Monday, December 28, 2009

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

I've always wanted to read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Way back in my senior year of high school, our English teacher had us randomly draw a book about which we had to then write a report and present it to the class. I drew The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Great book. One of my favorites I read in English class. If memory serves, Jon Mooney drew R&G are Dead. When he presented it, it sounded so good I vowed to read it someday. Twenty years later I finally got around to it.

Before I did, though, I wanted to re-familiarize myself with R&G. For those who don't know or remember, they are two of Hamlet's childhood friends from William Shakespeare's Hamlet but are also spies for Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. They are sent to take Hamlet to England and bearing a letter that states that Hamlet is to be killed. Hamlet discovers this, shakes the duo and they are killed.

I get ahead of myself. So I read Hamlet first. I have not read Shakespeare since college. Having done so I have come to the conclusion that the educational system ruins Shakespeare by forcing it onto young people when they have no prayer of understanding it. Sure, you have some unbalanced teens who enjoy and comprehend Shakespeare in high school. These are the ones who grow up to become English majors. For the vast majority, we struggle through the language, struggle through the era, struggle through themes too adult for us and, being teens, are filled with angst because of it.

I really enjoyed Hamlet this time around. If you haven't read it and are legally able to drink, do so. I cannot really write anything about it that hasn't already been written so I'm not going to expand beyond my description of R&G's involvement above. If you are still in your teens, you'll probably be forced to read it anyway but shouldn't.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a play written in the 1960's by Tom Stoppard where R&G are the main characters. The play is very entertaining, despite its focus on free will and existentialism. R&G are confused about why they exist and what it is they are supposed to be doing. They stumble about, the other characters are as confused about the pair as they are about themselves, and ultimately, as in Hamlet, they die. Excerpts of Hamlet are interspersed throughout the play and all the characters, of course, are from Hamlet. It's a really interesting take and much more accessible than Shakespeare himself. I recommend reading the pair.

I'm going to throw my review of Graham Greene's The Tenth Man on the end here. As always, I loved Greene's writing. I didn't much care for the story or characters. A group of thirty prisoners during World War II are told by the Germans that three of them (one in ten) must die as retribution for attacks by the resistance in town. Lots are drawn and three men are selected. The one, a wealthy French lawyer, offers his entire wealth and estate to anyone who will switch positions with him. A man takes him up on it, papers are drawn up, and the wealth of the lawyer is transferred to the other man's sister and mother.

Years later, the Frenchman returns to his estate and meets with the sister and mother. The mother is under the impression that the wealth came from her son who has become successful off somewhere else. The sister knows the truth and is filled with venom because of the whole series of events. The Frenchman, realizing the hatred the sister has for the Frenchman, pretends to be another prisoner who knew her brother and gains employment as a servant. Another man turns up who claims to be the Frenchman. There are some twists and turns. Nothing satisfying happens. The end.

Lots of lying, lots of hate, death, no happiness for anyone. Just a pretty depressing book.

I'll have one more review before the end of the year as I am in the midst of the longest book I have read this year and will likely not finish it by Thursday.

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