Free Study Guide: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard - Free BookNotes|
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ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD: LITERARY ANALYSIS
However, his pleasure at his own reasoning does not last long, as he remembers how many times in the past they have spun coins together, never getting such results before. He believes that normal living depends on basic equality; it creates harmony, preventing anyone from losing or winning too much. Rosencrantz, meanwhile, talks randomly about strange scientific phenomenon, such as the fact that fingernails grow after death. Guildenstern becomes more and more tense, demanding what the first thing Rosencrantz remembers from today is. Finally Rosencrantz begins to follow the thread, crying that a messenger woke them up. He summoned them on official business, no questions asked. Rosencrantz remembers them leaving very quickly, afraid of arriving too late, but when Guildenstern asks him "Too late for what?" he cannot answer. They don’t know where to go now; Rosencrantz doesn’t even remember where he came from.
Guildenstern begins to get depressed, feeling that, since they were
picked out by this messenger, they should not be left to find their own
way from now on. When Rosencrantz thinks he hears a band playing, Guildenstern
begins to theorize about the nature of illusions. He suggests that one
can turn an extraordinary happening into an ordinary one at will. His
example is a unicorn: if one man sees it, he is amazed, but if a whole
crowd sees it, they simply assume it is a horse with an arrow in its forehead.
As Guildenstern continues, his friend realizes that a band is, in fact,
In all the debate early in this scene, it is unclear who is "right": while Rosencrantz seems to be the foolish one of the pair, who simply enjoys his game and doesn’t examine it theoretically, Guildenstern also seems misguided. After all, while it is very unlikely that a coin would come down heads nearly a hundred times in a row, it is possible. While it is unusual, it is not necessarily cause for shock and philosophical analysis.
Guildenstern doesn’t see this. He evaluates his elementary ideas about probability, even down to the simple idea that a two-sided, equally weighted coin has as much chance of coming down heads as tails. Guildenstern also seems just as confused about their being "sent for" as Rosencrantz. Neither of them really wonders why they were sent for, and we are not told exactly who sends for them.
Their curiosity about life has no direction. They either ask random questions, like why fingernails might grow after death, or worry uselessly over metaphysical ideas. Rosencrantz doesn’t seem interested in important questions. Guildenstern attempts to answer those questions by applying bizarre, inappropriate strategies. He uses a syllogism to try to determine whether they are still in reality as they know it. This kind of reasoning becomes all the more absurd when the two begin their discussion about where they are going and why.
They barely remember that they were sent for by royalty, and they certainly have no idea what they will be asked to do once they get where they’re going. All of their complicated theorizing means very little when one realizes that they are completely in the dark about the simplest things. They follow orders without any knowledge of the purpose of their mission.
It seems that, while they (or at least Guildenstern) would like to have some
understanding of life’s mysteries, they are somehow able to largely ignore
an idea so central and personal as their own fates. They skirt around
major issues, focusing on the minor ones instead. An example of this is
the appearance of the band: Guildenstern is so caught up in wondering
about the nature of illusion that, at first, he ignores the fact that
the band is not an illusion at all and is, in fact, standing right in
front of him. Their surroundings or lack thereof underscore their confused
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Benway, Nova. "TheBestNotes on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead".
. 09 May 2017