Written as a postmodern piece rather than a conventional play, Reassurance and Guilelessness are Dead (Raga) is able to explore its philosophical themes on a much deeper level. The very structure of the play becomes – in of itself – a philosophical question to be pondered and allows Stoppard to present ideas of fate, ignorance and physical limitations in a new and thought-provoking light. The unique form of the play combines with Stoppard philosophical musings to present an Idea of freedom as something which Is elusive and, perhaps, unattainable. The most obvious form of redeem explored within the play Is that of physical freedom.
For all of their remembered existence, Ross and Guilt have been trapped on one path: they “were sent for” (p. 9) by King Claudia in order to discern the cause “of Hamlet’s transformation”(p. 27), and from that point on their “momentum… [had]… Taken over” (p. 112). For the two characters, then, going in another direction is not only impossible, but inconceivable as they do not recall anything different. This physical inability to choose another path was not only defined by their own motion and momentum, but by mysterious uncontrollable events such as their sudden teleporting from the road with the players to the court.
Action and movement in the play seems to happen without Ross or Gull’s will, and whenever they try to willfully go somewhere or do something, they “[get] up but [have] nowhere to go]”. This is represented through the image of the boat in the final act of the play. While on the boat Ross and Gull . Can move… Change direction, rattle about, but [their] movement Is contained within a larger one that carries [them] along… Inexorably… ” (p. 114) to their eventual end. The futility of Ross and Gull’s attempts to use their limited physical freedom is further explored through the notion of cyclical movement and unchanging environments.
No matter where Ross or Guilt try to go or dream of going, they are trapped by the reasoning that everywhere has “the same sky” (p. 87) and no notable change has been – or even can be – made. Throughout the play, even the conversations that Ross and Gull engage In follow a cyclical pattern with the repetition of motifs such as the “give us this day our providing the audience with a sense that, despite all the traveling that Ross and Guilt have done, nothing has regressed. For Ross and Gull, this limbo is defined by the constant realization that they are too lost for any decision they make to be meaningful.
Often, they are confused as to “which way [they] came in”(p. 31) and are trapped acting “on scraps of information” (p. 75), unable to determine whether their decisions are truly their own, or Just playing right Into the hands of fate. Indeed, It could be said that the mall thing keeping the two characters in this inert state – and, perhaps, the main concept within the play itself – is the force of fate. From the very first scene in the play, redeem is explored as something which can only exist within the bounds of predetermined destinies.
Ross and Guilt are Just as trapped and defined by fate as the coin which constantly shows up “heads”(p. 9). It Is in this exploration of fate that the postmodern nature of the play comes to the fore. Where more conventional plays of fate and destiny, Stoppard uses characters such as the Player – who is “always in character” (p. 25) – to remind the audience that the characters must follow a certain pattern because they exist within the plot of a play. The play itself becomes the Sistine of its characters.
Through the metrification aspect of Raga – and, again, through the Player – Stoppard is able to present the fate of a play as something which traps not only the characters, but the plot of the play itself. “there’s a design at work in all art… ” (p.?? ) the Player tells his audience. “events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion. ” (p.?? ). The play itself must follow a structure of sorts, Ross and Guilt must meet an eventual death because the title demands it. Similarly, the element of the plays heavy reference to Hamlet adds an even greater limitation onto the direction that the plot can take.
Ross and Gull’s lives are defined by the destiny that Stoppard had in mind for them, yet Stoppard work is constricted by the destiny which Shakespeare had already written, much in the same way that the players’ play is constricted by the reality they find themselves in. Interestingly, reality within the play – although one of the main limits to the characters’ freedom – is regularly questioned. The metrification nature of the story provides a sense of confusion as to where the ‘play-within-a-play begins and ‘reality egging, to the extent that one of the main themes of Raga is the concept of perception creating reality.
For many of the characters, their freedom – or lack thereof – exists only when they believe it does. Perhaps the fundamental comment that Stoppard is making on freedom, then, is that freedom only exists when you are ignorant of your chains. Ross and Guilt spend so much of the play dully aware of their own fate and realizing that “wheels have been set in motion… “(p. 51), that when opportunities arise to change that fate, they are rendered inert by a bizarre form of name theory; the doubt that perhaps the forces of fate are “counting on” (p. 9) such a change. Slenderness’s lament is that “we are presented with alternatives… But not choices” (p. 30). In the course of their adventures Reassurance and Guilelessness are indeed presented with many options, but when each of those options have been determined by either Shakespeare, Stoppard, Fate or the unique situation they find themselves in, it’s hard to see how there’s any genuine choice. Not least being because of an undercurrent of awareness that there isn’t a single syllable they can utter without their playwright’s complicity.