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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


Act III: Beginning of the Act until the Letter Switch

Summary Act III: Beginning of the Act until the Letter Switch

As everyman figures, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand in for humanity as a whole. Their plight represents the individual’s struggle to derive meaning and significance from a life that will end in the complete nothingness of death, a philosophical idea known as existentialism. But, unlike real people, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lack imaginative power and memory. For instance, Rosencrantz cannot imagine England. He tells Guildenstern that he cannot picture himself leaving the ship or speaking to the king. In short, Rosencrantz cannot imagine the future. But neither he nor Guildenstern remembers who has the letter for the English king. As in Act I, they decide to assume roles and act in order to discover or remember something. They cannot imagine a future, but neither can they recall the past. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exist solely in a never-ending present, a state of mind that partly explains their constant confusion. They cannot learn from their mistakes, nor can they conceive of acting in any way other than what they have done before. When confused, they gamble or role-play. Each moment exists separately from the one that came before or the one that is to come, so that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are constantly being surprised by their situations.