The Player is the most mysterious of the play’s characters. He seems to possess a far greater understanding of the events transpiring than does either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. The Player’s witty speeches often hint at the possibility that he could reveal the truth if only Rosencrantz and Guildenstern knew how to ask the right questions. Upon first meeting the pair, the Player claims to recognize them as artists like himself, a description that implies an awareness that they are all merely actors in a drama that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not understand and can barely acknowledge. Similarly, the Player makes several remarks that reflect on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s plight, although in a way that the pair fails to grasp, such as when he tells them that life is a terrible gamble or when he says that the normal experience of existence is one of confusion and doubt. The Player’s unexplained mastery of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s experiences extends to their final moments, when he seems to have anticipated their deaths and the complicated mix of feelings they go through as their mortality descends upon them.
The Player’s air of mysterious control and omniscience contrasts sharply with his shameful occupation as a pimp for the men in his acting troupe, whose bodies he will happily sell if the opportunity arises. Guildenstern holds this fact against the Player and tricks him into an unwinnable bet, partly out of disgust and a desire to punish the Player for his amoral attitude. Although the Player occasionally seems embarrassed by his profession, he generally retains a haughty attitude, secure in his knowledge of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s fate and fully aware that his troupe fills an unacknowledged social need and will therefore always be in demand. The Player’s confidence is also apparent in his serious belief in the integrity of theater in general and the Tragedians’ performances in particular. This belief infuriates the skeptical and philosophical Guildenstern, but the Player remains entirely unflappable in the face of Guildenstern’s rage. The Player’s combination of a lowly, shameful appearance with dazzling wit, mysterious power, and defiant confidence make him an unlikely but fascinating ringmaster for the play’s circus of confusion.
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