Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (CBR8 #61)

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The Read Harder Challenge this year included a task to read a play. I  never really enjoy reading plays, and I have read quite a few over the years. In high school, as an IB kid, I read no less than 10 Shakespeare plays. It was… grueling? It is this particular understanding of myself that made me immediately turn away from the idea of studying to be a dramaturg while my friend Gina was in grad school at Yale.

But, I signed up for the challenge, so I decided that reading something I had already seen and enjoyed was the ticket, enter my love of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I have seen the movie, I’ve seen it live, my friend has worked on it, and I am often guilty of making jokes at these characters’ expense. The reading experience was enjoyable (or as enjoyable as I had any hope of it being), and it was fun to read the stage directions, and remembering how different versions I have seen have either been faithful or not to them.

For those not in the know, Stoppard created a work which follows the easily mixed up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet and sees what happens to them off-page. Think, Longbourn. In addition to that layer, Stoppard creates a dialogue with the audience about art, and its limitations.

The play, through one interpretation, can be seen as the attempts of Ros and Guil to come to terms with Shakespeare, who is standing in for the forces greater than ourselves. As the ghosts haunt Hamlet, so too does the ghost of Shakespeare haunt Ros and Guil, through the course of the three acts of this work they struggle to act independently of Shakespeare’s plot, to operate outside of Shakespearean boundaries, and much of the play centers on the potential of the characters in direct opposition to the limitations imposed by their original author. Stoppard includes another group, besides the Hamlet characters themselves, to serve as foil to this idea: the Tragedians who are all too accepting of their roles.

This work won four Tonys including Best Play. If you haven’t seen or read it, I say give it a shot.

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This play was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

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Wyrd Sisters (CBR6 #46)

I’ve made my first foray into Discworld.

There was an article on io9 that described the best way to turn your friend into a fan of your particular fandom. If I didn’t know better I would swear a couple of my friends either read or possibly even ghostwrote this article specifically about getting me reading this expansive fantasy series.

I spent much of my life not reading Fantasy. I don’t know why exactly, but I feel it has something to do with having a tough time building the world in my head. Given what defines fantasy: story, everyman characters, evocation of another world, use of magic and the supernatural, a clear sense of good and evil and the quest it becomes clear why certain aspects just didn’t appeal to me, and that certain ones absolutely do (everyman characters, magic and the supernatural, and a clear sense of good and evil are the ones, if you’re interested).

As an adult reader, whose friends are ALL massive fantasy and sci-fi readers, I’ve decided to expand my horizons and see what happens. So far, so good. I’ve read a couple of Neil Gaiman works and have read two of the three Prince of Thorns books (number three will be read soonish. I’m waiting to borrow it.) And they’ve gotten me on the Discworld bandwagon since it hits my sweet spots: satire and parody.

For those of you who don’t know, Terry Pratchett is the author of over 40 works which all exist in the same universe – Discworld, which is itself part of the multiverse. There are many different series within the overall works, and with them many entrance points. So many in fact that there are infographics to help you decide, here’s one now:

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I did not actually pick one of the starter books; Wyrd Sisters is the 6th Discworld book, and the second of the Witches Novels. I should have grabbed Equal Rites which my friend also lent me (along with Mort and Witches Abroad), but instead grabbed Wyrd Sisters first without thinking about it very much. I’ll have to wait and see if that’s a terrible problem later when I pick up Equal Rites next (well, next for my Pratchett reading, I’m going to be reading and reviewing a few other books before then).

In my reading of Wyrd Sisters I noticed Pratchett playing with the power of words (Fool tells us as much) and what effect they have on what we remember, and how much we are influenced by our fictions in relation to our history (and the various amounts of fiction which infiltrate our known history).  One of the big themes in the book, and employed by Granny Weatherwax is headology. Headology is made up by Pratchett, but it’s the shorthand in this book (and I have a bet other Witches Novels) for thinking. And one of my favorite Granny quotes is all about it, that everything can be solved if we stop and think about it.

Pratchett plays with archetypes, most specifically the titular Wyrd Sisters. Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick are representative of the three fates, and I really enjoy books that play around with that idea. But they also inhabit the Crone, Mother, Virgin archetypes. There are also Fool and Prince archetypes, and the evil queen. But the characters are far from one dimensional as Pratchett builds them up to deliver the story, and commentary, that he’s telling us.

This is also a love letter to Shakespeare. Two of his more famous plays Macbeth and Hamlet are featured heavily in the plotting of Wyrd Sisters. So much so, that the book’s first line of dialogue is the same first line of the play Macbeth “when shall we three meet again.”  There are also allusions to the play within the play from Hamlet which becomes a linchpin in this story, while the one in Hamlet does not have the desired effect.There are other little nods throughout, perhaps my favorite being that when the traveling  the acting company builds a theater they name “the Dysk” which is a very on the nose reference to Shakespeare’s own Globe theatre.

I highly recommend this to you, and look forward to many years of happily reading along in Discworld.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.