This is a very old set of notes on English texts, written for the NSW Higher School Certificate in 1998. It may be useful to students studying the text, but does not reflect any current syllabus.

English literature summaries

Summary of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Higher School Certificate 1998)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard, 1966.

Act One

In "a place without any visible character".

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are tossing coins, and the coin is coming up heads all the time. Guildenstern is considering reassessing the laws of probability. Rosencrantz occasionally tries to stop the game - he feels bad about winning so much money from his friend. He is excited, however, about throwing eighty-five heads in a row, that being a new record.

Guildenstern asks him if he is afraid of this, if he feels anything is wrong. Rosencrantz does not. Guildenstern thinks that there are four possible explanations; that time has stopped, that it is his subconscious, that it is divine, or that it is one of the stranger sides of the law of probability.

Guildenstern then begins to play around with syllogisms. He asks Rosencrantz about the first thing he remembers, and Rosencrantz has forgotten. Guildenstern remembers the messenger. He also uses circular logic to "prove" to himself that the world is operating within the laws of probability. The coins are the only strange thing... that and the fact that he can hear music...

Rosencrantz has missed everything, and begins an absurd discussion on toenails and beards. Finally, Guildenstern reminds him of the messenger, and they reveal that they are totally lost, having outstripped their guides. Rosencrantz too can hear music. Guildenstern speculates that an unusual experience can be dismissed as an illusion, until two people have it.

The tragedians enter. The Player informs the two that it is lucky they met - the tragedians were on the point of forgetting their art. They offer them a play, or a "tumble". They discuss whether the audience is part of the art. Rosencrantz begin inquiries as to price. As he haggles the Player down, he is told the story of the child actors. When he refuses to pay the tragedians begin to leave. Guildenstern stops them and begins a discussion of the fate behind the meeting. The Player agrees that they did not play to meet them there. The Player misinterprets Guildenstern's discussion of fate, and thinks he wants the tragedian Alfred to prostitute himself. Guildenstern hits him. He wanted more dignified directions to Elsinore.

Rosencrantz begins to inquire after a play again, and the Player talks to him about the nature of acting - inverting what happens on stage and off. However, Rosencrantz does not have enough money. Guildenstern offers to play the coin game with them. The coin comes up heads three times, each time the Player winning. Guildenstern calls "Heads" and it is. The Player calls "Tails", but it is heads.

The Player throws his last coin at Guildenstern, but Guildenstern puts his foot over it and calls "Heads". The tragedians do not like the odds, and they are right. Guildenstern throws another three heads, and each time the Player does not take the bet. He is right the first two times, but the third time he does not check.

Guildenstern tricks the Player into betting him that the year of his birth doubled is an odd number, and of course the Player loses. Guildenstern is offered Alfred in payment, and is disgusted. He asks Alfred if he likes "acting". Alfred does not. Guildenstern asks the tragedians to give them a play, perhaps the Greek. The Player replies that they are more of the blood, love and rhetoric school. They can perform any combination of the three, as long as there's blood.

The tragedians take their places, they are always in costume. Guildenstern has an argument with the Player about whether he should start on or come on. Rosencrantz notices that the Player has his foot on Guildenstern's coin, and retrieves it. Guildenstern calls for the play to start. Rosencrantz tells him he was lucky - the coin came up tails. He throws it to Guildenstern.

Lighting change.

Interior - (in Elsinore Castle as of Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii)

There is a dumbshow as of Ophelia's description to her father - Hamlet, dressed badly, comes to Ophelia, takes her wrist, stares at her face, sighs and walks out of the room still looking at her over his shoulder (Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, Lines 87 - 100).

Guildenstern calls to Rosencrantz to unfreeze. Claudius and Gertrude enter, and welcome Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, confusing the two, as they confuse each other by bowing to their correct name. Claudius implores the two to discover the cause of Hamlet's transformation (the eleven speeches including this and following, are Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, Lines 1 - 49). Gertrude tells the two that Hamlet has much spoken of them as his friends. Rosencrantz replies that their great majesties hardly need to implore, only to command, and Guildenstern promises their full assistance. The King and Queen thank the two, and Gertrude begs them to go straight to Hamlet. Two attendants come to show them the way, but Polonius arrives, and they bow. The attendants leave, and indicate to the two to follow. He goes to Claudius to tell him of the arrival of the ambassadors from Norway, and they speak together of Polonius' loyalty to the Throne. The royal party leaves.

