We’ve travelled too far, and our momentum has taken over; we move
idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope of
Rosencrantz: Be happy—if you’re
not even happy what’s so good about surviving?
We’ll be all right. I suppose we just go on.
This discussion takes place in Act III
immediately after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have discovered that
Hamlet is no longer onboard the boat. Just as suddenly as they were
called to their mission, their journey has now become pointless,
and Guildenstern has been thrown into despair. His remark reflects
the frustration and despondency that the play attributes to the
realization that life will never make sense and that nothing external
will be able to give satisfying purpose and meaning to our lives.
The indifference of the universe to our sufferings, questions, and
desires may lead one to believe, as Guildenstern does, that life
is nothing more than mechanical forces and that we are being driven
toward death by a natural “momentum” that we can neither stop nor
understand. This is the deepest and darkest state of existential
crisis, the lowest point one can reach when thinking seriously about
the meaningless randomness of life.
Rosencrantz’s reply, however, suggests a way out of the
pit of despair into which Guildenstern has fallen, although whether
the play as a whole supports his approach is debatable. When Guildenstern
looks at the indifference and arbitrariness of the world, he feels only
that life has no meaning. But the fact that life as a whole does not
have any obvious meaning does not mean that it is impossible for
any individual life to have meaning, and Rosencrantz’s response is
an attempt to find meaning and purpose on precisely this individual
level. When faced with the chaos of life, Rosencrantz decides that
his personal purpose will be to seek pleasure for himself. That
is not to say that Rosencrantz is advocating hedonism and fulfilling every
desire however and whenever we want. Rather, Rosencrantz says that
even though the universe does not care about us, we should care
about ourselves and strive to find happiness and personal fulfillment.
If we find things that give our lives meaning, we may not be overjoyed,
but we will at least be “all right.” Although this may sound plausible,
the fact that Rosencrantz lapses into confused dread at the moment
of impending death may suggest that even his attitude cannot save
us from the harsh realities of life in a pointless universe.