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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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Hamlet told from the worm's-eye view of two minor characters, bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, reality and illusion mix, and where fate leads heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

126 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1966

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About the author

Tom Stoppard

137 books926 followers
Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE, FRSL, is a British screenwriter and playwright. Born Tomáš Straussler. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Stop...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,563 reviews
Profile Image for Jonathan Terrington.
595 reviews576 followers
November 18, 2021

Peasant 1: Did you hear? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead?

Peasant 2: Really dead?

Peasant 1: Really dead.

Peasant 2: Really?

Peasant 1: Really, really.

Peasant 2: Really, really, really?

Peasant 1: Really, really, really.

Peasant 2: Really, really, really, really?

Peasant 1: Would you stop that? They're dead as dead can be - which is actually pretty dead.

Peasant 2: Pretty dead indeed.

Peasant 1: But they're not the pretty dead.

Peasant 2: Few are pretty when dead.

Peasant 1: To be sure.

Peasant 2: Was it murder?

Peasant 1: Oh yes, t'was a murder of a show. All the crowd demanded their money back indeed.

Peasant 2: And who could have done the dirty deed?

Peasant 1: Stop that, we're no minstrels to be finishing each others rhymes.

Peasant 2: Or cleaning up the other's crimes.

Peasant 1: I've half a mind to let you join Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, can't you see our audience is growing tired of such absurdity? Though absurdity may be our part (the peasants together) absurdity for a laugh quickly loses all sense of art.

Peasant 1: As I heard it, I believe that Hamlet may be to blame for the deaths of those two men. I heard that he replaced a letter - with instructions to kill him - with one bearing instructions for their death.

Peasant 2: Quite the rumour. Where did this original letter come from I wonder?

Peasant 1: Oh, that's quite easy to tell. It came from Claudius, Hamlet's dear uncle.

Peasant 2: So was said letter - of which we have not seen...

Peasant 1: Much as we have not seen Rosencrantz or Guildenstern...

Peasant 2: ...therefore a letter to put master Hamlet out of his funky misery?

(Enter Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes)

John Watson: I say, Sherlock, we don't even belong in this type of fiction.

Sherlock Holmes: My dear Watson, you forget that this is now a murder mystery. And murder is quite within our realm of expertise.

Both Peasants: (turn to the audience) Aside from committing them we hope.

Watson: Then, I presume you have come to a decision about this case by now Holmes?

Holmes: Indubitably, my good fellow. The solution is rather obvious.

Watson: So it was Hamlet after all, his hands are certainly most guilty.

Holmes: Why of course not Watson. Don't be ridiculous. It was not Hamlet after all who initiated the beginnings of this murder.

Watson: Claudius then, it was his letter that sent two men to their dooms.

Holmes: Ah, Watson, you see but you do not observe.

Watson: Surely, you do not mean to insist that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are responsible for the deaths themselves?

Holmes: Try to keep up Watson, I said murder, and I meant murder. This is no suicide case, it is a murder following an attempted regicide, most foul.

Watson: Why then, Holmes, whatever the dickens could be the solution?

Holmes: There is clearly nothing more elusive to you Watson than an obvious fact. We are looking at a murder committed centuries ago, murder that continues to haunt the here and now. In several different worlds at this time, several versions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are being murdered all over again. The true criminal - the one which remains as truth - is clearly the old bard himself. Mr William Shakespeare.


"We're tragedians you see. We follow directions - there is no choice involved. The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means."

Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,031 reviews17.7k followers
September 8, 2023
I read this play in 1967 - that was the year Evergreen Magazine published it in its entirety.

It was Canada's Centennial Year, and we were hosting the World's Fair in Montréal. My family had driven there on a Saturday, and so Mom and Sis, my Dad and my Bro, and myself alone - once there - each separated and did our own recce's. At the appointed time we were to meet at the vast carpark.

André Gagnon’s buoyantly sunny Piano au Soleil was bopping down on me from the car park loudspeakers. I bought the magazine while waiting for them there.

Once home again, I found myself, that Sunday, amazed at Stoppard's intellectual acuity. And like me at the time, his cultural outlook was humorously existentialist.

Like me as well, he is small 'c' conservative with a touch of libertarianism.

I devoured it in an afternoon. A New literary star was born!

You don't get to heaven without deciphering the world's game. And Stoppard/Shakespeare's dangerous duo are dangerous at that point because the vision of evil has burnt them out. Whaddya do about it?

Like Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, they quip about it - gravedigger style.

Well, I had inherited my Mom's black sense of humour, of which for her the apogee was to be seen in Edward Gorey's books. So I could dig Stoppard, even though he appeared pretty facile.

His dialogue resembles verbal firecrackers!

So you can well imagine the next day, at high school, I had a ready stock of wit to display to my fellow nerds, loitering round our lockers.

Four stars, friends. For though Stoppard flirts with profundity he never long pursues it.

Stoppard sees life as a mere joke. Small wonder, for when as a mere child his folks fled Nazi Czechoslovakia for faraway India, he felt his life as overwhelming culture shock.

Still, life's not an absurdist game. It's an ordeal - as any modern introvert knows (though perhaps Amazon has now declared war on us, I don't know, with the new push to 'extrovert' us all)!