Rosencrantz announces that he wants to go home. Guildenstern begins mixing metaphors trying to comfort his friend. Rosencrantz remembers a time when there were no questions, or at least, there were answers to all the questions, when no identities were confused. Guildenstern thinks that it was rather that they lived close to the truth, but now the truth is too close. Everything changed when the man on horseback came.

Guildenstern is positive - they know now what they are there for, they know the names of the participants. Rosencrantz is sure that they looked ridiculous to the King and Queen. Guildenstern is sure everything is consistent - birth to death. Guildenstern advises Rosencrantz to wait for events to play themselves out, to enjoy being led by the hand like a child.

They begin to try and derive knowledge about Hamlet, running over their conversation with Claudius and Gertrude. They then speculate about "a king's remembrance". Guildenstern plays around on the words "remembrance", "retentive" and "retainer", but Rosencrantz is more practical. Rosencrantz tries to be "constructive", and Guildenstern replies there are too few of them for a human pyramid. Guildenstern thinks it is better to wait.

Rosencrantz suggests the question game. Statements, repetitions, grunts, synonyms, rhetoric and non sequitors are all forbidden. They bounce questions around, begin with general, and moving back to themselves, and their names. Guildenstern begins to play seriously, and so Rosencrantz wins. They remember the other game, the one they are pawns in, but don't know the rules.

Hamlet appears, and passes through. Rosencrantz recognises his name, and is impressed with Guildenstern. Rosencrantz tries to test Guildenstern, but Guildenstern asks him to surprise him. Rosencrantz then responds to Guildenstern's name, and their optimism falls apart.

They discuss Hamlet, whom Guildenstern claims to recognise, although, Rosencrantz claims not to have seen him. Guildenstern decides to practice, by pretending to be Hamlet, while Rosencrantz questions. Rosencrantz is very confused by this, and ends up playing their last game. Guildenstern decides the two have nothing in common.

Rosencrantz suddenly gets the idea. They quickly move on to the death of Old Hamlet, and Claudius' ascent to the Throne, and the words "slipped in" remind Rosencrantz of Gertrude's marriage. Rosencrantz sums up; Hamlet's father is dead, his brother has replaced him on his Throne and in his wife's bed. But they still cannot determine the reason for Hamlet's transformation.

Rosencrantz hears music. Guildenstern manages to get him to respond to both names. they see Hamlet off-stage, talking to himself, but not by himself. He is with Polonius. The two enter (Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, Lines 204 - 206, 212 - 223). Polonius concludes that there is method in Hamlet's madness. He points Hamlet out to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and leaves. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern call to Hamlet, who recognises and greets them, although wrongly. They laugh.

"The run of heads is impossible, yet Ros betrays no surprise at all - he feels none. However, he is nice enough to feel a little embarrassed at taking so much money off his friend. Let that be his character note."
"Guil is well alive to the oddity of it. he is not worried about the money, but he is worried by the implications; aware but not going to panic about it - his character note." - Stage directions
"Though it can be done by luck alone." - Guildenstern.
"A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else at least in the law of probability." - Guildenstern, who does re-examine his faith.
"I feel the spell about to be broken." - Guildenstern. The spell is never broken.
"I'm afraid it is [my day]." - Guildenstern.
"There was a messenger... that's right. We were sent for." - Guildenstern.
"The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear." - Guildenstern.
"Which is a great relief to me personally." - Guildenstern, on his elaborate, confused semi-logical construct proving the law of probability is operating.
"It related the fortuitous and the ordained into a reassuring union which we recognised as nature." - Guildenstern.
"Pale sky before dawn, a man standing on his saddle to bang on the shutters - shouts - What's all the row about?! Clear off! But then he called our names." - Rosencrantz.
"our names shouted in a certain dawn, a message, a summons... a new record for heads and tails." - Guildenstern.
"as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience" - Guildenstern.
"We'd be back where we started - improvising." - Player.
"that comes under realism for which there are special terms" - Player.
"if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else" - Player.
"Blood is compulsory - they're all blood you see." - Player.
"I say - that was lucky... It was tails." - Rosencrantz.
"It's all stopping to a death... it's all heading to a dead stop." - Rosencrantz.
"I remember when there were no questions... There were answers everywhere you looked." - Rosencrantz.
"A man standing in his saddle in the half-lit half-alive dawn banged on the shutters and called two names. He was just a hat and a cloak levitating in the grey plume of his own breath, but when he called we came." - Guildenstern.
"Consistency is all I ask!" - Rosencrantz. "Give us this day our daily mask." - Guildenstern.
"the only beginning is birth and the only ending is death." - Guildenstern.
"Till events have played themselves out. There's a logic at work - it's all done for you, don't worry. Enjoy it. Relax." - Guildenstern.
"Words, words. They're all we have to go on." - Guildenstern.
"Where's it going to end?" - Rosencrantz.
"It's all questions." - Rosencrantz.
"Immortality is all I seek..." - Rosencrantz. "Give us this day our daily week..." - Guildenstern.
"Unorthodox." - Rosencrantz. "Undid me." - Guildenstern. "Undeniable." - Rosencrantz.
"To sum up: your father, who you love, dies, you are his heir, you come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold before his young brother popped on to his throne and into his sheets, thereby offending both legal and natural practice." - Rosencrantz.

