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Letter of Recommendation for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: An absurdist play for absurd times

From Henry Thomson ’17:

These days it is ever too easy, and with good reason, to be overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. Add in the imminent loss of the liminal social status of a ‘student’ on the brink of ‘the real world’, whether this year or in four, it can be hard to find time to stop and smell flowers other than hops, juniper, and barley. In addition to any proverbial ‘flower smelling’ students might partake in on this upcoming Thursday April, 20th this letter of recommendation is for a delayed stream of Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Town Hall Theater.

Set concurrent to Hamlet, the play follows the story of young Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern as they are summoned to help diagnose their troubled childhood friend Hamlet. The 7.30pm streaming video is of the current production at the Old Vic theater in London, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. The play is the perfect book-end for those of you who saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on campus this past weekend, (with command performances by Liana Barron, Jabari Matthew, Sebastian LaPointe, and the rest of the fantastic cast), with R&G Are Dead one of Stoppard’s first plays, Arcadia one of his most recent. While R&G Are Dead doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, it is a brilliant and thought provoking piece of modern theater.

The absurdist three-act play follows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on a philosophical journey through destiny and decisive action, one that resonates with me, and surely with you.

More and more, I find that truth is stranger than fiction, with tragedy and comedy going hand in hand. What a time to be alive. Brother of Korean assassinated by woman in LOL shirt? Reusable rocket ships that land on barges in the middle of the ocean? Yeah, right. A swipe system in the dining halls? You gotta be kidding me. SNL, Homeland, and House of Cards may pale in comparison to the TV drama that has been playing itself out on TV in the past year and a half. However, you cut it; left, right, or center, you can’t make this stuff up- Hillary, Bernie, Trump, Putin, Merkel all caricatures of themselves. Now what if I told you that Harry Potter was coming to town next week in a play about your life?

The line between the real and the surreal razor thin, it is hard not to laugh and cry when considering the current state of affairs. Economic Inequality, climate change, the expansion and reduction of human rights, loss in biodiversity and incredible advances in technology have brought out humanity’s worst and best.

In reflecting on my 22 years that have led to my (pending) graduation from Middlebury, I would be remiss not to consider how privileged I have been. Financially sure, never the richest nor the poorest, but also in terms of the friends I’ve had and the educational experiences I’ve been provided. A small, private, college preparatory K-8, with an eye opening high school experience with 3000 of my peers, and now at here at Middlebury, and to quote Stoppard “Times being what they are…”.

If Shakespeare were around today, my peers and I would appear as central casting for “prince”. Not quite a Hamlet in Elsinore, probably more on the periphery like Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, schoolmates of the Hamlets and Ophelias. Patagonia is the tunic of our day, but the privilege and celestial uncertainty underneath remain very much the same.

In the course of human events, truths do not always become self-evident. With traumatic emotional experiences, there are often more questions than answers. Even without trauma, there is no right answer to how people should feel, how people should react. Try as we might, it is incredibly difficult to articulate the complex emotions that all of us feel within the human condition. Personally, attempts to articulate feelings can result in a retreat behind a façade of a forced smile. Is this because of my desire not to emotionally burden others with my profoundly personal quandaries? Or, is this due to the societal pressures of performative masculinity? Perhaps. I think the answer lies somewhere in-between.

As I’ve grown emotionally, I’ve increasingly turned to art. My patronage comes in many forms. Film, video games, poetry, prose, music. Art and the viewer have a unique relationship.

Without articulating anything, whether alone or with friends, art and the viewer can have a private, intimate conversation. The art bears its soul to, allowing the viewer to stare, interpret, feel, and respond all without having to utter a word.

In turn the art, conscious or not, is the subliminal recipient of all thoughts, feelings, desires that I may feel during our sacred confession. Everyone’s interpretation of art creates a parallel universe where they and they alone say everything and nothing all at once in a beautiful stimulation of the sense, resulting in

In termination, I would be remiss not to note the ultimate ephemeral connection between life as a young American prince, and the tragicomedy of dear Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern. My late grandfather said it best after a couple too many drinks at dinner; “none of us are getting outta’ here alive anyway”. Whether it is the innocence of childhood, the intense liberal arts experience, or life itself, all things come to pass. So, what better way to spend your evening of Thursday the 20th of April than at a play, contemplating life and laughing along with its absurd glory.

I for one, have never been to a play in town, as I’m sure is the case with many of you. I will be in attendance, and would love to see other students there.

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