Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Motifs and ideas

Stoppard emphasizes the randomness of the world. In the beginning of Act One, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bet on coin flips and Rosencrantz wins with heads ninety-two times in a row. Guildenstern creates a series of syllogisms in order to interpret this phenomenon, but nothing truly coincides with the law of probability. The impossible becomes possible through exploiting the minimal chance of a coin flip turning up heads ninety-two times in a row. The action is absurd, but possible. This incident demonstrates the absurdity of humans basing many of their actions on the probability or likelihood of an event to happen. The random appearances of the other characters, which often confuses the title characters, contributes to the same idea.[4]
Art vs. Reality
The players help demonstrate the conflict between art and reality. The world in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern live lacks order. However, art allows people that live in this world, as Stoppard hints that we do, to find order. As the Player says, "There's a design at work in all art." Art and the real world are in conflict. The Player is overjoyed to find Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because his art, his control, is nothing without an audience. Yet this art angers Guildenstern to the point where he strikes the Player because this theater makes it seem as if there are definite answers to all of Guildenstern's philosophical questions. In order to reach out to the only reality he can be sure of, Guildenstern exclaims, "No one gets up after death-there is no applause-there is only silence and some second-hand clothes, and that's death." The tension created by this theme is that the audience is watching or reading a play; the author comments on the ultimate lack of order in the world by presenting the audience with an ordered medium.[5] Stoppard also uses his characters to comment on the believability of theatre. While Guildenstern criticises the Player for his portrayal of death, he believes the Player's performance when Guildenstern thinks he has stabbed him with a knife. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern believe exactly what the actors want them to believe. However, Stoppard complicates the idea that people believe what they expect because he never shows the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The reader expects this event to come, but it never does. By extension, the reader should not believe that the pair dies; the reader is expected to accept that they are literary figures that live on today.[4] In another scene, Rosencrantz screams out "Fire!", ostensibly to call attention to a real fire in the actual theatre in which the play is being performed, but laughs it off as a reason why there should be limits to free speech, and thus blurring of the line between action in the play and action in real life.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern often feel as if they are unable to make any choices that will actually have an impact on their lives. They acknowledge that they must act at the random whims of the other characters, but do not make any effort to fight this lack of control. Stoppard manifests this theme in his transitions between scenes. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not choose to move from setting to setting, but they appear in a new place without deciding to go there. For instance, they move from the woods with the Tragedians into the castle to a conversation with the king and queen without actually saying they want to enter Elsinore. When deciding whether to bring Hamlet to England, Rosencrantz concludes that they might as well continue on the path on which they are already. Stoppard criticizes this passivity. The title characters are able to make a life-changing decision when they discover that their letter contains an order to kill Hamlet. Instead, they decide to do nothing and the result is their deaths.[4]

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.