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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!