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Themes

In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the two title characters often play with words. They pun off of each other's words without much intention of moving their dialogue toward a set purpose. Instead, they are simply goofing around, like two kids throwing a ball back and forth. At the same time, however, the consistently poor communication in the play seems to hint at a broader breakdown in understanding between the characters that may help send the play into its tragic spiral. Language is sometimes seen as an empowering way of writing one's own fate, but for Ros and Guil it often seems like an impotent tool, best suited for idle speculation.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Ros and Guil play a number of word games, whether they be "questions" or role-playing different scenarios. How are these word games different than other more traditional games that they might play? Why do they often speak of words as the only things that they have to play with?
  2. How do failures of communication lead to the tragic ending of the play?
  3. Why do Ros and Guil seem so dependent on the words of others to know what is happening to them at any given moment? Why do they put all their trust in language, rather than experience?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the play, language more often leads to a breakdown in communication between characters than it does to trust and understanding.

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