‘Grafting’ the ‘Hypotext’ and the ‘Hypertext’: A Critical Analysis of Stoppard’s ‘Adoptation’ of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and its ‘Appropriation’ in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1966) is a fascinating reworking of Shakespeare’s canonical play Hamlet (c.1601). Without an elementary knowledge of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the ‘Hypotext’, Stoppard’s play – the ‘Hypertext’– cannot be understood. Shakespeare becomes a fertile ground for ‘adaptation’ and ‘appropriation’. According to Marsden, “each new generation attempts to redefine Shakespeare’s genius in contemporary terms, projecting its desires and anxieties onto his work”.
Stoppard’s play is a ‘grafting’ of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Stoppard borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s text. But though Stoppard is indebted to Shakespeare, he does not build his story on top of the latter’s. Stoppard dismantles and disrupts Shakespearean play in terms of plot, characterization and action. To Stoppard Shakespeare’s work serves as a ‘base’ upon which the ‘superstructure’ of his own play rests. Stoppard has given a ‘lease of life’, a new dimension by changing the focus from the hero Hamlet to two inferior characters – Ros and Guil.
The present paper proposes to highlight the cultural gap between the two texts written in different time-frames. If Shakespeare’s play appropriates the cultural high ground, Stoppard’s play engages lower cultural forms such as parody, farce and burlesque. Thus Stoppard’s play revolves around the clash between high and low cultural forms. Hamlet contributes to cultural evolution and the play has become a cultural stereotype. The cultural shift from Renaissance concept of divine existence to the dilemma of post-war generation, from poetic language of the Elizabethan period to modern colloquialism is meticulously delineated through the use of irony, parody and farce.
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