Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz Character Analysis

A schoolmate of Hamlet's whom Claudius hires with Guildenstern to spy on the Prince and convey him to execution in England, Rosencrantz is a minor character in Hamlet whom Stoppard expands into a lead. Stoppard describes Rosencrantz as someone who, when winning a coin toss ninety times in a row, will feel slightly sheepish at winning so many coins off his friend but will remain otherwise unperturbed by the situation. Often fearful and foolish and deeply forgetful (Rosencrantz frequently forgets even his own name), Rosencrantz is the self-described supporting half of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pair. With Guildenstern, Rosencrantz' 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 a few moments before Guildenstern's.

Rosencrantz Quotes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead quotes below are all either spoken by Rosencrantz or refer to Rosencrantz. 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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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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Hamlet is not himself, outside or in.

Related Characters: Rosencrantz (speaker), Hamlet
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead…which should make all the difference…shouldn't it? I mean you'd never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box…

Related Characters: Rosencrantz (speaker)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment, in childhood when it first occurred to you that you don't go on for ever. It must have been shattering—stamped into one's memory. And yet I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. What does one make of that? We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the words for it, before we know that there are words, out we come, bloodied and squalling with the knowledge that for all the compasses in the world, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure.

Related Characters: Rosencrantz (speaker)
Page Number: 72
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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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:

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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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Now we've lost the tension.

Related Characters: Rosencrantz (speaker)
Page Number: 107
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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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

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

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Rosencrantz Character Timeline in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The timeline below shows where the character Rosencrantz 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
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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... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue to toss coins, which continue to fall on "heads" (it's now been... (full context)
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To Rosencrantz's uncomprehending surprise, Guildenstern goes off on a long rant trying to make rational sense of... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hear music and the Tragedians march in, carrying their instruments and lead by... (full context)
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Rosencrantz stops them and asks what the Tragedians do. The Player responds that they "do on... (full context)
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Rosencrantz exclaims that the coin had fallen on tails and throws the coin at Guildenstern, who... (full context)
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Rosencrantz is upset and Guildenstern tries to comfort him, both of them jumbling their words: "it's... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern review Claudius' request, become increasingly perplexed about whether and how to take action,... (full context)
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Hamlet crosses the stage reading and exits. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern practice being in character by addressing each other by name, but they mix... (full context)
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Guildenstern tells Rosencrantz to go see if Hamlet's there. Rosencrantz peeks offstage where he reports seeing Hamlet talking.... (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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reluctant to speak, hemming and hawing between them. Guildenstern suggests that they... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern give up on the question of direction and wonder instead whether someone will... (full context)
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Rosencrantz shouts "Fire!" and, when Guildenstern leaps up, Rosencrantz says he's just "demonstrating the misuse of... (full context)
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...next night 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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Guildenstern and Rosencrantz tell the Player they've made it up to him by booking him a performance at... (full context)
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...and to "act natural." When Guildenstern says he doesn't know whether the information he and Rosencrantz have been given is true, the Player tells them "Everything has to be taken on... (full context)
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Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the Player next try to pinpoint the cause of Hamlet's state, a conversation... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reflect on Rosencrantz's coin trick, which Guildenstern was impressed by. They decide to... (full context)
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Rosencrantz continues: "Eternity is a terrible thought." He babbles on half-telling religious jokes, then stands up... (full context)
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At once, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia enter, behind Rosencrantz upstage. Claudius takes Rosencrantz by the elbow and they plunge deep into conversation. Stage directions... (full context)
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Rosencrantz, announcing he's fed up with the others always going to and fro, makes to leave... (full context)
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...and won the Player-Queen's heart without her knowing that he'd killed her husband, the Player-King. Rosencrantz protests saying an audience won't want to watch "filth." The Player insists that that's exactly... (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... (full context)
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...death is not "gasps and blood and falling about…It's just a man failing to reappear." Rosencrantz claps for the spies. The lights black out. (full context)
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...figures lying 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... (full context)
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Before Rosencrantz can protest, Claudius calls Guildenstern's name from offstage. Claudius and Gertrude enter. Claudius explains that... (full context)
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Confused again, Rosencrantz shouts for Hamlet, who comes on stage. They ask about the corpse, which Hamlet says... (full context)
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...to Exterior. Guildenstern, pensive, reflects that "it doesn't seem enough; to have breathed such significance." Rosencrantz reflects that it was "a trying episode" but that "they're done with us now." "Done... (full context)
Act 3
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...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 that you?"... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wonder what to do and decide not to move. They wonder if someone... (full context)
Rosencrantz notices Hamlet upstage sleeping. "It's all right for him [to sleep]" Rosencrantz notes. "He's got... (full context)
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Guildenstern asks Rosencrantz how much money Claudius gave him and Rosencrantz insists "the same as you" then asks... (full context)
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Rosencrantz despairs that they have nothing, and Guildenstern reminds him that they're en route to England... (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 his mind remains blank when... (full context)
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Still furious, Rosencrantz demands to know what they're going to say to the King of England and Guildenstern... (full context)
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...be "very nice" and it's a release from life's burdens. He adds that he and Rosencrantz "are little men" and shouldn't "interfere with the designs of fate." He concludes that they... (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... (full context)
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...is a sailor piping, he says, and "could change the course of events." He tells Rosencrantz to go investigate. Rosencrantz procrastinates, then finally hunts around for the source of the music... (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... (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... (full context)
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Rosencrantz describes Hamlet's condition: "A compulsion towards philosophical introspection…It does not mean he is mad. It... (full context)
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...around frantically 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... (full context)
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Rosencrantz tries to make conversation about the weather but Guildenstern shouts at him to shut up.... (full context)
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Rosencrantz, trying to convince Guildenstern they can still go through with the plan, points out they... (full context)
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...within a larger one that carries us along as inexorably as the wind and current…" Rosencrantz reflects that the others must have planned for their death from the beginning – "who'd... (full context)
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...Tragedians' that this was the Player's destiny and that if there were no explanations for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, there should be none for the Player either. (full context)
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...was stabbed with has a trick blade. "For a moment you thought I'd—cheated," he says. Rosencrantz laughs nervously and applauds. The Player animatedly advertises all the deaths the Tragedians' can perform... (full context)
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...the absence of presence…a gap you can't see." Upstage is now entirely dark, leaving only Rosencrantz and Guildenstern visible near the front of the stage. Rosencrantz's applause falters and stops. Rosencrantz... (full context)