Hamlet


Between reality and illusion there exists a subtle line—so fine in fact that often times man steps right through reality into illusion without ever grasping the difference. Exact boundaries do not exist for reality as well as for illusion, leaving this “line” that separates the two nothing more than a blur. Throughout the play Hamlet and the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, both William Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard explore man’s incapability of separating reality and illusion by allowing one to evolve from the other. Through similar plots told by different characters, Shakespeare and Stoppard show the impossibility of understanding the difference between truth and illusion and the danger of riding to close to the line.


Tom Stoppard’s film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is Hamlet’s story told through the eyes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a play brought from the eyes of royalty to common man with a similar outcome. Both works of literature use plays within a play to smudge the lines of reality, but this technique also allowed Stoppard to weave his story into Shakespeare’s classic. Starting with the inner most play and working out, Stoppard uses the puppet show, then the play The Murder of Gonzago which is also used by Shakespeare. Here Stoppard slowly starts to bridge the gap between his story and Shakespeare’s. As Stoppard uses the actors and the stage ambiguously throughout the film, the players do make it clear the events on stage, the illusions, are also the expected events off stage, the reality; therefore, Shakespeare allows the audience watching The Murder of Gonzago to believe the play is true. A simple illusion automatically turns to reality merely because Shakespeare does not permit his characters to separate the two.


The next “play” in the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is the actual story of Hamlet. Because Hamlet becomes only focused on avenging his father, he is forced to play mad, yet he is “but mad north-north west” (Shakespeare 2.2.402), merely acting mad. Walking a thin line, Hamlet crosses from reality to illusion. He proves Stoppard’s point exactly in that once he acted out his madness for an audience and once he thought about the reality of his illusion, the illusion became reality.


Hamlet is a play that shows that the line between reality and illusion is probably not even there. Man can cross from illusion to reality simply by “thinking” (2.2.269) because thinking makes illusion turn to reality. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is a film that shows truth and reality are not clear. Truth is merely a permanent blur in the corner of man’s eye, a blur that he lives close to all his life but also a blur that is still impossible to define.


Because Shakespeare and Stoppard are unable to define illusion and reality in their literature, the audience is left confused—constantly wondering who is acting and who is truly mad. It is impossible for man to journey through life existing in a clear reality, and once man chooses to define the blur, he must accept questions in place of answers or a line that simply does not exist.