Shakespeare movies, anyway.
What, did you think I was gonna be all cultured?
You musta forgot which blog you were at. Ratshag is ====> thataway.
Having been a player of tabletop RPGs most of my adult life (and before), I have always been interested to some extent in acting.
My interest is, of course, more in the improvisation end of things than in repeating someone else’s written lines, but the technique of trying to put yourself in the mind of a different character and ‘make believe’ is at the heart of roleplaying.
It’s acting without a stage, for the shared delight of the actors themselves.
And since this is what I’ve been thinking about, this is the topic you get today.
Don’t ask where I get this stuff from, my head is a cluttered attic of junk, and it seems everything is piled on top of everything else. Every morning I climb into the attic looking for something to drag onto the yard sale of the blog, and lucky you, you get whatever is nearest to the attic door at the time.
Two movies. Two movies that are relevant to the discussion.
The first is Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.
The second is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
For those of you unfamiliar with Shakespeare in general or the story of Hamlet in particular…
Hamlet is the name of the lead character in a wonderfully light-hearted romantic comedy about the fun loving royal family of Denmark, and their lives and loves…
Y’know, if I could follow that line up with a straight face, I’d have a future in comedy.
Seriously though, Hamlet is the name of the lead character in a play by Wm. Shakespeare. The story follows his point of view almost exclusively, and thus you see the events of the story from his perspective.
It is a tragedy, in that in the end, no one has a happy ending.
A morally just one, perhaps, in certain respects, since everyone that dies in the end has tried in some way to screw everyone else, and along the way killed innocent people while trying to get revenge for being done wrong, thus earning their own share of justice for hurting innocents while trying to get revenge, etc etc.
The play ends ina grand guignol scene of utter carnage, dead bodies everywhere…
The movie Hamlet, which cast Mel Gibson in the lead role, is, to me, a wonderfully acted version of the play.
I say that, because not only has great care been made to capture the feel and atmosphere of the settings, but because when each actor speaks their lines, they speak them as though this is the everyday language which they are used to. It is just how they talk. It seems natural. Unforced. Smooth.
There are scenes where Mel Gibson is speaking some of the trippingly fast dialogue of Hamlet in a manic phase that is so unearthly natural that you forget that you are hearnig archaic dialogue, in much the same way that, when you’re totally absorbed in a foreign film, that afterwords you find it hard to remember that you were reading subtitles, in thinking back over the film you remember the words the actors spoke as though you understood the language. For me, Brotherhood of the Wolf in french with subtitles is much like that. Looking back I forgot that I didn’t understand what they were actually saying.
So Hamlet with Mel Gibson, to me, is an excellent example of the film and the story and is mentioned here to point out that the story focuses on the events, as seen through the eyes of the main character, Hamlet, the mover and shaker. He is the person around whom everything pivots.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, however, is also Hamlet.
It is the story of Hamlet, from beginning to end. And if you haven’t actually ever SEEN or read Hamlet in any form, much of the humor of the situation will be lost on you.
But you can still appreciate it for what it is, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a film that still drives me crazy because I can’t reconcile it’s existence with a greedy Hollywood out for a fast buck. I just don’t see how any greedy corporation could have heard the pitch for this film, and thought “That there will make me some big money. I want to invest in a piece of that.”
God bless the ones that did, though.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is Hamlet… but it is Hamlet, shown from the point of view of two small, very small, almost nonexistent minor characters of the story of Hamlet, and never from Hamlet himself.
You see the story of Hamlet from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two characters that appear from time to time in the play.
So far, nothing so unique, yes?
Ah, but let me delve into the joys of this film.
First, the two lead roles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are played by Gary Oldman and Tim Roth.
And when I say that these are Gary Oldman from The Fifth Element (the main villain) and The Professional (the corrupt police lieutenant), and Tim Roth from Pulp Fiction (one of the two crooks in the diner) and Reservoir Dogs (the undercover police officer), THAT level of brilliant dialogue and timing, then you should be excited. Very, very excited.
And second, the two characters only exist within the confines of the Hamlet story, in and around the scenes in which they take part… and they themselves have no memory of who they are or what they were doing prior to the first scene in which they appear, on a mountain trail in Denmark.
The movie is almost a detective story in philosophical discourse, as the two try to reason with each other, trying to puzzle out with logic and debate who they are, why they are where they are, why they would have no memory of their past, and what these crazy people they keep bumping into expect of them.
It is a rich movie, and a very fun one, as these two incredibly small bit parts of the play are brought to vivid life, where you start to really love these two guys and admire the hell out of them… they are people, not cardboard cutouts, and if you know the play, you know what’s coming.
I bring these two films up, because in many ways the lesson they teach is the heart of roleplaying, whether in pen and paper RPG settings or in WoW.
We play in a large world filled with what can be called ‘the lore’ (dun dun dun), or what is really just the fictional setting that exists at this time. There are main characters, great events, timelines and locales. It is a static story, in that we are told what has happeend in the past, and then we play in a never-ending ‘present’, where we seem to advance through the stories as we quest and level, but once you reach the end game, the present goes ever on and on, with no ultimate resolution or change.
And we play in this setting, making our own homes and stories, knowing that we cannot interact with or continue writing our own version of the major aspects of the story, because it’s not one we control.
We are bit players, without control over the events we are rushing towards, wondering what the writers of Blizzard will do to bring the main characters forward, and advance the present into a new static future that we will begin to quest towards again.
We don’t play Arthas. WE have no input to what Thrall may decide to do next. We do not craft policy for the Alliance. We do not play one of these main characters.
We play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, small parts in the grand drama. We are but supporting players who may not even get a mention in the credits.
But even though it is Hamlet that gets top billing, and that everyone will know about, and whose story will be familiar, it is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that teaches us there is a ton of room for the bit characters to have their own rich history, their own depth and drama, to perhaps touch in only the smallest way on such mythic figures as Thrall or Arthas or Jaina Proudmoore, but to have grand adventures in other parts of the world that are no less exciting or important to us.
I love Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is a wonderful example of how you can be your own star of your own story, even as your position in lore and history is unrecognised and unremarked amidst the grand destinies of thrones and the royal prerogatives that swirl on all around you.
And of course, the moral of the story is, you don’t have to be the bastard stepson of the main character or the secret lover of the Queen that was the real reason for massive event ‘X’, in order to be a part of the setting.
I hope, somewhere in all this, there was something that was worth writing, and worth reading.
If nothing else, I hope I have enticed you into watching Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
By the way, if you like the whole ‘different take on Shakespeare’ thing, I heartily, strongly, voraciously recommend you read or see a traditional version of the Taming of the Shrew, and then get the Moonlighting tv episode ‘Atomic Shakespeare’, from Season 3 (Episode 7, btw), which is a brilliantly funny take on it. God, I love that episide. Just classic.