Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966.[1] The play expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The action of Stoppard's play takes place mainly 'in the wings' of Shakespeare's, with brief appearances of major characters from Hamlet who enact fragments of the original's scenes. Between these episodes the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events of which—occurring onstage without them in Hamlet—they have no direct knowledge.



The main source of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is Shakespeare's Hamlet. Comparisons have also been drawn to Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot,[2] for the presence of two central characters who almost appear to be two halves of a single character. Many plot features are similar as well: the characters pass time by playing Questions, impersonating other characters, and interrupting each other or remaining silent for long periods of time.


The title is taken directly from the final scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In earlier scenes, Prince Hamlet ordered the deaths of the two messengers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. By the end of Shakespeare's play, Prince Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, King Claudius and Gertrude all lie dead. An ambassador from England arrives to bluntly report "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead"(Hamlet. Act V, Scene ii., line.411) and so they join all the stabbed, poisoned, drowned key characters. By the end of Hamlet, Horatio is the only main figure left alive.

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