Stoppard's absurd comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a transformation of the Shakespeare's revenge tragedy Hamlet. They both contain common characters and events but are separated by their historical, social and literary contexts. The plays are also different in language, theatrical style, values, character and themes.
Shakespeare's Hamlet and Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are different because of the different time periods. Shakespeare's Hamlet was written in the 1602, in the Elizabethan times, when the Church of England was well established and the start of the renaissance period had occurred. Whereas Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was written in the 1960's a time of absurdism, existentialism and experimentation; life and authority were questioned and sex, drugs and rock and roll were in; everything was against the norm and there was no church or monarchy dominant.
The aim's of the two plays is also very alternate. In Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the aim is to leave the audience confused and with many questions, but in Hamlet the aim is very different, it is for enjoyment to the viewers.In Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead life, death and morals are questioned, for example, when Guildenstern is speaking to the Player, he explains death as, 'It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all- now you see him, now you don't, and that's the only thing that's real'. Also in Hamlet this occurs, Hamlet contemplates life, death and suicide, this is done through various soliloquies spread throughout the play, for example 'to die, to sleep- No more; and by a sleep to say we end'.The characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are very much different; and of course all the roles are reversed. In the play Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and the player all play very minor roles they are even mixed up at times (For example when Claudius confuses them and Gertrude corrects him "Claudius: Thanks Rosencrantz, and gentle Guildenstern. Gertrude: Thanks Guildenstern, and gentle Rosencrantz).
Whereas in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead characters are all inverted and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now share main roles with the player. Characters such as Hamlet and Ophelia now acquire non- speaking roles or have their scene behind the main scene of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a purpose, there purpose is to subconsciously help Claudius kill Hamlet, but in Stoppard's play they have no apparent purpose or role; they are just there to display what happens when the leave the stage of Hamlet, (the story continues back stage and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern really do have there own personalities, instead of the one we see them in Hamlet).In Shakespeare's play Hamlet the characters are three dimensional and multipart, with many complications and difficulties, the audience is able to emotionally attach and feel for these characters. In Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead the characters are simple with little or no problems, every time the audience begins to be emotionally drawn to the situation they are pulled back away by a verbal dexterousness. In Shakespeare's Hamlet and Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead all events occur roughly in the same sequence, this is due to the fact that Hamlet was written a long time before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern this means that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's fate was sealed from the beginning of their play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were condemned to death from the very start. In Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead we find that there story has little and a lot to tell at once, this can be seen in being that there is no point, no structure, no purpose and no beginning to the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't even fully know their reasons for being there (e.
g. 'Two Elizabethans passing the time in a place without any visible character'), this adds to the play being labeled absurd. There is no purpose to the play because fate is sealed, the ending is written and death is their only option.
The play is made absurd by minimalist sets, meaningless dialog, and lack of character motivations, a single setting, condemned characters and a dark comic tone throughout the whole of the play. These themes are again overturned.