In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two unintelligent Danish nobles who were ultimately fooled by the protagonist and executed by the English king. Their attire, role, and tone in speaking are almost identical and they are almost the same character.

This contrasts with, say, Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, as the two tramps have subtle differences in their personalities.

Albeit the preponderance of dissimilar duos in various cultures, almost identical duos also exist ubiquitously. (Say Thompson and Thomson in Tintin, Tweendledum and Tweendledee in Alice) And the similarity is, it seems to me, correlated with a comic effect. Whereas in dissimilar duos this comic effect seem weaker.

Please explain why a correlation between similar duos in narrative works and comic effect exist. The OP, nonetheless, is not satisfied with terms from literary criticism such as 'tension' or simplistic justification such as 'it's funny how they act exactly like each other'.

Edit: the Shakespearean duo is never intended to be the centre of my question. They are used merely to illustrate the preponderance -- and basic function -- of comic identical duos. (The 'comic' effect is not so strong here, yet the duo are alienated and their death is hardly mourned in the play, which somewhat amounts to a comic supplement to the pathos)

IF one really would like me to phrase it philosophically, it would be along the lines of 'is there a theory of humour that could explain the observed comic effect of identical duos in literature, provided that the effect does exist?'

  • 2
    If there's a question specifically about philosophy in here, I don't see it. Can you make it much clearer? For instance, by using the Shakespeare thing as merely an example within the question rather than the center.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 12:40
  • There are active proposals for Acting and Theatre and Literature on Area 51, perhaps you may be interested in becoming a follower. At the moment there is no really suitable SE site for your question, I am afraid, but you can try CogSci with humor tag. Double acts show that comic effect can be created by contrasted duos as well as identical ones.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 0:02
  • 1
    This might be more on topic on writing.stackexchange.com Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 17:22
  • 1
    why we have so many sub-site but no one for literary criticism exists? Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 6:52
  • Try Literature.SE. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


The first thing that comes to mind is that having a duplicate marks the character(s) as disposable. Once a character is disposable he's more pliable as a comic prop. It might also be particularly effective in Hamlet because we perceive doubles not to have thoughts of their own, while Hamlet is one of the first turns in drama and fiction toward interiority and attention to the thoughts of individuals-- in this case the excessively insular, solipsistic, brooding, lonely thoughts of the main character. Our unconscious prejudice may be that having thoughts of one's own is no stronger than having thoughts full stop. So splitting a character into indistinguishable clones is a way of stripping him of subjectivity and throwing into relief the psychological trial of the hero. Btw, do you know the Tom Stoppard play? It's possible that its literally a dramatic exploration of exactly your question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .