|rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead.
||[Jul. 15th, 2007|04:40 pm]
a journal of inspiration
50 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Sentences
Rating: no swearing/sex/violence, but much death-related stuff. If you've read/seen RAGAD, you're okay with this.
A/N: Written for 1fandom, from theme set #1, and due in a long time ago! =S I started this more than 6 months ago now...
Slight play-verse bias.
Beta-read by the marvellous cryforthemoon - thanks to her for putting up with my weird punctuation and the occasional anachronisms! =]
"There is a cycle... things come into being, they live, and they die: I know this – you know it; everyone knows," he says, as Rosencrantz's hand finds his and grasps it tight – "so why are we so scared?"
"I think that sundial's broken," says Rosencrantz; he stops briefly to receive a strange look, then continues, "I looked at it what feels like hours ago, and it said almost exactly the same time as it does now."
"But it's always something you see happen, isn't it; never something you do yourself," he said – and then, "I wonder what it feels like... to be the one vanishing."
"I've never liked seeing rain fall into the sea," Rosencrantz says; "it doesn't seem fair somehow – like watching a one-sided fight, almost –" but he looks round and stops, because Guildenstern is just staring at the letter as though he thinks he can change what it says, and it's just as one-sided a fight as the tiny clouds versus the vast, vast ocean.
They talked circles around each other, picking up and losing threads, drowning in a sea of syllogisms, theories, non-sequiturs... but when they finally connected – two men clinging to the wreck of their own contentment with the cold, lifeless fingers of logic – it was the most perfect antidote to the tempest of confusion and futility and fear that Guildenstern could imagine.
One is bound to be tense (an audience with the king and queen, after all), but he looks over at Guildenstern – comforting, steadying, reassuring Guildenstern – and sees the man's hands shaking ever so slightly: a sign, surely, but a sign of what?
"D'you think we're nearly there?" Rosencrantz asks, and Guildenstern doesn't answer; the truth is, you see, he doesn't know what to say – he doesn't know where they're going, or when they're going to get there, or even whether he did know, once, and he just doesn't think he's sure of anything anymore.
When Guildenstern asks him how he is, Rosencrantz says, "As well as I can remember being" – and he cannot help but wonder exactly why, considering the rather bleak circumstances, this is true.
In that moment, at the winter of the day, with blurry eyes half-shut, it was easy to pretend there was nothing more to life than this – easy to pretend forget a doomed errand, an insane prince, the lost cause of their lives.
Rosencrantz had just about fallen off his horse when they'd emerged from the forest at last and seen the castle in all its glory, but there was something about the air at Elsinore that meant his opinions of it changed with every minute; besides, its appearance might have been imposing, but there was definitely something else about this place that worried him more.
"Even if there is a storm," Guildenstern says definitively (for Rosencrantz is worrying himself to death about lightning and capsizing and giant waves), "we are not going to die – not here, not now... not yet."
He had thought it was his own decision – Guildenstern stops briefly outside the door of Hamlet's chamber, hears him arguing to himself, does not interfere – but thoughts can be deceiving (after all, he'd thought he'd be home by now, he'd thought Hamlet was his friend, he'd thought coming to Elsinore was a good idea –)
And if he knows anything it is that life (and death) is not a theatre – there is no flash of light, no plume of smoke – and, more often than not, no happy ending.
After dying (and killing, of course), what the players do best is moving on – after a matter of hours in England, they have "accumulated" everything they need by various means and are back to the way they were before Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, and Alfred knows what happens now: you travel, you rehearse, and you wait for another audience.
"I'd never noticed the locket around his neck before... from Ophelia, I imagine," Guildenstern says, and then it crosses his mind that, without realising, he might well – oh lord – he reaches inside his shirt, rubs his neck, but there is no chain, no locket; when Rosencrantz does the same, he has a pendant there, and he looks ridiculously worried until he realises that it is just a medallion.
Rosencrantz is sure he must have seen blackness this thick, this perpetual, before – out in the country perhaps, in a sealed room late at night – but for the life of him, he can neither remember nor imagine anything as bleak as this boat, this night.