But we Aspies had it right at the outset: life hurts and then you die. Sorry, it's no joke. Try curing That, Herr Doktor Asperger!

So Stoppard lives on the surface. A pretty Rough surface when you get to old age, Tom?

But, still, you know, you've gotta laugh with him all the way to the Beyond.

When, at last, the hounded Christian introverts among us will find our peace and profundity.

Here in Ontario, today our neighbourhood has become nothing but - as Voltaire once quipped about Canada - "quelques arpents de neige" (several acres of snow).

On the surface, Canada hasn't changed much since the eighteenth century.

But deep down, inside my own aspie self, I know life's not a joke to dumb down with stats and weather bulletins, as our media would have it.

Life's not a boring game.

And neither is it absurd.

No -

For been-there-done-that Rosencrantz's screamingly Woke skullduggery -

Is only the fast lane to hell.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
September 19, 2020
This is a classic existentialist work by playwright Tom Stoppard which focuses on an absurdist dialog between the two minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Thanks to my extraordinary high school AP English teacher, I was introduced to this wonderful and funny play and it gave me more insight into the incredible complexity of the original as well as opened my eyes to modern perspectives about it. A must.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews48 followers
March 18, 2021
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, 1966, Tom Stoppard

An ambassador from England arrives on the scene to bluntly report "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead" (Hamlet. Act V, Scene II, line 411); they join the stabbed, poisoned and drowned key characters. By the end of Hamlet, Horatio is the only main figure left alive.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز هفتم ماه جولای سال 2016میلادی

عنوان: روزن‍ک‍ران‍ت‍ز و گ‍ی‍ل‍دن‍س‍ت‍رن‌ م‍رده‌ان‍د؛ نویسنده: ت‍ام‌ اس‍ت‍اپ‍ارد؛ مت‍رج‍م‌ م‍ص‍طف‍ی‌ اس‍لام‍ی‍ه‌؛ تهران، نیلوفر، 1381؛ در 144ص؛ شابک 9644481828؛ موضوع نمایشنامه های نویسندگان بریتانیایی - سده 20م

روزنکرانتز و گیلدنسترن مرده ‌اند؛ عنوان نمایشنامه و فیلمی کمدی-درام، نوشته ی «تام استاپارد» است؛ نمایشنامه، دو شخصیت فرعی نمایش «هملت»، اثر «ویلیام شکسپیر» را پی می‌گیرد، آنها که خودشان را در مسیر« قلعه الزینور» می‌یابند؛ پیش از رسیدن به قلعه، آن‌ها با گروهی از بازیگران، برخورد می‌کنند، و دربارهٔ فلسفه ی وجودشان، پرسشهایی برایشان پیش می‌آید؛ فیلم برنده جایزه «شیر طلایی» چهل و هفتمین دوره جشنواره فیلم «ونیز» شده است این اثر، یکی از ماندگارترین و پر اجرا شده ترین نمایشنامه ها در تئاتر معاصر است، و توانسته به جایگاهی ثابت در میان برترین آثار نمایشی دست یابد؛ این شاهکار مدرن، در دنیای نمایشنامه ی «هملت» اثر «شکسپیر» میگذرد اما توسط شخصیتهایی سردرگم و ره گم کرده روایت میشود که در داستان اصلی «شکسپیر»، کاراکترهایی فرعی بودند؛ «روزنکرانتز» و «گیلدنسترن» در این اثر به یاد ماندنی، بالاخره فرصت پیدا میکنند، تا نقش اصلی را بر دوش بگیرند، اما باید آن کار را در جهانی به انجام برسانند، که بسیار یادآور نمایشنامه ی «در انتظار گودو» اثر «ساموئل بکت» باشد؛ در جهانی که واقعیت و وهم در هم میآمیزند و سرنوشت، دو قهرمان داستان را، به سوی پایانی تراژیک اما غیرقابل اجتناب هدایت میکنند

گاه خوانشگری دست بالا میزند، و برایم مینگارد، که چرا، این فراموشکار در ریویوهایم دیدگاه خویش را، درباره ی کتاب و داستان نمینویسم؟؛ راستش را بخواهید، قضاوت کردن درباره نویسندگانی که عمر خویش را، با واژه ها بگذرانیده اند، کار آسانی نیست؛ اگر از خوانش کتابی مشکلی به دیده ام بنشیند، شاید در متن اصلی کتاب، آن مشکل نباشد؛ ولی هر کتابی هماره برایم، جهانی نو را باز میگشاید، و هماره خوانش واژه ها، دلم را به تپش وامیدارد؛ هر چند این روزها، بیشتر از پیش، خشکیده ام، و تپشی در کار نیست؛ هیچ اندرزی را، به فرزندان خویش نیز، نمیگویم؛ چون: «زندگی آتشگهی دیرنده پا برجاست؛ گر بیفروزیش، رقص شعله اش در هر کران پیداست»؛ پس هر کدام از ما باید خود زندگی کنیم؛ و از زندگی خویشتن خویش پاسخ رازها را بیاموزیم؛ جهان به گستردگی بینش مردمان بگذشته ها و امروزیان و آیندگان نیز هست

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 27/12/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews513 followers
August 10, 2013

