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Free Study Guide-Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern travel to the castle, their surroundings are purposely vague and featureless. Once they get to the castle, the change in scenery is very slight, and when they are on the boat, taking Hamlet to England, the change is again nearly imperceptible. Stoppard constantly reminds the reader that this is a play, not real life. Therefore, the action is set against the bleakest of stages. There is no real setting to the play, just a backdrop for the words.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Rosencrantz

A bumbling, ridiculous but harmless Elizabethan gentleman. He canít remember his own name, wonders idly about his toenails, and would probably be lost without his companion, Guildenstern. He seems happy to let other people make his decisions for him, right down to whether he will live or die. He never wants to upset anyone, and he is completely unaware of the fact that this might be annoying.

Guildenstern

Rosencrantzís companion, who is generally smarter and more worldly-wise than his friend. Sarcastic, cynical and often irritated, he tries desperately to understand the world around him, with little success. Thus, Rosencrantzís indifference to their situation often infuriates him. He wants to know why they were summoned to court, what they are supposed to do for Hamlet, etc. It is difficult for him to act without knowing, and this tends to incapacitate him.

The Player

The leader of a band of traveling actors, who seem more often to make their living through prostitution. The Player cares little for honesty or straight-forwardness. He is willing to cheerfully do just about anything to make money, and he is used to failure. He too is cynical, but in a different way than Guildenstern: while Guildenstern gets disappointed in people for not acting as nobly as he would like, the Player expects them to act badly. It doesnít bother him.

Minor Characters

Hamlet

Friend of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Prince of Denmark. Since the death of his father the King, and the marriage of his uncle and mother, he has been depressed and crazed. While Hamletís main character trait in Shakespeareís play is, perhaps, openness (he canít stop telling the audience what he is thinking) the Hamlet of Stoppardís play is much more mysterious. His troubles are eclipsed by those of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so he often appears to be nothing more than annoying. Though they were raised with him, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern donít seem to care much about him. They want him to get better so that they can go home.


Claudius

New King of Denmark. He married his brotherís wife after his brother (the King) died, and became stepfather to Prince Hamlet. He summons Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, friends of Hamlet, to find out why Hamlet has been acting so strange recently. Gertrude Queen of Denmark. Mother of Hamlet, widow of the King of Denmark, and wife of the new King, Claudius. She is worried about her son, and wants Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to help him.

Ophelia

In love with Hamlet, and confused about his behavior. She does little to question him. Mainly, she is afraid of him.

Polonius

Opheliaís father and advisor to Claudius. He is convinced that Hamlet is acting strange because of his love for Ophelia.

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