Act Two

Interior - (in Elsinore Castle as of Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii)

Previous scene continues (Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, lines 358 - 374, 380 - 384). Hamlet comments that there is something unnatural in his father's death. The tragedians' band is heard, and Guildenstern announces their arrival. Hamlet again welcomes the two to Elsinore, and tells them he is only mad north north-west. He sees Polonius coming, and warns them that he is a child in his mind. Polonius announces the arrival of the tragedians.

Guildenstern decides that they made some progress. Rosencrantz thinks he made the two look ridiculous., playing the question game to their detriment. (The score was twenty seven to three, deducting six rhetoricals and two repetitions, nineteen to three.) They are confused even about what they got from Hamlet.

They try to decide where south is. Guildenstern thinks that's where they arrived from. They don't know where the sun is, or whether it is morning. Guildenstern attempts to derive south from this lack of knowledge, and suggests that mere pragmatism (such as going outside and looking at the sun) has nothing to offer their situation.

The wind turns out to be draught anyway, and appears to be arise from the floor. Rosencrantz offers to lick Guildenstern's toe so that he can feel the direction of the wind, an offer which his friend declines. They begin to wonder where everyone else is. Guildenstern hopes that their playing of their part might be the natural order of things. He hopes that any arbitrary actions they take are not part of anyone else's order. Guildenstern tries to get Rosencrantz to remember what happened in their past, but Rosencrantz doesn't want to.

They begin playing a different coin game. Rosencrantz holds a coin in one of his fists, and Guildenstern taps a fist. The coin is not there. They play again. Guildenstern still loses. The third time, Guildenstern hits both fists, and Rosencrantz reveals that his hands are empty. He laughs.

Polonius, Hamlet and the tragedians arrive (Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, Lines 522 - 532). Hamlet asks if the tragedians can play "The Murder of Gonzago". They can, and agree to insert an extra speech that Hamlet will write. Hamlet welcomes the two again to Elsinore, and leaves.

Guildenstern asks the Player if he has "caught up". He coldly replies "no". The two threaten to cut his tongue out if he doesn't mind his words, and they play on the concept, from taking the words out of his mouth, to being an actor in a dumbshow. The Player is angry that the two left, that the tragedians had to play without an audience, reducing them to playing a child's game. They still can't look each other in the face. An actor without an audience is like anyone else doing something secretly and discovering he has an audience. He demonstrates this to Rosencrantz.

The Player delivers a monologues as to what happened - they performed ever more desperately, hoping the audience was hiding. Eventually they were forced to silently move on to Elsinore. Guildenstern slow-claps the speech, and critiques its writing. The delivery was heart-rending. Guildenstern implies that it was he that allowed the tragedians to perform. Rosencrantz earnestly hopes they will "draw him out", not by prostitution, of course.

