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Key Facts

Key Facts

full title ·  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

author · Tom Stoppard

type of work · Play

genre · Black comedy; parody; satire

language · English

time and place written · 1964–1965; London, England

date of first publication · 1967

publisher · Grove Press

tone · Witty; playful; sly; sarcastic; bleak; angst-ridden

setting (time) · Late 1500s (Elizabethan era)

setting (place) · Middle of nowhere; Hamlet’s court; a boat

protagonist(s) · Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

major conflict · Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt to discover the cause of Hamlet’s apparent madness and their own purpose in the world.

rising action · Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent for by Claudius to ascertain the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior. Along the way, they encounter a bizarre troupe of traveling actors and become involved in a series of inexplicable occurrences and confusing situations.

climax · While escorting Hamlet to England, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discover that he is to be killed upon arrival. At long last faced with an opportunity to make a meaningful choice, they fail to act and discover that their own lives will be sacrificed.

falling action · Rosencrantz and Guildenstern despair upon realizing that they are to be put to death and confusedly lament their failure to avoid their situation.

themes · The incomprehensibility of the world; the difficulty of making meaningful choices; the relationship between life and the stage

motifs · Shakespeare’s Hamlet; the Lord’s Prayer; gambling

symbols · The coins; the boat

foreshadowing · The coin tossing foreshadows the randomness of the play’s action. The Player’s offer to let Rosencrantz and Guildenstern participate in the Tragedians’ performance foreshadows the close parallel relationship between the events at Elsinore and The Murder of Gonzago. The many references to death foreshadow the deaths at the end of Act III.

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