MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (1967)
Tom Stoppard
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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This brilliant, weird play, retelling the story of Shakespeare's Hamlet from the point of view of two "throw away" characters, unfortunately has very little mathematics in it. However, every few days I get an e-mail message from someone suggesting that I add it to the list, so I will. The mathematical content of the play is all contained in the discussion of probability surrounding the tossing of a coin. You see, at first it seems that the coin always comes up heads.. I always perceived this as a clue that they were not in "the real world" rather than any sort of statement of mathematics, but I could be wrong! Later, when the coin finally comes up tails, this seems to portend a change in the action. (If you haven't seen this show before, and can stand some weirdness, I strongly recommend that you rent the movie!)

Contributed by Erica

I would disagree that the coin always coming up heads is a sign that the play exists outside the real world. In fact, I think this is precisely the point: In the real world, at every toss, there is just as much chance for heads as tails. While it seems unlikely that the repeated tosses are always heads, it is entirely possible. This is a theme running throughout the story - the real world is stranger than fiction - and the use of mathematics is central to this.

Those interested in this story may also want to look at Hilbert Schenck's The Geometry of Narrative in which he introduces a method for applying four dimensional geometry to literary analysis and applies it (among other works) to "Hamlet" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", which he claims are "rotated" with respect to each other.

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Works Similar to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
  2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  3. The Gigantic Fluctuation by Arkady Strugatsky / Boris Strugatsky
  4. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
  5. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
  6. Continuums by Robert Carr
  7. The Art Student's War by Brad Leithauser
  8. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  9. The Law by Robert M. Coates
  10. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Ratings for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1.5/5 (24 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4.41/5 (29 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction,
Motif
TopicProbability/Statistics,
MediumPlays, Films,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)