The Player tells them that they already had an entry at the court. He tells them that Hamlet is a fan of classical, "The Murder of Gonzago" being, of course, blood, love and rhetoric. Furthermore, the Player knows which direction the wind is blowing from. He advises them merely to respond, not to question, to act on assumptions. It's all anyone does.

The two try to explain to the Player what is wrong with Hamlet, that he is either melancholy or mad. The Player tells them about Polonius' theory about Hamlet and Ophelia. Guildenstern momentarily tries to impose order. The Player leaves and there is no one to impose order on. They discuss playing the coin game again, but end up talking about death. Rosencrantz is worried about burial, but assumes there must be a difference between being dead in a box and being alive in one. A person alive in a box would be helpless. A dead person wouldn't care. The problem is that Rosencrantz would rather be alive in a box, because then he'd have a chance of getting out. Rosencrantz then advises Guildenstern not to think about death. He then tells him an eternity joke, and a religion one.

Rosencrantz discovers he can't remember when he learnt about death. He then becomes agitated, taking Guildenstern's position of a few moments earlier. He orders that everyone remain out.

The royal party appears. Guildenstern continues thinking about death. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene i, Lines 10 - 31) The two tell the king and queen that Hamlet was very pleased to see them, answering all their questions, telling them about the players. Polonius invites Claudius and Gertrude to view the play. Claudius agrees, and they head off to view Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia.

Rosencrantz is frightened by the sudden appearance and disappearance. He tries to leave, but discovers Hamlet in the wings. Hamlet is in the middle of his soliloquy (Hamlet, Act III, Scene i, Lines 56 - 90, not heard). Rosencrantz decides that now is the time to accost him, but the trouble is, when the crunch comes, the two always give way to the others' personalities. (Hamlet, Act III, Scene i, Lines 89 - 92 are delivered) Hamlet sees Ophelia and they greet each other and leave. Guildenstern congratulates Rosencrantz on his action. They see "Gertrude" enter, and Rosencrantz covers her eyes, and tries to get her to guess who he is. It turns out it is Alfred in woman's clothes. The Player enters, and Rosencrantz goes down to meet him. Neither budges. Rosencrantz tries to pick something from the floor, but the Player steps on his hand. Tragedians enter from all sides and Rosencrantz retreats to the middle of the stage. The Player reminds them which play they are doing and they begin dress rehearsal. The play the dumbshow (as described in Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii, stage directions following Line 129) The Player explains the reason for the dumbshow (the language is obscure), and the action to the two.

As the dumbshow finishes, Hamlet and Ophelia enter (Hamlet, Act III, Scene i, Lines 146 - 149) Hamlet decries marriage and orders Ophelia to a nunnery. The Player begins his first line (Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii, Line 146), but Claudius interrupts (Hamlet, Act III, Scene i, Lines 162 - 169), declaring that Hamlet's madness, is not due to Ophelia, and is all the more dangerous therefore. He decides to send Hamlet to England. He leaves with Ophelia and Polonius.

The Player criticises the tragedians' performance. They begin to play the second act (which is not in Hamlet). Guildenstern is surprised, but the Player tells him that it cannot end with everyone on their feet. Everyone who is marked for death must die. The lovers embrace, and the two are horrified. The actors get slightly carried away and have to get pulled apart. They dumbshow the closet scene and the murder of Polonius (Hamlet, Act III, Scene iv), which includes an "oedipal embrace". The king's nephew is sent to England, with two "smiling accomplices - friends - courtiers" and they leave by ship. The nephew has disappeared by the time they reach England, but the English king kills the two when he reads their letter.

Rosencrantz notices that the spies are wearing the same jackets as the two, and interrupts the play, touching the coat. He does not quite connect. Guildenstern is also concerned. He tells the Player he does not know the play, and criticises the actors' portrayal of death. The Player explains that the public is so used to acted death, that they cannot accept real death - he tested it once by executing an actor on stage. The mime continues, and "Rosencrantz" and "Guildenstern" die beautifully. Guildenstern tells him that death is actually an unannounced disappearance, which gathers significance as the play continues. Rosencrantz claps, slowly.


The play cuts to the end of the actual performance (Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii, Lines 255, 258, 260) Cries are heard in the blackout as Claudius rises and leaves. Polonius calls for lights.