I first read this play either at school or at university - at any event, so long ago that I can no longer remember when - and it made me a fan of Tom Stoppard's work. Since that time I've seen productions of a number of his plays, including Arcadia (one of all time favourite pieces of theatre), Travesties and Rock 'n' Roll. However, until last night I'd not seen a production of this play, which kickstarted Stoppard's career as a playwright when it was staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is described as an absurdist, existentialist tragi-comedy. It focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet who wait in the wings as Shakespeare's tragedy is played out around them, confused and confounded by what is happening, uncertain of their identities, unable to rely on their memories. While Stoppard has Ros and Gil (or is it Gil and Ros?) engage in deep discussions about the meaning of life and death, the conflict between art and reality and the randomness of fate, they completely miss the signficance to their own situation of the philosophical concepts involved in their discussions. They have no existence independent of each other and no existence outside Hamlet - and no understanding of what that means.

Two aspects of the play really stand out for me. One is its metatheatricality. The whole play is a piece of metatheatre given that the the central characters are characters in Hamlet and the action takes place within and around a performance of Hamlet. However, there are also conscious echoes of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, discussions by the characters of theatrical performance and theory, repeated role-playing by Ros and Gil, and more than one variation of Hamlet's play-within-a-play. The effect is a complex and layered exposition of theatrical artifice.

The other aspect of the play that I particularly love is the language. Stoppard's wordplay is dazzlingly witty and inventive, while demonstrating how language can be used to confound and obfuscate reality and truth.

The Sydney Theatre Company production of the play I saw last night was brilliant, with wonderful performances, sensational set and costumes and great direction. I laughed until I cried. That has to indicate a great night at the theatre.

Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
August 6, 2020
“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”

I have seen this play, Tom Stoppard’s first major play, I think three times over the years and twice on the same day as Hamlet, with actors playing their parts in both plays. Since I had just heard a production of Hamlet on audiotape, I decided to reread this play, which is a kind of comic/existentialist/absurdist commentary on the great tragedy. Or drama as extended reflection on what Shakespeare was exploring in Hamlet.

One shouldn’t read or see Stoppard's play without having seen or read Hamlet, I think. They both comment on death and fate and family and identity, among other things, though Hamlet is a Prince and that play takes place as do most Shakespearean tragedies, among royalty, on a grand stage, and Stoppard’s play takes as its central characters two minor figures who had been childhood friends of Hamlet. Maybe they are more like most of us than Hamlet; in other words, what is the fate of the “common people”? (Answer: Our fates are inextricably bound to decisions that others make; i.e., as Claudius decides to kill his own brother, Hamlet’s father, in order to be with Gertrude and become king, having the domino effect of grief and madness for Hamlet, so Claudius’s decision to spy on and eventually kill Hamlet has effects on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:

“. . . we move idly toward eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope or explanation.”

If that sentiment seems relevant to the anguished but also rich and privileged Hamlet, imagine how it might also pertain to the more vulnerable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are essentially pawns of the royal realm.

“I don’t begin to understand. Who are all these people, what’s it got to do with me?”

Also, we in the peanut gallery and the balcony all come to the same end, basically, though with perhaps less fanfare: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”)

The two characters, whom nobody can really tell apart---they aren’t even sure what their own names are half the time--obviously owe much to Vladimir and Estragon of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, who owe something to two characters Beckett loved, Laurel and Hardy. As Ros says, “we just go on.” We are left to meditate on what it's all about, of course.

To summarize: R and G were early requested by the King Claudius to spy on their friend Hamlet, presumably to find out why on Earth he is so sad, and they later accompany him to England at the request of the King, carrying a letter to the King of England to have Hamlet killed there, but Hamlet finds the letter and pulls the old switcheroo on them and. . . we get that title. And Guildenstern justifiably complains (not expecting to die, but still):

“What did we ever do to these people to deserve all this?”

I like the way we weave in and out of the Hamlet story to see it from the perspective of “minor” characters, and I like the way the actors from the play within the play reflect on fate and performing/deceiving. I like all the meta-fictional reflections on playing our parts:

“We're actors — we're the opposite of people!”

I like, too, the way Stoppard uses R and G to reflect on existentialist themes that he sees in both Hamlet and Waiting for Godot.This early play may not in fact be his best play, but it is one of my favorite, for sure. There's even a contemporary reference!:

"Give us this day our daily mask."
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
December 25, 2018
First performed in 1966, Stoppard's short metatheatrical tragicomedy takes place on the margins of Shakespeare's most famous work: the story tracks the titular pair of friends as circumstances beyond their control land them in increasingly absurd scenarios, until their sudden and inexplicable deaths terminate the action of the play. Interruption and repetition characterize the dialogue, while confusion rules the scenes. The narrative's evasiveness makes for a disorienting but stimulating viewing experience, even as it impedes the play's ability to leave a lasting or forceful impact upon the audience.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
March 12, 2018
ROSENCRANTZ: Here we go again.

GUILDENSTERN: But I thought we were...?



ROSENCRANTZ: No such luck.

GUILDENSTERN: Are you positive? This doesn't look much like Elsinore.

ROSENCRANTZ: Of course it doesn't. We're in a different play.



TRUMP: Jesus Christ, how could you say that? Little white lies? Are you completely stupid?!

HICKS: [weeping] I couldn't, they were so, I didn't know what to—

TRUMP: You're fired!

