“… it’ll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so…”

Image: statue of Confucius in Qufu, the philosopher’s hometown in east China’s Shandong Province.

From: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard:

“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. A Chinaman of the T’ang Dynasty – and, by which definition, a philosopher – dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; his two-fold security. ”

From a review for The Guardian by Philip Hope-Wallace, 12 April 1967:

“Not everyone may think the work of a comparatively unknown 30-year-old playwright good enough for the National Theatre. Yet Tom Stoppard’s play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” won golden opinions at the Edinburgh Festival and now gets the full treatment at the Old Vic – lighting by Richard Pilbrow, music by Marc Wilkinson, a most inventive production by Derek Goldby and in the name parts quite splendidly matching performances by John Stride and Edward Petherbridge, the one bluff, the other slightly petulant. Add also Graham Crowden’s Player King who is the one other character in the play with whom these two shadowy, Pirandellian onlookers are liable to get their best chance of being importantly involved in the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

R. and G., like the two clowns in Godot, find themselves nonentities, yet sure of their own names (more or less and however much other people confuse them); they hang about on the suburbs of the drama, carelessly left as loose ends by Shakespeare, occupying their time with chop logic and cerebral tricks, until they are momentarily involved in the action at odd points in the story we know so well. The joke seems rather protracted in the first and second acts, in spite of the many amusing lines and patter. I think a bit of cutting would in fact make the final act even better theatre for coming more swiftly with less preliminary musing on identity, existence and non-being. Here the pair, either side of the same coin, find that they are due (aren’t we all?) for extinction, to be written out of the script with a callous line and a sleight of hand by the Lord Hamlet on board the transport ship. But, in spite of temptation, they do not interfere with the destiny which at least will give them a name the world does not forget, albeit smilingly.

Mr Stride in particular carries us along with him. Even so I had the sensation that a fairly pithy and witty theatrical trick was being elongated merely to make an evening of it. Tedium, even kept at bay, made itself felt.”

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