Stoppard deliberately refrains from giving much description of either of his main characters. Both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are meant to be “everyman” figures, more or less average men who represent humanity in general. Nevertheless, both men have specific character traits. Rosencrantz is decidedly the more easygoing of the two, happy to continue flipping coins with little concern about the possible implications of their pattern of landing heads up. Rosencrantz spends a great deal of the play confused by both what is happening around him and Guildenstern’s reactions to their situation, but he rarely engages in the overt despair that is characteristic of Guildenstern. Rosencrantz is pragmatic and seeks simple and efficient solutions to the pair’s problems rather than philosophical explanations of them, a trait that leads Guildenstern to believe that his friend is complacent and unwilling or unable to think seriously and deeply.
Rosencrantz reveals himself to be more complicated than Guildenstern believes, however, and his apparently straightforward attitude of pragmatism and breezy bewilderment peels back to reveal deeper feelings, both positive and negative. Despite their continued frustrations and problems, Rosencrantz does not lose sight of Guildenstern’s feelings, and he awkwardly tries to cheer his friend up by offering him the opportunity to win several easy bets. Rosencrantz also tries to help Guildenstern in a more serious and sophisticated way by encouraging him to find personal happiness and to soldier on in the face of apparent chaos. Rosencrantz’s positive attitude is not the limit of his feelings, and twice he feels terror at the realization of his own mortality. First, he gets afraid during his discussion of what it would be like to be in a coffin. Later, at the end of the play, he feels fear as he realizes that he is about to die. Rosencrantz may not be an actively philosophical man like his friend Guildenstern, but he is nevertheless capable of sensitive thought.
More characters from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
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