HICKS: Oh, please, please Mr Trump, I promise I'll—

TRUMP: You heard me!

[They exit. HICKS's sobs diminish in the distance]

GUILDENSTERN: What play? Are we the stars this time?

ROSENCRANTZ: [peering upward] I can see the title.

GUILDENSTERN: So are we the stars?

ROSENCRANTZ: It says "Kim Jong III part 2".

GUILDENSTERN: We're not the stars then.

ROSENCRANTZ: 'Fraid not.

GUILDENSTERN: I never really believed we were.

[A pause]

GUILDENSTERN: What kind of play is it?

ROSENCRANTZ: [peering upward again] "A nuc—"


ROSENCRANTZ: "A nuclear tragedy".

GUILDENSTERN: What does that mean?

ROSENCRANTZ: "Will the world end tomorrow? It's a coin toss."

GUILDENSTERN: I still don't get it.

ROSENCRANTZ: I think I'm starting to understand.


ROSENCRANTZ: [Taking out a coin] You call.


ROSENCRANTZ: Heads. Shall we do it again?

[GUILDENSTERN nods, ROSENCRANTZ flips the coin]


ROSENCRANTZ: Heads. A third time?


[ROSENCRANTZ flips the coin and looks at it with a despairing expression]


GUILDENSTERN: [Pointing at the sky] What's that? I think it's getting closer.


Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,130 followers
May 29, 2007
Brilliant. It's fitting to choose the British designation for how wonderful I think this play is, I believe. This play manages to be absolutely stand on its own hilarious, as well as a thoughtful meditation on many issues at the same time. It pushes neither on the viewer/reader on its own, nor predominantly. The satire is executed near flawlessly, and the comedic sensitivity (even in the saddest moments of the farce) could not be more on target. I very much usually wish to have some criticism to make, even of the classics that I review, but after having read this about five times, I still have none. It makes its points, delivers them well, and involves every audience I have seen when attending a production of it.

The only point I would make here is that if you can have some familiarity with Hamlet, I would imagine the play becomes much more funny. I saw it after knowing Hamlet quite well, so I haven't had the opposite experience. However, this is what I am told, and given the context of the play, I don't doubt it.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,123 reviews730 followers
May 3, 2023
Karmic retribution for false friends...Hamlet: "Thou hast killed me in thine heart...and now in my true heart let thy execution take place; to false friendship - a dungeon that neither you nor I shall be condemned to...let thy execution be my final act of friendship." (So sorry Bill!)
Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews384 followers
May 28, 2016
An absurdest play with two idiot main characters and one of the most profound quotes of all time “We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”
Profile Image for Annalisa.
547 reviews1,379 followers
August 7, 2008
I watched this movie years ago and thought it was hilarious so I thought I'd check out the play that inspired the film. It's the ramblings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern while Hamlet goes unnoticed, or at least misunderstood, by them in the background. In far over their heads, both in thematic prose and plot progression, what makes this play so hilarious is the irony. One of the few times irony can truly be claimed: the reader is aware of a humor lost on the characters when we have the foreknowledge of the well-known fate of Rosen & Guild. My favorite part is the detached and indifferent discussion of death between Rosen & Guild when they think it's Hamlet forthcoming end but we the readers all know that it is their deaths they are tumbling towards unknowingly.

Their part-insightful, part-idiotic discussions on chance, fate, death, friends, and word play is amusing. One of my favorite lines "A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself" is humorous because it is spoken by a seemingly nonsensical insane Guildenstern trying to appear intelligent about a Hamlet who is "stark raving sane" trying to appear unintelligent. The humor of self-evaluation in "talking nonsense not to himself" is lost on Guild.

I loved the questions game they played where they weren't allowed to make a statement, only ask questions and the rhetoric it produced. The incorrect assumptions they take on the mundane, taking nothing for given, even previously established facts was amusing as well. Such as: "The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter" received questions such as "He's in love with his daughter?" and "The old man is?" going back and forth until "Hamlet in love with the old man's daughter, the old man thinks" sets them straight. While their conversation is often idiotic, it is sometimes insightful, and amusing in both instances.

But while very witty, it was a little bit hard to follow at times, particularly the stage directions. It made me want to pull out Hamlet and reference the correlating scenes. It may be useful to have read Hamlet recently. I forgot what a great play that is. With the quick conversation and the double plays, I think the movie is a better forum for this and I'm putting this movie on my queue for a rewatch (and it was excellent once again). But what an original idea. Very funny. Give it a read or better yet go watch the movie.

A few of the quotes that struck me:
We're actors! We're the opposite of people.
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself. Or just as mad. . .Stark raving sane.
Shouldn't we be doing something... constructive? ... What did you have in mind? A short, blunt human pyramid?
A Chinaman of the T'ang Dynasty - and, by which definition, a philosopher - dreamed he was a butterfly, and from that moment he was never quite sure that he was not a butterfly dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him; in his two-fold security.
Everything has to be taken on trust; truth is only that which is taken to be true. It's the currency of living. There may be nothing behind it, but it doesn't make any difference so long as it is honoured. One acts on assumptions. What do you assume?
In reponse to I don't believe in England: Just a conspiracy of cartographers?
We're still finding our feet ... I should concentrate on not losing your head.
Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well, at least I'm not dead.
We move idly toward eternity without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation.
If you're not even happy, what's so good about surviving?
Death is not...not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not being.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,929 reviews386 followers
April 21, 2017
Each of us is the star of our own life. You may be a bit part in someone else’s narrative, but in your own mind, yours is the story that matters. Or you may struggle to find meaning in your own life, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this play by Tom Stoppard.

