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Free Study Guide: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard - Free BookNotes

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Since Rosencrantz is a play, there isn’t as much opportunity for point of view as there might be in a novel. A novel can devote much time to describing one person’s experience of everything around him or her. Rosencrantz, of course, cannot do that, but it does seem to ally the reader much more closely with Guildenstern than with any other character.

This is interesting because it can be argued that Rosencrantz is actually more sympathetic than his friend: he pities Hamlet, and he is innocent about pornography. Nevertheless, the reader likely tends to look to Guildenstern for the most reasoned account of the confused happenings of the play. Though he does not often seem to understand very well what is going on, he at least understands that he does not understand it.

This separates him from Rosencrantz, who does not seem to care very much what happens to him; from the Player, whose only goals are selfish; from Claudius, who is desperately trying to cover his lies; and from Hamlet himself, who is rarely forthcoming with his thoughts and feelings. Guildenstern is at times the voice of reason--though he also can be completely absurd. He therefore sometimes leaves the audience with no one at all to turn to, stuck in the middle of a group of people who can’t tell day from night.


• Guildenstern: It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of wealth. (Act One, pg. 16)

• Guildenstern: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defense against the pure emotion of fear. (Act One, pg. 17)

• Rosencrantz: It was urgent--a matter of extreme urgency, a royal summons, his very words: official business and no questions asked (Act One, pg. 19.)

• Guildenstern: Do you know any good plays? (Act One, pg. 32)

• Player: Blood is compulsory--they’re all blood, you see. (Act One, pg. 33)

• Rosencrantz: I feel like a spectator--an appalling business. (Act One, pg. 41)

• Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in it. (Act One, pg. 52)

• Rosencrantz: They know nothing of that and you know nothing of them, to your mutual survival.

• Guildenstern: From now on reason will prevail.

• Rosencrantz: Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?

• Player: Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion. (Act Two, pg. 79)

• Guildenstern: Even if I don’t know where I am, I like to know that. (Act Two, pg. 95)

• Guildenstern: We act on scraps of information--sifting half-remembered directions that we can hardly separate from instinct.

• Guildenstern: Well. He is a man, he is mortal, death comes to us all, etcetera (Act Three, pg. 110)

• Player: Life is a gamble, at terrible odds--if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it. Act Three, pg. 115)

• Rosencrantz: Couldn’t we just stay put? I mean no one is going to come on and drag us off--(Act Three, pg. 125)


1.) Why do people keep mixing up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

2.) Why do they mix up each other?

3.) Why did they agree to come to the castle in the first place?

4.) How does Guildenstern view Rosencrantz?

5.) What is the Player’s relationship to the two main characters?

6.) Describe Hamlet in this play, and compare him to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

7.) What are the major differences between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

8.) Is Rosencrantz happy?

9.) Compare the end of the play to its beginning. What has changed?

10.) What does death mean in this play?

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard: Free Book Notes Summary

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Benway, Nova. "TheBestNotes on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead". . 09 May 2017