Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

by: Tom Stoppard

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 4

Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.

The Player makes this observation in Act III as he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that the Tragedians had to leave Elsinore suddenly and without payment after unexpectedly angering Claudius with their play. The Player’s comment is more than a pained response to being caught off guard by Claudius’s outrage, however. The quotation is a bleak expression of a very difficult and frightening truth—namely, that the world is a random and chaotic place in which our chances of success are extremely slim. We may wish the world to be orderly and make sense or for only good people to be rewarded and only bad people to be punished, but the world does not conform to our desires, and rewards and punishments are entirely random. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not horrible people and do not deserve to be executed, but that is the fate that befalls them. They are entirely normal men who do nothing that is particularly bad or particularly good, but they suffer anyway, because the universe does not discriminate between good people and bad. The apparent pointlessness of the universe, the Player’s remark suggests, would make us choose to be elsewhere if only we were not already here.