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On the surface, Guildenstern seems to be the polar opposite
of his friend Rosencrantz. Guildenstern is markedly more anxious
than Rosencrantz about the strange circumstances in which they find themselves,
beginning with his deep concern about the coin-flipping episode.
Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern wants desperately to understand
their situation, and he tries to reason his way through the incidents
that plague them. Guildenstern’s belief that there is a rational
explanation for their predicament leads him to sudden bursts of
strong emotion as he grows increasingly frustrated by his inability
to make sense of the world around him. Guildenstern’s frustration
is heightened by what he sees as Rosencrantz’s jovial indifference,
and he lashes out at his friend on several occasions. Guildenstern’s
angry despair reaches its peak near the end of the play. His realization
that he and Rosencrantz are about to die without having understood
anything leads him to attack the Player in a fit of fury and hopelessness.
Guildenstern is not simply a blend of rationality and
passion. Subtle gestures within the play show him to be capable
of compassion and sympathetic understanding. Although Guildenstern
is certainly angry at Rosencrantz at numerous points, he quickly
consoles and comforts his friend when the need arises. After arriving
at Elsinore and becoming even more confused by Claudius’s reception
of the pair, Guildenstern soothes a tongue-tied Rosencrantz and
promises him that they will be able to return home soon. Similarly,
after belittling Rosencrantz for failing to say anything original
when they are onboard the ship to England, Guildenstern recognizes
his friend’s suffering and promises him that everything will turn
out okay. Though he often acts as if he would rather be alone than
be with Rosencrantz, Guildenstern’s final speech in the play has
him alone onstage, turning to look for his friend, unable to tell
which one of them is which.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!