Rosencrantz stops him in the middle of a syllogism, frowning "Sorry, I'm lost" – and Guildenstern is about to start a tirade about paying attention and not interrupting and trying to flood his brain with light – but then he looks up, sees the only friend he can remember having, and says ever so softly, "Yes; so am I."
"Denmark's a prison," Hamlet had told them, and Rosencrantz had said, "Then is the world one", as though he was being ridiculous – but now (under a sky that they couldn't escape, on the way to a country they didn't believe in) he began to realise that Hamlet had been right – and, worse still, so had he.
Many people, Guildenstern had said calmly, would be of the belief that the real villain was not the king, but fate, or some other sort of omniscient force – Claudius was only playing his predetermined part by writing the letter (but did that mean that they should play their parts too, Rosencrantz wanted to ask, and just die – ?)
They do not speak much, on the road to Elsinore, although Rosencrantz has a lot to say (in fact, he usually does, but it tends to be hard to compete with somebody like Guildenstern, who probably won't want to hear any of it at the moment).
There's a thickness at the back of his throat, a suspicious heat behind his eyes, and a hitch in every intake of breath, but – no, he tells himself, I am most definitely not crying (because if you repeat it enough times, he's heard, it comes true).
They were not two blind men looting a bazaar for their own portraits, but that might have been better – blind men held hands.
On board the ship, rocked to sleep by the soft motion of waves, Guildenstern dreams of a pact, between him and Rosencrantz – to stay together until death... and when he wakes, he knows two things: one, that it was not a dream, but something like a memory, and two, that the pact will not be broken.
Guildenstern frowns when Rosencrantz stops to pick up the feather, and gives him a disbelieving look when he takes it gently out of his pack days later, still as perfect and soft as when it had been found, but there's something about running his fingers along the flight that makes him feel safe – that makes Hamlet, and Elsinore, and the King and Queen and everything seem so very, very small.
Some time soon, he thinks, Hamlet's going to call me by my name – not just "dear friend" or one half of "my good lads", as he has been doing (because surely Hamlet, who has been their friend for all these years, can remember the difference between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?) – but then he tries to recall exactly which half of Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern he is, finds it far too difficult, and forgives Hamlet at once.
It's like waiting on the brink of a war, the edge of a cliff; and there's something about the duality – feeling both the urge to turn and run pushing you back and the terrible inevitability of it all pulling you forward – that makes Guildenstern want to hold his head in his hands and cry.
Hamlet doesn't relish the deed – he writes the letter slowly, deliberately, pausing over the two names and biting his lip – but he's already killed one man, and these two deserve it (so why do these killings feel just as unfounded as the old man's?)
He likes familiar things (his clothes, and his bed, and his Guildenstern) and he has never trusted England for the sole reason that it is frighteningly unknown – but he's most definitely not about to tell Guildenstern that.
He might pretend that it was a fear of uncontrollable seasickness, or of going off course and never finding a way back, or of pirates – but Guildenstern knew that what really scared Rosencrantz about the sea was how disturbingly deep it was, and the thought that one might well die, under gallons and gallons of unfathomable, salty water, before one even reached the bottom.
Guildenstern works things through, thinks aloud – with him, you can see whatever is coming – but with Rosencrantz, it's all inside, and every so often it comes spilling out (you're walking side by side in Elsinore's garden, calm as anything, and suddenly he grabs you by the arm with a frantic, "You're never going to leave me, are you?")
It's been there as long as he can remember, in the back of his mind – a constant, whining alarm of dread, of anticipatory terror: it gets louder with the band's approaching, wanes along the road to Elsinore, and drones like there's a bee in his ear when they finally encounter Hamlet.
When they break up the players' cart for firewood, there is nothing to do with its contents but give them to the children; and it is not much later – the third day of Fortinbras' reign of Denmark, in a lonely street beside the castle with only the rats for an audience – that a boy in cloth of gold and jewelled crown turns to his blond-wigged companion and proclaims: "Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart..."
"Death, I imagine, is something like being stuck in one of those moments when one turns to look at a clock and it seems an eternity before a tick marks the passage of a single second."
