Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Guildenstern Character Analysis

Like Rosencrantz, Guildenstern is a minor character in Hamlet expanded by Stoppard into a protagonist. Stoppard describes Guildenstern as someone who, when losing a coin toss ninety times in a row, will be more concerned about the implications of the situation than by the lost change. The self-described 'dominant personality' of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pair, Guildenstern, like Rosencrantz, is often fearful and foolish but he can also be bullying, easily angered, and bossy, and possesses a firmer grasp on reality and a stronger memory than Rosencrantz. With Rosencrantz, Guildenstern's struggles against passivity, hopelessness, and the inescapable structure of Hamlet's plot constitute a play-long meditation on death that ends in the foregone conclusion of his own passing.

Guildenstern Quotes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead quotes below are all either spoken by Guildenstern or refer to Guildenstern. 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 1 Quotes

The sun came up about as often as it went down, in the long run, and a coin showed heads about as often as it showed tails. Then a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else happened. Ninety-two coins spun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two consecutive times…

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Rosencrantz
Related Symbols: The Coin
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

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There were always questions. To exchange one set for another is no great matter.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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There's a logic at work—it's all done for you, don't worry. Enjoy it. Relax. To be taken in hand and led, like being a child again…--it's like being given a prize, an extra slice of childhood…

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2 Quotes

Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are…condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one—that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it'll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we'd know that we were lost.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Rosencrantz
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Rosencrantz
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

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You don't understand the humiliation of it—to be tricked out of the single assumption which makes our existence viable—that somebody is watching

Related Characters: The Player (speaker), Rosencrantz, Guildenstern
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Do you call that an ending?—with practically everyone on his feet? My goodness no—over your dead body.

Related Characters: The Player (speaker), Rosencrantz, Guildenstern
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3 Quotes

Free to move, speak, extemporize, and yet. We have not been cut loose. Our truancy is defined by one fixed star, and our drift represents merely a slight change of angle to it: we may seize the moment, toss it around while the moments pass…but we are brought round full circle to face again the single immutable fact—that we, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, bearing a letter from one king to another, are taking Hamlet to England.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Rosencrantz, Hamlet
Related Symbols: The Boat
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

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He couldn't even be sure of mixing us up.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

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No, no, no…Death is…not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not being. You can't not-be on a boat.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Boat
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

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Let us keep things in proportion. Assume, if you like, that they're going to kill him. Well, he is a man, he is mortal, death comes to us all, etcetera, and consequently he would have died anyway, sooner or later. Or to look at it from the social point of view—he's just one man among many, the loss would be well within reason and convenience. And then again, what is so terrible about death? As Socrates so philosophically put it, since we don't know what death is, it is illogical to fear it. It might be…very nice…Or to look at it another way—we are little men, we don't know the ins and outs of the matter, there are wheels within wheels, etcetera—it would be presumptuous of us to interfere with the designs of fate or even of kings. All in all, I think we'd be well advised to leave well alone.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker), Rosencrantz, Hamlet
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

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We've travelled too far, and our momentum has taken over; we move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation.

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Boat
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

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No…no…not for us, not like that. Dying is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over…Death is not anything…death is not…It's the absence of presence, nothing more…the endless time of never coming back…a gap you can't see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound…

Related Characters: Guildenstern (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

