Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Line). Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
PLAYER: It's what the actors do best. They have to exploit whatever talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. They can die heroically, comically, ironically, slowly, suddenly, disgustingly, charmingly, or from a great height. My own talent is more general. I extract significance from melodrama, a significance which it does not in fact contain; but occasionally, from out of this matter, there escapes a thin beam of light that, seen at the right angle, can crack the shell of mortality. (2.333)
Notice how the Player's description of his own talent, the ability to "crack the shell of mortality," echoes Guil's description of fear in the first scene of the play. Though the Player and Guil are constantly arguing, aren't they much more alike than they realize?
GUIL (fear, derision): Actors! The mechanics of cheap melodrama! That isn't death! (More quietly.) You scream and choke and sink to your knees, but it doesn't bring death home to anyone – it doesn't catch them unawares and start the whisper in their skulls that says – "One day you are going to die." (He straightens up.) You die so many times; how can you expect them to believe in your death? (2.338)
Does seeing death all the time in films and on the news cheapen it? Does it all make it seem more or less real? What would it take to start the whisper in our skulls, and why should this be a target of theater?
PLAYER: On the contrary, it's the only kind they do believe. They're conditioned to it. I had an actor once who was condemned to hang for stealing a sheep – or a lamb, I forget which – so I got permission to have him hanged in the middle of a play – had to change the plot a bit but I thought it would be effective, you know – and you wouldn't believe it, he just wasn't convincing! It was impossible to suspend one's disbelief – and what with the audience jeering and throwing peanuts, the whole thing was a disaster! – he did nothing but cry all the time – right out of character – just stood there and cried…Never again. (2.339)
How could a real death be unconvincing? What are we actually looking for in a performance of a good death? When people actually die are they going to care if there's an audience that's impressed with how they die?