Sunrise (Interior)

When the lights come it is sunrise, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alone. Rosencrantz watched the sunrise, and therefore knows where east is. Guildenstern is of the opinion that he actually opened his eyes very slowly. He is sure that soon everyone else will appear, yelling directions and getting their names wrong.

Claudius calls for Guildenstern (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene i, Lines 32 - 39) and tells the two of Polonius' murder. He asks them to find Hamlet and take the body to the chapel. He and Gertrude go to tell the court.

They try to leave to search for Hamlet, but don't want to separate. They are confident he will come, but when he immediately does, they are horrified. Hamlet drags Polonius' body on stage, and then turns around and drags it off. Guildenstern suggests that Rosencrantz call for Hamlet, which he does, and which works. They ask Hamlet where the body is (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene ii, Lines 2, 4 - 29, almost all of the scene). They ask where the body is, but Hamlet tells them it is dust. He tells them he can keep both their counsel and his own, especially since they are the king's sponges. He asks the two to take him to Claudius. He acts as if he sees him offstage, and while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bow he escapes. Claudius enters from the other direction.

He asks them what has happened (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iii, Lines 9 - 15). They say they do not know, but tell him Hamlet waits outside. Rosencrantz desperately calls to the guards to bring him inside, and surprisingly they do. Rosencrantz has a brief moment of triumph over his friend.


Guildenstern is concerned about all that happened. He wonders why they were needed. Rosencrantz no longer cares. They discover Hamlet is offstage, talking to a soldier, and mourn that it is not yet over, as they thought. Hamlet is talking to himself, not by himself. Hamlet and the soldier enter, discussing the purpose of Fortinbras' forces heading for Poland (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iv, Lines 9 - 14). Guildenstern and Rosencrantz talk about autumn. Rosencrantz faintly hears the tragedians' band, but Hamlet says goodbye to the soldier, and tells the two to wait a little (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iv, Lines 29 - 31). They watch him deliver his soliloquy (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene iv, Lines 32 - 66, not spoken). Guildenstern doesn't like not knowing where he is, or where he is going, or if he is coming back. Rosencrantz hopes for freedom, Guildenstern is not so sure.

"Half of what he said meant something else, and the other half didn't mean anything at all." - Rosencrantz.
"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." - Guildenstern.
"We're actors - we're the opposite of people." - Player.
"you can't treat royalty like people with normal perverted desires" - Rosencrantz.
"truth is only what is taken to be true." - Player.
"A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself." - Guildenstern.
"Stark raving sane." - Rosencrantz.
"I mean one thinks of being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead... which sold make a difference." - Rosencrantz.
"Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death?" - Guildenstern.
"Death followed by eternity... the worst of both worlds. It is a terrible thought." - Guildenstern
"Hamlet enters upstage, and pauses, weighing up the pros and cons of making his quietus." - Stage directions.
"for all the compasses in the world, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure." - Rosencrantz.
"When it comes to the point we succumb to their personality..." - Rosencrantz.
"There's nothing more unconvincing than an unconvincing death." - The Player
"There's a design at work in all art - surely you know that? Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion." - The Player
"A slaughterhouse - eight corpses all told." - The Player. The corpses are Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Laetres, Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet.
"You die so many times; how can you expect them to believe in your death?" - Guildenstern.
"what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all - now you see him, now you don't... here one minute and gone the next and never coming back." - Guildenstern.
"Again there is a fractional moment in which Ros is smug, Guil is trapped and betrayed." - Stage directions.
"Can this be all? And why us? - anybody would have done." - Guildenstern.
"It's the same sky." - Guildenstern
"And besides, anything could happen yet." - Rosencrantz

Act Three

Pitch darkness - sea sounds.

Guildenstern asks if Rosencrantz is there. Rosencrantz isn't sure where he's talking about. They establish that they are there, that they are thinking, talking, and that Guildenstern can feel his leg.

They hear sailors calling directions, with an unmistakably sailor-ish air. After ten or so, it strikes Rosencrantz - they are on a boat! They discuss how dark it is, and whether or not that implies that it is night.

It begins to lighten. Scenery gives vague impressions of rigging.

Hamlet lights a lantern. The two discuss the length of the day in the northern seas. Guildenstern discovers that he has temporarily lost his scepticism. He also decides he enjoys boats, because they are contained - the general direction is known, no decisions have to be made.

