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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


by Tom Stoppard

The Player Timeline and Summary

  • The Player approaches Ros and Guil with his group of Tragedians and offers to put on a show for them.
  • He calls Ros and Guil "fellow artists," and informs them that his troupe's specialty is tragedy (1.131). He offers to let them get caught up in the action.
  • The Player tells Ros that he will give them a private performance but, when Ros doesn't catch on, he makes to leave. They stop him, and he suggests that he could put on The Rape of the Sabine Women, but Guil is offended and slaps him.
  • Ros begins to catch on to what the Player is offering, and the Player tells them that they "do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off" (1.206).
  • The Player hits Alfred.
  • He gets involved in a bet with Guil and loses – first on the flip of a coin, and then on betting that the year of his birth doubled is an even number.
  • The Player discusses what his troupe does with Guil and tells him they are of the "blood, love and rhetoric school" (1.258).
  • The troupe is going to start a show for Ros and Guil, but the Player keeps his foot on Ros's coin – the one they were using while betting. Ros confronts him about it and he lifts his foot and walks away. He does not appear again in Act One.
  • A bit into Act Two, the Player comes onstage with Hamlet, who asks if the Tragedians can put on The Murder of Gonzago. He says that they can. Hamlet asks if he can do it with altered lines, and he says that he can.
  • The Player complains to Ros and Guil that they left him, and that it was terrible realizing that they were performing while no one was walking. He says, "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" (2.112). He tells them that the Tragedians are "actors – we're the opposite of people" (2.114).
  • The Player informs Ros and Guil that he and the troupe have performed at court before, and that he knows which way the wind is blowing.
  • Guil complains of his uncertainty, and the Player informs him that this is normal – that he is no one special. He tells him that he can't question things at every turn.
  • The Player discusses Hamlet with Ros and Guil, and informs them that Polonius thinks Hamlet is in love with Ophelia.
  • The Player rehearses The Murder of Gonzago with the Tragedians. He tells Ros and Guil that what his actors do best is deaths, and explains the purpose of a dumbshow to them.
  • When Ros and Guil think it has ended, the Player mocks them. He says, "There's a design at work in all art – surely you know that? Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion" (2.310). What this means for the Player is that everyone who is marked for death, dies.
  • The Player narrates the rehearsal, and it is apparent that the play contains many elements that will soon come to pass in reality.
  • The Player argues with Guil about his ability to put death onstage. He says that he once had an actor who was condemned to be hanged, and he arranged it so that the actor was hanged in the middle of the play, but no one in the audience bought it (He's arguing against Guil's position that there is some fundamental difference between real and acted death). This is his last appearance in Act Two.
  • In Act Three, the Player emerges from a barrel on the boat on which Ros and Guil are taking Hamlet to England. He tells them that they have been hiding out because Claudius didn't like their play.
  • The Player complains that they never got paid, and says that "all the money we had we lost betting on certainties. Life is a gamble, at terrible odds – if it was a bet you wouldn't take it" (3.240).
  • The Player discusses Hamlet with Ros and Guil. The ship is attacked by pirates and they all hide out in barrels.
  • As they emerge from the barrels, the Player notices that Hamlet's barrel is gone.
  • After Ros and Guil realize that they are condemned to die, the Player's troupe surrounds them and tells them to stop asking questions – "You are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That's enough" (3.335).
  • Guil becomes angry with the Player and stabs him. The Player fakes his own death, knowing he has been stabbed with a fake dagger. The Tragedians applaud him; he stands up, but tells them not to flatter him – that the performance was merely competent.
  • The Player begins to list all the deaths that his troupe can do before the stage goes dark and he disappears, leaving only Ros and Guil.