Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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The Tragedians Character Analysis

Garish, bawdy, and boisterous, the Tragedians make up the ragged and increasingly impoverished dramatic troupe led by the Player. Their theatrical specialties are "blood, love, and rhetoric," but especially "blood" – dying, the Player explains to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, is the Tragedians' greatest talent and thus the thing they best depict on stage. The sound of the Tragedians' instruments makes a musical refrain throughout the play that repeatedly haunts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The Tragedians Quotes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead quotes below are all either spoken by The Tragedians or refer to The Tragedians. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead published in 1967.
Act 2 Quotes

Well, if it isn't—! No, wait a minute, don't tell me—it's a long time since—where was it? Ah, this is taking me back to—when was it? I know you, don't I? I never forget a face—…not that I know yours, that is. For a moment I thought—no, I don't know you, do I? Yes, I'm afraid you're quite wrong. You must have mistaken me for someone else.

Related Characters: Rosencrantz (speaker), The Tragedians
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

The Tragedians continue their rehearsal and "The Murder of Gonzago" follows Hamlet's exact story line. The two spies who bring Lucianus (i.e. Hamlet) to England are the play's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, though Stoppard's play has not yet come to this plot point. When the spies remove their cloaks, revealing that their coats are identical to those of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the two protagonists express surprise and confusion.

In this moment of hesitation, Rosencrantz seems at first to recognize his own clothing, then questions his own recognition. The reversal is an absurd one, as Rosencrantz initiates the interaction, then accuses the actor of mistaking him "for someone else." The two main characters experience this eerie uncertainty throughout the play, most notably when neither is sure if he is Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Gertrude, Hamlet and Claudius cannot keep the two separate and repeatedly mistake one for the other. Stoppard shows, here, that our understandings of personality and identity are arbitrary and fragile. Since true free will does not exist and we all simply follow scripts (on and off stage), what constitutes our "self" or our personality? 

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The Tragedians Character Timeline in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The timeline below shows where the character The Tragedians appears in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
The Theater Theme Icon
...Guildenstern. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern mix up their names introducing themselves. The player rattles off the Tragedians' repertoire (they'll perform anything from melodrama to comedy to poetic set pieces to realism), but... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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...says Guildenstern should have found them in "better times" when they were "purists." He and the Tragedians begin to leave. (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Rosencrantz stops them and asks what the Tragedians do. The Player responds that they "do on stage the things that are supposed to... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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..."Is that what people want," Guildenstern asks. "It's what we do," the Player replies. The Tragedians' begin readying for the play. The Player explains that he will not change into costume... (full context)
Act 2
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Polonius enters and exits with Hamlet and the Tragedians . Hamlet makes arrangements with the Player for a performance of The Murder of Gonzago... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
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...the cause of his cold manner: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left in the middle of the Tragedians' play, leading the Tragedians to act on for a while without any audience which caused... (full context)
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More of the Tragedians enter, one dressed as a King. The Player explains they are doing a dress rehearsal... (full context)
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Ophelia enters wailing and followed by a hysterically shouting Hamlet. Then addressing her and the Tragedians as well (and looking pointedly at the Player-Queen and Player-Brother, Hamlet explains there will be... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Claudius and Polonius enter and lift Ophelia to her feet. The Tragedians leap back and incline their heads. Claudius speaks actual lines from Hamlet, musing on Hamlet's... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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The Player claps his hands for attention and tells the Tragedians they're not "getting across." He calls for them to start Act Two and, when Guildenstern... (full context)
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The Player calls for the Tragedians to take up Act Two and the action begins. The Player-Queen and Player-Brother engage in... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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The Player calls the play "a slaughterhouse" and says it thus brings out the Tragedians' best. When Guildenstern protests that actors know nothing of death, the Player insists to the... (full context)
Act 3
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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...starts to come from the other two barrels and resolves into the familiar tune of the Tragedians . Rosencrantz, anguished, cries out "Plausibility is all I presume!" and the Player cheerfully pops... (full context)
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The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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...bet you wouldn't take it." He asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they're surprised to see the Tragedians . Guildenstern says he'd known it wasn't the end. "With practically everyone on his feet,"... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
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...in speechless shock. The Player rises and kicks his barrel shouting into it "they've gone!" The Tragedians emerge and form "a casually menacing circle" around Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. (full context)
Death Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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...he says. Rosencrantz laughs nervously and applauds. The Player animatedly advertises all the deaths the Tragedians' can perform ("Deaths for all ages and all occasions! Deaths by suspension, convulsion, consumption" etc.)... (full context)
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...in the last scene of Hamlet. The corpses are in the same positions that the Tragedians' bodies were when they were playing dead. Horatio holds Hamlet while Fortinbras stands by with... (full context)