Saturday, March 19, 2011

Clarifying the Rules of Probability in Ros and Guil's World

In Act I of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Guildenstern is frustrated by the breakdown in the typical rules of probability. As we said in class, the laws of probability relate the "fortuitous" and "ordained" in a "union known as nature." Thus, their disruption makes fate just as obscure as chance. I think this is an important point, especially when one considers how Guil and Ros act differently toward the inexplicable occurrence. Ros simply accepts the streak of heads as a new universal rule; he sees no chance in the coin toss. Guil, on the other hand, tries to find a rational reason for the streak. However, he recognizes that implication that he is now at the mercy of fate and other supernatural rules. Here we must make an important distinction: probability's failure clearly affects chance, but it also affects fate. As we see later in the act, one coin comes of tails, destroying Ros's ability to expect heads mindlessly. Through his syllogisms on page 17, we see that Guil also deduces that he cannot be in a world controlled solely by the supernatural. This realization perturbs him further, as we see on page 21 when he wishes for unicorns. How can he exist in a reality operated neither by probability nor the supernatural? Reality can be just as arbitrary and inscrutable as divine will; the rules governing the universe change. Thus, fate is just as unpredictable as, well, chance.

Obviously, we had talked significantly about probability already. I just think that we have to consider the irrationality of fate as well. Am I digging too deeply into this? Did anybody else notice what I am noticing? Perhaps somebody sees another reason for Guil to desire unicorns? I think the discussion is important, as understanding the laws operating opun Ros and Guil is crucial to reading the play.


Blaine said...

Very interesting observations Collin. I believe the coin represents the randomness of the world. The coin is neither directed entirely by chance, rationalistic probability or fate but instead by absolute randomness. The fact that the coin landed heads hundreds of times in a row defies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's expectations that the law of probability is always in constant effect and that the world makes sense and has meaning. Instead, the coins suggest the world is dominated by absolute randomness. Throughout the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are thrown in completely random and improbable situations that from their perspective makes no sense whatsoever; they try to find meaning in a meaningless world and ultimately die still clueless to their purpose and situation.

Samantha said...

I think that you both bring up interesting points. I agree that the disruption of probability affects fate by making it irrational. I also totally agree with Blaine's assertion that the coin represents randomness. Consequently, it further undermines all senses of logic and rationality. I believe that Stoppard chooses to open the play with this scene because it serves as an introduction to the main theme, Ros and Guil's futile search to find purpose in a meaningless world. Stoppard further uses the disruption of probablity to present the idea that time is static. Guil suggests that one coin may simply have landed heads only once and that this instance freezes in time, which creates the appearance that the same toss occurs over eighty times. The concept of time being static is commonly found in postmodernist works.

Julia said...

I think you all bring up very thought provoking and interesting points. Like Samantha said, time is static in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. Both characters make assertions about the cyclical nature of life, and their arguments and discussions are often cyclic. For instance, on page 88, the stage directions indicate that they "stand still for a moment in their original positions," directly after which Guildenstern remarks, "Well, at last we're getting somewhere." This scene, like the play itself, is humorous and tragic at the same time, since Guildenstern's lack of progress mirrors the stagnation of the postmodern world.
Although life seems to be cyclic, it is also unpredictable, as Blaine and Collin pointed out. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz attempt to blame their circumstances on fate, an example of the human need or desire to figure out why their lives play out the way they do. Fate itself, however, is irrational, and pondering their destinies does not help them muddle through the complexities of the world.

C-Sted said...

I think that Samantha's point about the static nature of time in postmodern literature raises interesting implications in terms of the nature of randomness. Is a string of identical outcomes truly random? For example, one must admit that a random number generator could produce the number 9 without fail hundreds of times in a a row, yet most everybody would take this result as evidence of a bias (thus undermining the randomness of the number generator). If time is static, does true randomness exist? Perhaps Stoppard is playing with perfect randomness, randomness operating upon randomness in intentionally improbable ways simply for the sake of disconcerting Ros and Guil as well as the reader?