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 8, 2023
December 1, 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 email@example.com. 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.
Hamlet claims to be mad only when the wind blows from
a certain direction, a statement that thoroughly puzzles Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern. Polonius comes in to say that the Tragedians have arrived,
and Hamlet and Polonius leave. Shyly, Guildenstern tells Rosencrantz
that he thinks they made some headway into figuring out why Hamlet
has been acting so strangely lately. But Rosencrantz angrily states
that they have learned nothing from talking to Hamlet, because Hamlet
beat them at their question-and-answer game. While Hamlet answered
just three questions, he asked twenty-seven. The answers he gave
were alternatively sarcastic and enigmatic, so Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
learned nothing and thus cannot conclude whether Hamlet is actually
mad. They then spend several minutes trying to figure out the direction
of the wind, with Rosencrantz playfully offering to lick Guildenstern’s
finger. Guildenstern angrily passes on Rosencrantz’s offer, then
muses that the pair are simply cogs in fate’s machine. Rosencrantz
flips a coin but does not tell Guildenstern whether the coin was
heads or tails.
Polonius enters with Hamlet and the Tragedians. Hamlet announces
that tomorrow the Tragedians will be performing a play, The
Murder of Gonzago. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cryptically greet
the Player with a series of one-liners about words, but the Player
irritably responds by accusing the pair of abandoning his group
on the side of the road. That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left
the actors without an audience deeply wounded the Player and his
men. As actors, the Player explains, their very identity depends on
whether someone is observing.
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the Player discuss the
play to be performed tomorrow, as well as possible causes for Hamlet’s
behavior and purported madness. The Player advises the two men to
“act natural,” because not knowing one’s place in the world is an
ordinary, natural feeling. The three men reach no conclusions about Hamlet,
and the Player leaves to memorize his lines. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
begin discussing death, specifically what happens when someone dies.
Rosencrantz considers life as one long march toward death, but then
he begins to despair over his lack of influence, having failed to
summon someone into the room to be interrogated by the pair. A group
Stoppard uses the characters of and interaction between
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to make judgments about the figures
of “male buddies” so present in popular culture. While Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are not necessarily homosexual, their playful interaction
points to an ongoing flirtation between the two friends. Rosencrantz,
in particular, seems to enjoy baiting and teasing Guildenstern,
playfully luring his friend into verbal traps. For his part, Guildenstern
willingly starts conversations, although he knows that the answers
Rosencrantz gives to his questions will probably frustrate him.
Their interaction follows a familiar pattern of male duos in popular
culture: one partner has a somewhat wild and crazy personality,
while the other tends to have a more staid, stable demeanor, as
in the Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour movies,
for example, or in the routines performed by Laurel and Hardy. The non-jokey
partner is often referred to as the “straight man.” Whereas Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern both express an interest in the Player’s sexual
propositions, here Rosencrantz makes a direct sexual overture to
Guildenstern when he offers to lick his friend’s finger to determine
the direction of the wind. Guildenstern usually plays the “straight
man” to the dreamier, sillier Rosencrantz. Through this interaction,
Stoppard forces his readers to closely examine the push-pull undertones
that might be at work between “male buddies.”
As characters, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the Player
illustrate the slippery nature of identity. The Player appears to
be the only person capable of differentiating Rosencrantz from Guildenstern,
even though he never addresses either man by name. Nevertheless,
more than any other character, the Player understands that identity
can be manipulated and altered. As he explained in Act I, the Player
always stays in character, never taking off his costume. Still,
as an actor, he needs an audience to fully assume his identity,
a reminder that people distinctly influence the identity of other
people. Without an audience, an actor cannot be an actor. Without someone
to interrogate, Rosencrantz cannot remain assertive and angry, as
he has been since Hamlet left the scene. Hamlet might truly be insane,
or he might enjoy confusing his two friends, since they are so easily
confused. The Player tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to “act
natural,” an attempt to reassure the confused men that nobody really
knows who he or she is, precisely because identity is so flexible and
so dependent on other forces. Depending on the circumstances and
company, people act differently and thereby assume different identities.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!