Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 7, 2023
November 30, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Six actors and a three-man band, collectively known as
the Tragedians, arrive. Their leader, known as the Player, explains
that the group will perform for a small fee. Rosencrantz introduces
himself as Guildenstern but quickly realizes his mistake. Calling
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “fellow artists,” the Player goes on
to list the group’s dramatic specialties, which include sexual performances that
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may participate in for an extra fee.
Intrigued, Rosencrantz asks how much it would cost to watch but
gets confused by the Player’s attempts to bargain. The Player offers
to do practically anything for a few coins, but Rosencrantz misunderstands.
The Tragedians prepare to leave.
The Player says that they are heading to the court. Grabbing
the Player, Guildenstern gets angry, only to relax by asking for
more details about the performance. The Player responds by urging
a young boy named Alfred to put on a skirt and prepare to perform. Disgusted,
Guildenstern begins backing away, but the Player holds onto him.
Guildenstern punches the Player, tells Alfred to undress, and criticizes
the Tragedians for being prostitutes rather than actors. The Tragedians
again begin to go.
Rosencrantz stops the actors from leaving by asking what
they would do for one coin, which he throws in the air. While the
actors clamor to get at the coin, the Player stops them and hits
Alfred. Embarrassed, Rosencrantz says that he intends to report
on the Tragedians’ practices. Guildenstern stops the actors from
leaving by offering them a bet. The Player calls heads and wins
the coin. The Player spins the coin, Guildenstern calls heads, and
Guildenstern wins. Guildenstern spins again, the Player calls heads,
and the Player wins. Guildenstern wins the next round, but then
the Player calls tails. Rather than look at the coin, Guildenstern
covers it with his foot and says simply, “Heads.” The actors get
angry at Guildenstern’s automatic assertion, so Guildenstern looks
at the coin and claims to have won it. As the Player protests, Guildenstern
spins several more coins, calls them heads, and claims to win each
time. Guildenstern proposes a new bet: if the year of the Player’s
birth doubled is even, he wins; if odd, the Player wins.
Upon realizing that doubling any digit always produces
an even number, the Player explains that they have no money to pay
Guildenstern. He offers Alfred as payment instead. Alfred says that
he dislikes being an actor. Guildenstern demands to know the actors’ repertoire
of plays, because he wants to see a play as payment. Hesitating,
the Player says that they belong to the “blood, love and rhetoric
school.” The Player then begins giving his actors directions, all while
explaining to Guildenstern that he never removes his actor’s outfit
or gets out of character. The Player refuses to move around or off
stage, until Rosencrantz approaches. As the Player moves away, everyone
realizes that he has had his foot on the flipped coin. Rosencrantz
announces that the coin had actually landed tails, not heads, as
was assumed. As he throws the coin to Guildenstern, the lights change.
The interaction among the Tragedians, Rosencrantz, and
Guildenstern introduces elements of homoeroticism into the play.
The Player explains the very special brand of drama performed by
the actors, one that lets the audience watch or, for more money,
participate in sexual scenes. The Tragedians’ unique brand of performance confuses
the two men, even though the group clearly fulfills an unacknowledged
Both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern feel alternately attracted
to and repulsed by the Player’s offers. Guildenstern gets particularly angry
about the exploitation of the young Alfred. He tells Alfred to take
off his clothes, but whether Guildenstern means just the skirt Alfred
has put on to perform in or everything he has on is not clear. The
inability of readers to understand what Guildenstern actually means
is important, as it points to the fact that he himself might be confused
about his feelings: would he like to have a homosexual experience,
or not? Is he sensitively protecting Alfred, or is he about to exploit
the boy even further by forcing him to stand naked? Both Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern seem unable to decide whether to pursue the sexual
favors being offered to them, another instance in which they refuse
to make an active choice or decision.
The Player seems much smarter than both Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, and he even appears to be aware of himself as a character within
a play. He refers to the two men as “fellow artists,” even though
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are neither actors nor prostitutes.
This label implies that the Player somehow realizes that Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern are actually two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which
Stoppard has borrowed and transformed into the heroes of his play Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern Are Dead. This knowledge gives the Player
a powerful aura of mystery and omnipotence. Later in the scene,
the Player mentions that he never steps out of character: he is
always on stage, and he is always acting. These references to plays,
acting, and performance let Stoppard comment on his play as a play,
a literary technique known as self-reference, or metafiction. Rather
than letting readers or viewers lose themselves in a fantastical
entertainment, Stoppard forces them to constantly be aware of his
play as a literary work being read or performed. His play refers
to itself as a play. As a result, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Are Dead requires a high level of intellectual engagement
on the part of its readers or viewers.
Through the character of the Player, Stoppard wryly comments on
plays as a unique form of entertainment. When Guildenstern asks
for a play as payment for the lost bet, the Player cannot name a play
that his troupe knows how to perform. Instead, the Player claims
that the Tragedians belong to the “blood, love and rhetoric school,”
implying that the actors know how to perform violence and romance,
as well as how to communicate. Although the Player seems to be earnestly
and honestly assessing the actors’ range, he is also being somewhat
ironic. All plays rely on rhetoric, because by their very nature
plays consist of actors reciting lines. By speaking their lines,
actors verbally communicate. In other words, all actors employ rhetoric.
As the Player explains, however, for a few coins, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern may watch a play, but, for just a few more coins, they
may participate in sex play with the actors. The Tragedians are
thus both actors and prostitutes, which adds yet another level of
commentary. Prostitutes perform sexual acts for money, but actors
also perform for money. Stoppard implies that the difference between
prostitutes and actors might be as small as types of things performed—and
the fee received for such performances.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!