, more or less, only inside out. We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.
We're more of the blood, love and rhetoric school. [Well, I'll leave the choice to you, if there is anything to choose between them.] They're hardly divisible, sir—well, I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory—they're all blood, you see.
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.
Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are... condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one—that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it'll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we'd know that we were lost.
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.
The truth is, we value your company, for want of any other. We have been left so much to our own devices—after a while one welcomes the uncertainty of being left to other people's.
[You!—What do you know about death?] It's what the actors do best. They have to exploit whatever talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. They can die heroically, comically, ironically, slowly, suddenly, disgustingly, charmingly, or from a great height. My own talent is more general. I extract significance from melodrama, a significance which it does not in fact contain; but occasionally, from out of this matter, there escapes a thin beam of light that, seen at the right angle, can crack the shell of mortality.
March 5, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink
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The fact remains that when you die there will be three outcomes;
You will not know what happened (the ultimate blessing).
You will comprehend why with a few or lingering time units.
You will be told you are dying.
Am I missing something?
Posted by: joepeach | Mar 5, 2013 6:40:13 PM
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