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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Author Tom Stoppard
Type of Work Play
Genre Black comedy; parody; satire
Time and place written 1964–1965;
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
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
Motifs Shakespeare’s Hamlet; the Lord’s Prayer;
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!