Last night I attended a live broadcast of the National Theatre production, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Josh McGuire. The set was very simple and the dialog was copious and delivered rapidly. I couldn’t help but admire how well they knew their parts.

There was definitely a “Waiting for Godot” vibe to the production, as R & G wait for some kind of sign or direction as to what they are supposed to be doing.

A knowledge of Shakespeare’s Hamlet isn’t necessary to appreciate this play, but I think it enhances the viewer’s appreciation.

Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,496 reviews2,383 followers
October 12, 2020
I have to say, right off the bat, that Stoppards's Arcadia is simply the best play I have read to date.
But this isn't far behind. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an exceptionally good piece of writing - a youthful prank bursting with theatrical mischief and literary flair. Stoppard's philosophizing playfulness here is clearly indebted to the music hall absurdism of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a play I much admire also. His writing is just so crystal clear and pristine, and it's lost none of it's fresh and inventive appeal.

It's plot is quite straightforward - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in the (metaphorical/literal) wings of the great events going on stage in Hamlet's struggle for vengeance on the man who murdered his father and usurped the throne. Stoppard juggles reality and ideas, the philosophy of chance and purpose, memory and death, he pulls all the strings in all the right places, it's simply one of the great scripts of 20th-century theatre. I simply don't agree with some who feel it's dated. No way!

Stoppard gets the thumbs-up again. Bravo Sir!
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,106 followers
June 2, 2012
Probably the profoundest of all modern plays that I have read... pondering if I can manage to write a review that will do it justice.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
April 19, 2015

Description: Hamlet told from the worm's-eye view of two minor characters, bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, reality and illusion mix, and where fate leads heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

A revisit via youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4SVV...

Youtube is handy but in this case I crave the DVD to play on the eight foot screen.

Profile Image for leynes.
1,118 reviews3,040 followers
April 15, 2019
I really looooved this play the first time around and I am quite bummed out that it didn't work out upon my reread. I absolutely adored the first act, which I thought was awfully cleverly written and had some amazing one-liners and (gay!) banter that would have made Oscar Wilde envious, but the rest of the play seemed lazily plotted-through and ultimately fell flat. The hilarious dynamic between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that was set up in the first act, didn't quite make its way into the second and third act. Their story seemed to go nowhere ... which, I know, is the purpose of the play, but I cannot help but wonder if you couldn't have gotten a more satisfying resolution for them?

Anyways, I will leave you with my favorite quote that I (re)discovered when reading this:
Ros Fire!
Guil jumps up.
Guil Where?
Ros It's all right – I'm demonstrating the misuse of free speech. To prove that it exists.
I settled for a 4-star rating, since it was 5 stars the first time around and 3 stars now. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle. ;)

Original Review (September, 2018):
What is life? What even is this play? Why am I trash for this???? I will say it time and time again but plays really are my thang. I know a lot of people struggle with them but they are among my favorite literary pieces: The Importance of Being Earnest, Waiting for Godot, A Raisin in the Sun, The Merry Wives of Windsor and now: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Life is a gamble, at terrible odds. If it were a bet you wouldn’t take it.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. They are childhood friends of Hamlet, summoned by King Claudius to distract the prince from his apparent madness and if possible to ascertain the cause of it. When Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius recruits Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England, providing them with a letter for the King of England instructing him to have Hamlet killed. (They are apparently unaware of what is in the letter, though Shakespeare never explicitly says so.)

Along the journey, the distrustful Hamlet finds and rewrites the letter, instructing the executioner to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. When their ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet returns to Denmark, leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to die; he comments in Act V, Scene 2 that "They are not near my conscience; their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow”. Ambassadors returning later report that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”

And that’s where Tom Stoppard comes into play. (No pun intended.) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist, existential tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966.

The action of Stoppard's play takes place mainly "in the wings" of Shakespeare’s, with brief appearances of major characters from Hamlet who enact fragments of the original's scenes. Between these episodes the two protagonists seem confused by the events of Hamlet and seem unaware of their role in the larger drama. The play is primarily a comedy, but they often stumble upon deep philosophical truths through their nonsensical ramblings.
We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
Stoppard also littered his play with jokes that refer to the common thespian tendency to swap Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the midst of the play because the characters are basically identical. He does this by making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unsure of who is who, as well as having the other players (Claudius, Hamlet, Gertrude) refer to them frequently by the wrong names.

Because of the play's similarity to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Rosencrantz is sometimes compared to Estragon (one of the tramps who wait for Godot), and who shares his dim perception of reality, while Guildenstern parallels Vladimir, who shares his analytical perception. Many plot features are similar as well: the characters pass time by playing Questions, impersonating other characters, and interrupting each other or remaining silent for long periods of time.

