What makes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead a satire?

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Tom Stoppard’s play is a satire both of the Elizabethan world of Shakespeare and the contemporary world in which he lived and wrote. Skillfully crafting a dramatic work that combines elements of Shakespearean tragedy and of absurdism a la Samuel Beckett, Stoppard developed a new type of theatrical work by inverting the importance of the characters.

Taking as its title a partial line from Hamlet, Stoppard’s play begins with an impossible premise. In his work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are obviously alive, as they are constantly conversing with each other. Establishing this paradox, however, allows Stoppard makes his characters raise related existential questions: What is the meaning of life and death? How do we know that we are, in fact, alive? Stoppard’s often-acknowledged debt is to the most fundamental absurdist work, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot . The two courtiers spend much of the play waiting around to learn why they are there and if they are going anywhere. As the humor in his...

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