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INsiders Recap: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Pictured: Rafael Goldstein and Kasey Mahaffy. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

By A Noise Within
November 28, 2018

On November 20th, 2018, A Noise Within held our final INsiders meeting of 2018. This meeting, focused on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, saw our biggest audience yet – 30 total attendees! Our speaker was Dr. Stephen Dickey of the UCLA English Department. Dr. Dickey’s course repertoire includes Shakespeare, poetry, drama, and the English Renaissance. From 2002 to 2016, Dr. Dickey served as a faculty member for the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute. In 2016-2017, he curated an exhibit for the Los Angeles Central Library called “America’s Shakespeare: The Bard Goes West.” Needless to say, we were so excited to hear his thoughts on Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare-adjacent classic!

A large portion of the discussion focused on the theme of chance vs. control throughout the play, illustrated best by the running coin flip gag. As Dr. Dickey pointed out, there are many times throughout their journey that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could have said no and turned around, yet they didn’t because, as they believed, their future was already written. Even in a play where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are front and center, they remain simply characters in Hamlet’s play, or so they believe. Dr. Dickey made the point that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get in their own way a lot of the time – as he phrased it, they are “the authors of their own demise.” The duo has objectives, sure, but their biggest obstacles are themselves. Fascinatingly, Stoppard mirrors the idea of free will as an illusion with the audience – the characters in his play shout “Fire!” which we are trained from a young age to respond to, yet we stay in our seats and don’t evacuate the theater.

In addition to his lively presentation, Dr. Dickey provided a handout to the attendants that featured relevant excerpts from classic literature as well as portions of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern script for close examination. Perhaps most interestingly, one of the excerpts included was Robert Buchanan’s 1871 book review of Hamlet, wherein Buchanan nearly predicts Stoppard’s play that would arrive almost a century later:

“If, on the occasion of any public performance of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, the actors who perform the parts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were, by a preconcerted arrangement and by means of what is technically known as ‘gagging,’ to make themselves fully as prominent as the leading character, and to indulge in soliloquies and business strictly belonging to Hamlet himself, the result would be, to say the least, astonishing.”

Astonishing indeed! We’re so thankful that Dr. Dickey could offer some insight into the whirlwind that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Sadly, our production of the beloved play has taken its final bows, but the theatre magic at A Noise Within never ends – our beloved production of A Christmas Carol will run December 1st through December 23rd. We’ll be back in the springtime with more of your favorite classic plays and beloved stories – with accompanying INsiders meetings, of course! For more information about how to get involved with INsiders, contact Alicia Green at (626) 356-3104 or

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