The play opens with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern betting on coin flips. Rosencrantz, who bets heads each time, wins ninety-two flips in a row. The extreme unlikeliness of this event according to the laws of probability leads Guildenstern to suggest that they may be "within un-, sub- or supernatural forces". The audience learns why they are where they are: the King has sent for them. Guildenstern theorizes on the nature of reality, focusing on how an event becomes increasingly real as more people witness it.
We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.
Metatheatre is a central structural element of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Scenes that are staged as plays, dumb shows, or commentaries on dramatic theory and practice, are prominent in both Stoppard's play and Shakespeare's original tragedy Hamlet. In Hamlet, metatheatrical elements include the Player's speech (2.2), Hamlet's advice to the Players (3.2), and the meta-play "The Mousetrap" (3.3). Since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters from Hamlet itself, Stoppard's entire play can be considered a piece of metatheatre.

Personally, I loved every bit of this play. Its charm. Its wit. Its social commentary. I was laughing out loud several times and took our two protagonists immediately to heart. I mean, those misfits. I cannot deal. Tom Stoppard is a literary genius. The fact that he always found the right words to set the scene and hit the mark is mind-boggling to me. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is, in my humble opinion, one of the best plays of the English language.
Rosencrantz: I don't believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?
And so I will end with one of the biggest compliments I could ever give: Oscar would’ve loved this!
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews795 followers
June 22, 2021
After many a viewing of Tom Stoppard’s film adaption of his play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” (many… many… viewings… I mean, c’mon… Tim Roth and Gary Oldman circa 1990? uh… yeah!) I thought that it might make a nice, light, summer read. Right. I should have just picked up the new James Patterson.

I’m not complaining… no way no how. This play is awesome. Ros and Guil, Guil and Ros… they are two parts of one big bumbling(?), bewitching oaf. I just want to hug them and ruffle their hair and maybe run my hand down their chests… and….

ROS: What are you playing at?
GUIL: Words, words. They're all we have to go on.

Whoomp! There it is! That’s the whole point to all of this right? Words, words, words. I am passive aggressive by nature therefore I rely heavily on innuendo and jest. I’m more likely to crush on a well written character than a well defined underwear model. Booknerd indeedy.

ROS: Fire!
GUIL: Where?
ROS: It's all right – I'm demonstrating the misuse of free speech. To prove that it exists.

You have to love Ros/Guil---or Ruil or Gos… or whatever—you just HAVE to, get it? Ok?… they are wise in their perplexity… they have no idea where they have been and seemingly always forgetting where they are headed. They amuse themselves by playing Questions and flipping coins. They are fearful and hesitant and yet they get it. They know that the big bad world is undeniably big and bad.

ROS: I'm afraid –
GUIL: So am I.
ROS: I'm afraid it isn't your day.
GUIL: I'm afraid it is.

Their bond. Their yin yang of hope and despair. Their wordplay. I laughed, cried, peed a bit, snorted and guffawed. That’s worth 5 stars, isn’t it?

GUIL: You scream and choke and sink to your knees, but it doesn't bring death home to anyone – it doesn't catch them unawares and start the whisper in their skulls that says – "One day you are going to die."

OMG. They’d be perfect Smiths fans….
Profile Image for Christopher.
661 reviews212 followers
February 4, 2014
My brain is a bad actor.

I know it's a bad actor because I read this play and the performance it gave totally fell flat. It messed up all the punchlines. Often it had to go back to read parts that it misread. It even got bored during the middle part and totally phoned in the performance of the first half of the third act. It totally ruined this play for me with its terrible one-note performance. Stupid, stupid brain.

Luckily for me, Tom Stoppard directed a moving pictures version of his play, starring the magnificent Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss, and it's available on Netflix. So after I finished reading this play, bewilderedly wondering what about it I should have liked, I pressed play on my computing device. What I saw before me on the screen was a hilarious, creative, meta, terribly intriguing story of two lovable weirdos romping through the world of Hamlet. The tedious coin-flipping scene so dully enacted by my brain was brought to glorious life by the good Sirs Oldman and Roth.

In short, I was just too stupid to see the brilliance of this play simply by reading it. But after seeing the movie, I was able to go back to the written work and appreciate some excerpts with gusto. Your brain is probably a better actor than mine, but if you have any doubts regarding its talents, I'd suggest watching the movie first. That's something I would almost never recommend, but after all, it is a play, something meant to be acted out in front of you rather than just inside that noggin of yours.
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,833 reviews44 followers
April 19, 2023
May 2, 2022 ~~ Started my day by finishing this book. No changes to my original review, except to paraphrase what I said in my original review of Hamlet:

Every time I read Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead I understand it better and love it more.

And this evening for Dinner Theater I will watch the movie!

May 1, 2022 ~~ Any time I read Hamlet I have to read this book and see the movie too. So back we go to Elsinore!

Original review, 2014

My tummy hurts from laughing so much. Reading this play is even more fun if you have seen the movie version a dozen or so times and can have it running through your mind as you turn the pages of the book.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have become my favorite characters in Hamlet because of this play. You just have to root for them, even when you know what their fate will be. They try so hard to understand what is happening but they can never quite grasp enough details for their lives to make sense.

I want to go right back to page one and start all over again. I think I will toss a coin: heads, I re-read immediately, tails I go on to something else.......Heads!