Rosencrantz feels sea sick. Guildenstern is immensely reassured by the boat idea - everything is decided, they know who they are, what they are, where they are going and what they are doing. Rosencrantz is disturbed to find Hamlet asleep on the deck. Guildenstern is more disturbed - Hamlet, unlike them, has nothing to do!

Guildenstern suddenly loses all certainty. He is back to Act Two, uncertain, and confused. They begin playing the coin game, where Rosencrantz has a coin in one fist. Guildenstern picks the fist with the coin in it, five times. He is desperate to lose, and accidentally taps both fists, causing Rosencrantz to reveal that he had coins in both hands. Rosencrantz wanted to make him happy.

They begin to discuss how much money Claudius gave each. Neither will reveal how much they got, but reassure the other that he got the same amount. He couldn't even be sure of their names. Guildenstern becomes frustrated that his friend is repeating every word he says. Rosencrantz replies that he is better in support, and wails that he has no idea what is going on.

Guildenstern reassures him that they are taking Hamlet to England, to the king. The letter they are carrying will explain everything. If it has no clues about the future, they are at a loose end, again. Guildenstern expects the letter will explain their past, and the whole story. Rosencrantz suddenly becomes convinced that he has lost the letter.

They search frantically, Guildenstern puzzled because he thought he'd been given it. He thinks the whole thing is becoming undisciplined. He thinks it through, and the letter is in his top pocket. The then have nothing to do, no tension. They can't remember where they left off. Rosencrantz doesn't believe in England, he has no image. The two are slipping off the map.

Guildenstern uses the boat to reassure them. They are on a boat. They are. Rosencrantz considers throwing himself off the boat, except that that might be the plan. He decides to foil it and remains on the boat.

They try and puzzle what to say to the king of England, Guildenstern as himself and Rosencrantz as the king. The king wants nothing to do with Denmark's lunatics, but reads the letter, and thus the two discover that they are taking Hamlet to his death. (Their speech paraphrases Hamlet's descriptions of the letter's contents, Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii, Lines 19 - 25.) Rosencrantz is horrified, as a friend of Hamlet's, or so he has been told.

Guildenstern tells him that Hamlet, being but a man, is mortal, and only a small part of the world. Death might be pleasant, anyway, and who are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to interfere, anyway? Guildenstern decides to reseal the letter, and, assuming Rosencrantz's portrayal of the English king as a fearsome, angry man is correct, they won't notice that it has been opened. There is no logic, or justice.

Rosencrantz summarises for his own benefit; their bosom friend Hamlet is "drawn on to pleasures", ie a paly, which due to unforeseen circumstances is a debacle, and due to unforeseen emotions, Hamlet becomes a murderer, and thus they take him to England to be killed.

Hamlet blows out the lantern.


Hamlet steals the letter, and takes it upstage, behind an umbrella, and reads it. He brings another letter down and replaces it.

Morning comes, and becomes high noon

Hamlet is on the upper deck, relaxing.

Rosencrantz once again summarises; they got the same reward, they shouldn't know the contents of the letter, the letter may have something to lead them on, and if not, they are at a loose end, if such a thing is permitted. He thinks they have done as well as they could.

They hear a recorder. Guildenstern is excited - yet again something is about to happen. He describes a sailor, playing the little pipe, and making music. (His description containing phrases from Hamlet's, Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii, 343 - 345.) Guildenstern orders Rosencrantz to take advantage of the situation, and go and request a tune.

Rosencrantz finds that the tune is actually coming from the middle barrel of the three barrels. He kicks the barrels, and opens and shuts the lid. A drum starts in the left hand barrel. A lute is played in the right hand barrel. Finally, the tune is heard that the tragedians have played three times before.

The Player emerges, and the rest of the tragedians appear from within the three small barrels. The tragedians, still in costume, are ordered to blend into the background. The Player announces that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to have come away rather well, better than the tragedians at any rate, who are not in Claudius' favour. The play was tactless. The tragedians are stowaways.

The Player announces that he wouldn't take life on as a bet. But it can't have finished yet, everyone is still alive, almost. The two explain that they don't know what's going on, and talking to Hamlet seems pointless. Guildenstern announces that freedom and spontaneity are "the order of the day", subject to limits.