"–don't," says Guildenstern, but everything has gone dark already, with so many things left to say, so many questions; he calls out, and when a hand grabs his, he knows he is not alone – but will that be enough?
"He's not the most quick-witted of boys, but I think you'll find Alfred a very... flexible actor."
They had been inseparable, once – Rosencrantz, Hamlet and Guildenstern against the world – but not for a long time: Rosencrantz could not say he had noticed them drifting apart, but now, suddenly, Hamlet was the enemy – was plotting against them both – and he wasn't sure why.
Elsinore was the sort of place that drove people mad (all closed doors, and rooms that nobody had used for decades, and stagnant air and cold, dead emptiness) – but the grounds were huge and quiet, and smelt like fresh air, and it was easy to stroll (under heavy skies the colour of smoke) and talk and talk until you forgot that eventually you would have to go back inside.
Men on boats were free, but they were also prisoners – moving, but still – in charge, but being controlled; Guildenstern knew it was ridiculously ironic, but he wasn't laughing.
The sky is a terrible shade of grey; it'll be wet tomorrow, thinks Guildenstern, and then he wonders what the weather is normally like in England, and whether he'll have a chance to find out.
He remembers, as boys, the three of them closeting themselves in some far-flung, dusty room and playing at questions (Hamlet always won, but then again, Hamlet had to win at everything or else he sulked for days –)
The colours red, blue and green are real, but happiness – true happiness – is an illusion, shared by a few, for short stretches of time: "We've been happy before, I suppose – I'm sure I can picture you laughing, so I must have at least seen you doing it once."
"I suppose that, on the whole," Guildenstern says, "or at least, on average, the probability is that I'll annoy you about at often as you annoy me..."; and even though he knows it'll make Guildenstern angry, Rosencrantz pretends he hasn't heard this (because they might rile each other sometimes, but the truth is that when there's Guildenstern, he needs no one else, and when there's no one else, he needs Guildenstern).
It was stupid, Rosencrantz supposed: inside, he was petrified that all these sturdy-looking knots tying bits of the boat together would unravel at any second, but when Guildenstern – tangle-of-dubious-theories-and-excitable-emotions Guildenstern – promised that he would "see they were all right", Rosencrantz believed in him unconditionally.
There's a strange sort of skill to it – knowing all the right touches and whispers and kisses, making a person come undone – and it's been a long time since Alfred has thought of it as what is; perhaps 'acceptance' is not the correct term, but where the players are concerned, it's easier every time to lose some dignity, to take the lowest of humiliations in your stride.
If the players were pouring themselves down a bottomless well, then what were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern doing (drawing water constantly from their own spring, pouring away their chances one by one until eventually the bucket hit the bottom with a dry, dead thunk and there was nothing left to do but wait for everything to go black –)?
It was almost pathetic, the coin-in-both-hands trick – something a child might do – but Rosencrantz was childish at the best of times, and he'd meant it well (a token of apology, of condolence, for a friend's achingly bad luck) – so Guildenstern was glad.
In theory, it was all about poise and beauty – mirroring nature in all its brilliance – but in reality it was the ugliest profession Alfred could imagine; you cut yourself up into tiny pieces and gave them away, went to bed as one person and woke up as another; you were the opposite of people, because people loved, and were loved, for more than a jingle of coin – and for more than a night.
Guildenstern questioned everything – it was in his nature; every atom of his being longed for enlightenment, for explanation, for dissection and close examination – and it was a longing Rosencrantz had never understood (but every theorist needs a backer, and Rosencrantz was more than happy to be Guildenstern's).
The wine cloys at the back of his throat, but he drains the goblet anyway, because Hamlet's hands are still stained with the old man's blood and he has that look in his eye that says, you should probably do as I say or you might well be next.
Headlong and hotfoot across the land... at first he thinks he knows what Rosencrantz is talking about – can remember the feel of the horse beneath him, the dusty ground speeding jerkily, blurrily by – but these aren't memories; they are imaginings, of what he thinks he should remember, and in reality the gap in his mind between waking up and sitting here spinning coins is far too large for this to be laughable.