Profile Image for Paul.
2,309 reviews20 followers
May 16, 2017
This has been my favourite play since I first studied it for English Lit 'A' Level waaaaayyy back in 1993. I've returned to it again and again over the years and it still blows me away every time. This is as close to written perfection as I've ever read. I absolutely love every line.


I've just got back from watching this performed by Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig. What a fantastic production! They really did it justice. The supporting cast were also excellent. What a great night!
Profile Image for Kushagri.
60 reviews
June 4, 2023
3.5 stars

A very clever play full of humour, witticisms, absurdities, and philosophical introspection.

Guil: No, no, no ... you've got it all wrong . .. you can't act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen - it's not gasps and blood and falling about - that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all - now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back - an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.

The play also had "metadrama" elements.
It was a unique perspective on Shakespeare's Hamlet from the point of view of the overlooked ‘side’ characters of Rosencrantz and Guidenstern, who are caught unaware much like rabbits in the headlights, among the crazy events occurring at Elsinore. The sharp and witty dialogues between Ros and Guil are funny as well as deep, hitting upon existentialism, fate, and so on.

Here is one exchange of Ros and Guil on Hamlet,

Ros: A compulsion towards philosophical introspection is his chief characteristic, if I may put it like that. It does not mean he is mad. It does not mean he isn't. Very often, it does not mean anything at all. Which may or may not be a kind of madness.
Guil: It really boils down to symptoms. Pregnant replies, mystic allusions, mistaken identities, arguing his father is his mother, that sort of thing; intimations of suicide, forgoing of exercise, loss of mirth, hints of claustrophobia, not to say delusions of imprisonment; invocations of camels, chameleons, capons, whales, weasels, hawks, handsaws - riddles, quibbles and evasions; amnesia, paranoia, myopia; day-dreaming, hallucinations; stabbing his elders, abusing his parents, insulting his lover, and appearing hatless in public - knock-kneed, droop-stockinged and sighing like a love-sick schoolboy, which at his age is coming on a bit strong.
Ros: And talking to himself.
Guil: And talking to himself.

We are questioning the two characters' reality throughout, are they dead or heading towards their death?

And here's a crux of Hamlet in words of Rosencrantz and Guidenstern.

Guil: I think I have it. A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.
Ros: Or just as mad.
Guil: Or just as mad.
Ros: And he does both.
Guil: So there you are.
Profile Image for Liz.
96 reviews13 followers
June 4, 2012
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead......then why write a 93 page play about them? I get it, it was the 60's people were high and found most things intellectually amusing, witty and necessarily redundant in an avante-garde sort of way. But seriously why? I found the play dragged and it didnt make me laugh.

My advice only read this book if you are a hipster as it is much easier to roll a copy of this up and cram into the back pocket of your skinny jeans than a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces.
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,891 reviews1,419 followers
February 15, 2018
This was another charming variation on a Shakespearean theme, a dissonant song cycle extending out from familiar material. One rife with pauses and silence. Beckett in Elsinore.

I did not think this the genius to which many have ascribed.
Then again, I am old.

I did find the humor deft and the existential exploration of the verb to act most effective, a playful weaving of definitions underscored by a plaintive glance at the heavens, waiting for stage directions. George Bernard Shaw was an Irishman, not an atheist as was famously said. Less popular is the anecdote that Tom Stoppard's stepfather once growled, I made you British, boy.

There has been occasion enough this week to ponder personally what the cosmic Script has in mind. I would like to hunt down the film version of this while the material is fresh.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews319 followers
November 7, 2017
The Certainty of Death
26 July 2011

I liked the film of this play so much that when I was wondering through a secondhand bookshop and saw a copy on the shelf I snatched it up immediately. One of the reasons was because I wanted to actually read the play upon which the film was based (and remembering that the playwright also made the film), and it does seem to be quite faithful. However, unlike the film, the action of Hamlet, around which this play is based, has been pushed further into the background.

While I am probably going over a lot of the ground that I explored in my movie review, I think that it is necessary when approaching this play. There isn't much difference between the play and the film and the major theme, death, permeates right through it. Right from the beginning we are looking towards the ultimate fate that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern face: their death. The second theme that permeates the play is that of the play. The tragedians are major characters in this play, and there is an exploration of reality verses the make believe, and the concept of death permeates this as well.

The tragedians perform violent plays. As the player says '… well, I can do you blood and love without rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do all three concurrent and consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory – they're all blood, you see'. While reading this does not have the same impact as Richard Dreyfus actually speaking the lines in the film, it does give a clear indication of the idea of the theatre, and that it is about blood, and indeed it is about death. I spoke to a friend at work and said that the difference between a Shakespearian tragedy and a comedy is that at the end of a tragedy everybody dies, while at the end of the comedy everybody gets married, to which his response was 'so what's the difference then?'.

The other interesting thing about the tragedians is that they are nothing without an audience. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sneak away from them while they are performing a play and when they meet up again at Elsinore, the player is deeply insulted, insinuating that without an audience they are simply a bunch of idiots making fools of themselves in the woods. That, in many cases, is so true. Without an audience a play, a song, and even a film, is nothing. It is only the audience that makes them what they are.