Related Characters: The Two Ambassadors (speaker), Rosencrantz, Guildenstern
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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Guildenstern Character Timeline in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The timeline below shows where the character Guildenstern appears in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
The curtain rises on an entirely non-descript set where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in full Elizabethan costume, have been betting on coin after coin toss for a long... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue to toss coins, which continue to fall on "heads" (it's now been 85 times... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
To Rosencrantz's uncomprehending surprise, Guildenstern goes off on a long rant trying to make rational sense of their situation. Rosencrantz... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hear music and the Tragedians march in, carrying their instruments and lead by the Player,... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Guildenstern stops them and asks where they're going and how they came this way. The Player... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
When Guildenstern asks about the potential of "getting caught up in the action," the Player happily sends... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
...He spits on Rosencrantz's offer to buy a performance with a single coin. He accepts Guildenstern's offer to bet on coin tosses, which all fall on "heads." He accepts Guildenstern's offer... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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In order to make the Player pay his bet with a play, Guildenstern asks him about what play the Tragedians might perform. The Player is puzzled by the... (full context)
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The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Rosencrantz exclaims that the coin had fallen on tails and throws the coin at Guildenstern, who catches it. The lights suddenly change the stage from exterior to interior. An alarmed... (full context)
Free Will Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
Rosencrantz is upset and Guildenstern tries to comfort him, both of them jumbling their words: "it's all stopping to a... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern review Claudius' request, become increasingly perplexed about whether and how to take action, but stay... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
Hamlet crosses the stage reading and exits. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern practice being in character by addressing each other by name, but they mix up their... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Guildenstern tells Rosencrantz to go see if Hamlet's there. Rosencrantz peeks offstage where he reports seeing... (full context)
Act 2
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Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet's conversation continues from the previous scene, though what they're saying is at first... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
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Polonius enters and calls out to them. Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Polonius is a baby, and then walks upstage with Rosencrantz. Polonius says he has... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reluctant to speak, hemming and hawing between them. Guildenstern suggests that they "made some... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
Remembering Hamlet's comments about the wind's direction, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to figure out which way is South, wondering if it's in the direction of... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern give up on the question of direction and wonder instead whether someone will come on... (full context)
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The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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Rosencrantz shouts "Fire!" and, when Guildenstern leaps up, Rosencrantz says he's just "demonstrating the misuse of free speech. To prove that... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
...with a short speech written by Hamlet and inserted into it. Hamlet greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and exits. "So you've caught up," Guildenstern says to the Player, who responds coldly, "Not... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
The Player reveals the cause of his cold manner: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left in the middle of the Tragedians' play, leading the Tragedians to act on for... (full context)
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The Theater Theme Icon
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz tell the Player they've made it up to him by booking him a... (full context)
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
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The Player starts to leave but Guildenstern tries first calmly, then desperately, to get him to stay and advise them on what... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
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Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the Player next try to pinpoint the cause of Hamlet's state, a conversation that... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reflect on Rosencrantz's coin trick, which Guildenstern was impressed by. They decide to "think of... (full context)
Free Will Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
...He loses confidence. Looking offstage, he notices Hamlet's coming and runs back downstage to tell Guildenstern. Guildenstern laments ever getting Hamlet "into conversation." Hamlet enters and pauses, deciding whether or not... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
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...Tragedians they're not "getting across." He calls for them to start Act Two and, when Guildenstern expresses surprise that the dumbshow hasn't just ended, the Player is astonished that Guildenstern would... (full context)
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The dumbshow continues with the Player narrating everything for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern while now also playing Lucianus, the Player-Brother's nephew, who, devastated by his uncle's marriage to... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
The Theater Theme Icon
...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 contrary. "[T]heir talent... (full context)
Individual Identity Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
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...down in the exact positions where the two spies died. The figures are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Still prone, they argue about which way is east. Guildenstern says "they're waiting to see... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
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Before Rosencrantz can protest, Claudius calls Guildenstern's name from offstage. Claudius and Gertrude enter. Claudius explains that Hamlet has killed Polonius in... (full context)
Free Will Theme Icon
...Rosencrantz that the King will throw him away once he's done with him. He orders Guildenstern to bring him to the king. The three approach one side of the stage and... (full context)
Free Will Theme Icon
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Lighting changes to Exterior. Guildenstern, pensive, reflects that "it doesn't seem enough; to have breathed such significance." Rosencrantz reflects that... (full context)
Act 3
Death Theme Icon
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The World's Absurdity Theme Icon
...stage is in pitch darkness. There's a faint sound of the sea. In the dark, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz call out to each other and, as usual, mix one another up. "Is... (full context)
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The Theater Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wonder what to do and decide not to move. They wonder if someone will come... (full context)
...upstage sleeping. "It's all right for him [to sleep]" Rosencrantz notes. "He's got us now," Guildenstern adds. Rosencrantz wonders what they should do and Guildenstern laments that their every action is... (full context)
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Guildenstern asks Rosencrantz how much money Claudius gave him and Rosencrantz insists "the same as you"... (full context)
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Rosencrantz despairs that they have nothing, and Guildenstern reminds him that they're en route to England on Claudius' order, all the particulars of... (full context)
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"We're not getting anywhere," Guildenstern exclaims. "Not even England," Rosencrantz laments, "I don't believe in it anyway." He explains that... (full context)
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...Rosencrantz demands to know what they're going to say to the King of England and Guildenstern launches into a role-play with Rosencrantz as King of England and Guildenstern as Rosencrantz and... (full context)
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Guildenstern long-windedly justifies letting Hamlet be killed – he would, being mortal, have died anyway, and... (full context)
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Morning rises on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet behind them reading on a deck chair beneath the umbrella. Rosencrantz announces he's... (full context)
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A recorder sounds and Guildenstern, excited, calls it a sound "out of the void" and the promise "that something is... (full context)
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The Player explains to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they had to hide in the barrels to escape as stowaways after Claudius was... (full context)
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The Player asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they've spoken with Hamlet. They reply: "it's possible" but "pointless." Guildenstern explains that they... (full context)
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...It does not mean he isn't. Very often, it does not mean anything at all." Guildenstern lists a long list of his symptoms ("pregnant replies, mystic allusions," "invocations of camels, chameleons,... (full context)
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...shouting with swords out in a great hullabaloo. Eventually, Hamlet, the Player, and Rosencrantz with Guildenstern jump into the three barrels on stage to hide. Lights dim, sound fades out, and... (full context)
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Rosencrantz tries to make conversation about the weather but Guildenstern shouts at him to shut up. "Do you think conversation is going to help us... (full context)
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Rosencrantz, trying to convince Guildenstern they can still go through with the plan, points out they still have the letter,... (full context)
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"Where we went wrong," Guildenstern says quietly, "was getting on a boat. We can move, of course, change direction, rattle... (full context)
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With "fear, vengeance, scorn" Guildenstern balks at the experience of "actors" and grabs a dagger from the Player's belt that... (full context)
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...Player lies silent, the Tragedians applaud appreciatively and the Player rises. "You see," he tells Guildenstern, "it is the kind [of death] they do believe in." He reveals the dagger he... (full context)
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In an exhausted but still impatient voice, Guildenstern protests that death isn't like that "for us," that it's not "romantic" or "a game,"... (full context)