Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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Stoppard deliberately refrains from giving much description of either of his main characters. Both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are meant to be “everyman” figures, more or less average men who represent humanity in general. Nevertheless, both men have specific character traits. Rosencrantz is decidedly the more easy going of the two, happy to continue flipping coins with little concern about the possible implications of their pattern of landing heads up. Rosencrantz spends a great deal of the play confused by both what is happening around him and Guildenstern’s reactions to their situation, but he rarely engages in the overt despair that is characteristic of Guildenstern. Rosencrantz is pragmatic and seeks simple and efficient solutions to the pair’s problems rather than philosophical explanations of them, a trait that leads Guildenstern to believe that his friend is complacent and unwilling or unable to think seriously and deeply.

On the surface, Guildenstern seems to be the polar opposite of his friend Rosencrantz. Guildenstern is markedly more anxious than Rosencrantz about the strange circumstances in which they find themselves, beginning with his deep concern about the coin-flipping episode. Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern wants desperately to understand their situation, and he tries to reason his way through the incidents that plague them. Guildenstern’s belief that there is a rational explanation for their predicament leads him to sudden bursts of strong emotion as he grows increasingly frustrated by his inability to make sense of the world around him. Guildenstern’s frustration is heightened by what he sees as Rosencrantz’s jovial indifference, and he lashes out at his friend on several occasions. Guildenstern’s angry despair reaches its peak near the end of the play. His realization that he and Rosencrantz are about to die without having understood anything leads him to attack the Player in a fit of fury and hopelessness.  Though he often acts as...
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