As for death, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern grapple with the concept of death, yet it is clear that they do not fully understand. it They speak of rather being alive in a box buried underground than dead because 'at least you are alive'. However they are oblivious to their fate, despite knowing that fate is forcing them towards that end. They chastise the player for his understanding of death, because on the stage death is not real. You put on a performance, keel over, and lie motionless, only to get up again. However it seems that to the players death is a performance. When the player is stabbed, he keels over, apparently dead, only to rise up again to a resounding applause. That, they say, is not death. Death is the end, death is final, and when they have reached this part of the play, they already know of their fate, and know that there is no way to avoid it.

In a sense I got the feeling that this play, similar to Waiting for Godot, had absolutely nothing happen in it. While there is action occurring behind the scenes (which is Hamlet), nothing is happening when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are concerned. There is no goal, no purpose that they are heading towards, they are only there to be push and pulled in the direction that fate takes them. At the beginning of the play they are summoned, and when at Elsinore, they are ordered about by the major character's in Hamlet, and in the end, through Hamlet's slight of hand, are put to death. It appears that they did not have a choice, and they even wonder at one point, before they are put to death, whether there was a time at which they could have said no. In anycase, the play itself ends with death, that is the death of the major characters in Hamlet. The only ones who seem to survive are the tragedians, but even then, they are no better off than they were at the beginning.

I've also written a blog post on a version that I saw staring none other than Daniel Radcliffe.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
708 reviews113 followers
March 10, 2023
“One must think of the future.”
“It’s the normal thing.”
“To have one. One is, after all, having it all the time. Now. And now. And now.”
“It could go on forever — well, not forever, I suppose.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is absurd and profound. It’s tragic and comic. Its actors are idiot philosophers sparing over meaning, identity, purpose and death, and finding only the last. In other words, this play is a fairly good mirror of life. All the world’s a stage and all that.

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us with nothing to show our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”

Our protagonist are two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, aware only of their petty roles, lacking any other awareness or knowledge of what is going on around them. Between their scenes on stage, they use rapid fire word play jousting with each other and other minor characters (the players) trying vainly to deduce meaning and purpose, and to struggle against the determinism of their roles. Yet the grim truth of play’s ending is inexorable.

“No! It is not enough to be told so little, to such an end, and still finally to be denied an explanation.”
5 reviews8 followers
February 10, 2008
"We do onstage the things that are suppose to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else."

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead can be seen as Stoppard's answer to the question what are the minor characters of the play Hamlet doing while the tragic prince is agonizing and plotting? Stoppard's simple answer is "nothing".

R and G spend there time playing word games, musing on the nature of death and fate, and try--desperately and futilely--to gain some understanding of the grand events unfolding around them. Performed on a bare stage, which R and G never leave, the play is not a story of people but of characters; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are defined entirely by their roles in the play. They have no memory of their past, because they did not exist before they were sent for by the King and Queen. They never appear singly, and so they themselves are not quite sure which of them is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern. They are trapped in an absurd theatrical world which, while at first witty and humorous, becomes profoundly unsettling until at last Guildenstern is left alone on a dark stage saying as he faces his own death, "There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said--no. But somehow we missed it."

It is short and easy to read but Stoppard's pun laden style means that rereadings are rewarding and go a long way towards a more complete understanding. I also recommend at least a basic familiarity with Hamlet, because R and G are Dead has no plot of its own and never gives more than basic exposition concerning the story going on in the background.

Well worth reading, especially if you can not see it performed.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
September 10, 2023
Today I watched the film version of this play from 1990 that stars Timothy Roth and Gary Oldman.

This is an engrossing meta story about the two messengers - who were minor characters - from Hamlet and the plot is surprisingly good. At one point there is an actual play within a play within a play. I also enjoyed the famous ‘verbal tennis match’ scene as well - very clever word play.

My daughter’s Language Arts class is performing the play this semester and she is learning her lines for the role of Guildenstern. She knows Hamlet inside out which is necessary to get the most out of this play. It would be five stars for me but I had to keep asking ignorant questions - like who is Polonius - as it has been a few years since I’d seen Hamlet.

I just upgraded this play to 5 stars from 4.5 stars since it has been stuck in my mind with such fondness.

5 stars
Profile Image for Jill.
425 reviews224 followers
June 17, 2016
background characters.

you don't think about them much.
(unless you're a harry potter fan i guess)

but they're seething.

they have their own stories.
they have their own explorations, philosophies, existential breaks.
all this goes unnoticed.

but worse! but more importantly! ----
because who cares about the thoughts of a background character, come on come the fuck on come ON ----
they have their own perspective on the real story

and it is not what you expect.
and you have no idea.
no idea.

this has been in me for 8 years.
a reread:
books that scream your name precisely.
Profile Image for Mahdi Lotfabadi.
209 reviews42 followers
February 4, 2018
من هم تو نمایشنامه‌ی هملت همیشه به نقش این دو نفر فکر می‌کردم... همیشه اعتقاد داشتم بود و نبود این دو نفر تغییری تو روند نمایشنامه به وجود نمیاره و مرگشون هم یه واکنش شدید بوده. تو فیلم هملت به کارگردانی لارنس الیویه هم هر چند بسیار وفادارانه‌ست این دو نفر از داستان حذف شدن... خوشحالم دیدم فقط من چنین حسی نداشتم و این نمایشنامه رو خوندم.
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