They decide that Hamlet's chief characteristic is philosophical introspection, combined with all sorts of odd symptoms, and finally talking to himself. And so, they decide, they have met the Player. All coincidence. Guildenstern cries out for some action.

The pirates attack. Hamlet runs downstage, and runs into the others, running upstage. They go back, and forth, and collide again. They run up and down together, shouting. They leap into the barrels; Hamlet left, Player right, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern middle. The fight continues.



The middle barrel is missing. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern peep out from the Player's barrel. The Player peeps out from Hamlet's barrel. Hamlet is gone.

The Player mourns him, and their abandonment to fate. Still, he reassures Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they still have an idea as to what they should be doing. They decide that they and Hamlet are dead to one another. The Player is sure diplomacy will work it all out. Guildenstern is angry, and upset, Hamlet being their purpose. The Player tries to comfort him. Rosencrantz tries to get him to bet on certainties. Rosencrantz tries to be uncertain. Nothing helps. Guildenstern is still angry and upset.

He no longer believes in England either. They reverse their role-play of earlier. Guildenstern, the English king, has no idea what's going on, until Rosencrantz gives him the letter. Guildenstern opens the letter, and discovers that he and Rosencrantz are to be put to death. (The letter, parts of which are recited by Guildenstern, is as per Hamlet's description, Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii, Lines 39 - 40, 44 - 46.) They are horror-struck.

All the rest of the tragedians are summoned from the barrel that the Player was in. Guildenstern suddenly hates boats, thy contain him, limit him, have captured him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wonder who they are, that their death is so much. The Player tells them that most things end in death.

Guildenstern screams that they do not know death, and as he does so, he stabs the Player, and pronounces his destiny. The Player dies magnificently, stands up and accepts the applause of his fellows. He takes the knife from Guildenstern, and demonstrates that the blade slides into the handle. Rosencrantz frantically congratulates him, as the tragedians demonstrate their deaths. They die as per Hamlet, the queen by poison, the two duellists by a poisoned wound, and the king at the hands of one of them. The "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" characters are stabbed. The Player completes his death, lingeringly and meaningfully.

Guildenstern chokes. Death is not a death on stage, it is a vanishing, a never-coming-back.

Light on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tragedians are gone.

Rosencrantz watches the sun set, and wonders if they couldn't just stay where they are. Guildenstern isn't sure whether they don't merit it. Rosencrantz decides he doesn't care, and vanishes.

Guildenstern doesn't notice, and wonders once more about the significance of their summons. He decides they'll know better, the next time, cries "Now you see me, now you -" and is gone.

As per conclusion of Hamlet

The bodies of Gertrude, Claudius, Laetres and Hamlet lie in the same positions that the "dead" tragedians occupied in their last act. The ambassador arrives, and announces that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, but that he has come too late. Horatio tells him that Hamlet never ordered their deaths, and promises to tell them all of how the tragedy occurs.

The play fades away.

"You don't have to worry about which way to go, or whether to go at all - the question doesn't arise, because you're on a boat aren't you?" - Guildenstern.
"Free to move, speak, extemporise, and yet. We have not been cut loose." - Guildenstern.
"All I ask is our common due... Give us this day our daily cue." - Guildenstern.
"We act on half-remembered directions that we can hardly separate from instinct." - Guildenstern.
"Are there likely to be loose ends?" - Rosencrantz.
"We're slipping off the map." - Rosencrantz.
"And it has all happened. Hasn't it?" - Guildenstern.
"Death isn't." - Guildenstern.
"we are little men, we don't know the ins and outs of the matter" - Guildenstern.
"I don't think we missed any chances" - Rosencrantz.
"Plausibility is all I presume!" - Rosencrantz. "Call us this day our daily tune." - Guildenstern.
"No boundaries have been defined, no inhibitions imposed." - Guildenstern.
"I congratulate you on the unambiguity of your situation." - Player.
"we move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation." - Guildenstern.
"our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us as inexorably as the wind and current." - Guildenstern.
"Who are we that so much should converge on our little deaths?" - Guildenstern.
"there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said - no. But somehow we missed it." - Guildenstern.