Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Fear

By Tom Stoppard


GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?
ROS: Fear?
GUIL (in fury – flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack might flood your brain with light! (1.47-49)

Why would fear "flood your brain with light," as Guil puts it? Does fear open up new perceptions and change the way we look at things, or does it just paralyze us?

ROS: I'm afraid –
GUIL: So am I.
ROS: I'm afraid it isn't your day.
GUIL: I'm afraid it is. (1.51-54)

How is Ros and Guil's fear different here? Ros is just trying to sympathize with Guil, isn't he? Does Guil notice that Ros is being sympathetic, or is he too focused on whether or not the long string of coins coming up heads is a sign?

GUIL: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear. (1.74)

Does the world become less frightening when we think that we understand it? Is Guil's statement actually true of science or just of his spontaneous syllogisms?

ROS leaps up and bellow at the audience.
ROS: Fire! … Not a move. They should burn to death in their shoes. (2.70)

As an audience member, why wouldn't one be afraid when a character in a play yells fire? How does fear remain contained within a dramatic context? Does this say something about how much drama can come to affect the way that we think about our daily lives?

ROS: We're overawed, that's our trouble. When it comes to the point we succumb to their personality… (2.227).

What does Ros mean by "overawed?" Is it just a fancy term for being afraid? Why do his nerves fail when he approaches Hamlet? Is his shyness a type of fear – what is he afraid of?

GUIL: 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." (2.338)

What is the point of being afraid of death? Does Guil just want company in his fear?

ROS: I think we should stick together. He might be violent.
GUIL: Good point. I'll come with you.
ROS: No, I'll come with you.
GUIL: Right.
ROS: I'll come with you, my way.
GUIL: All right. (2.371-376)

In this foolish little back and forth, doesn't it seem that Ros and Guil are both afraid to be alone and afraid of what will happen when they will find Hamlet? Why don't they just admit it instead of stumbling about trying to think of an efficient way to search for him together?

ROS (almost in tears): Oh, what's going to become of us!
GUIL: Don't cry…it's all right…there…there, I'll see we're all right. (3.107-108)

How do Guil and Ros keep each other from being overwhelmed by fear of their situation? Is this situation typical of how Guil acts toward Ros, or is it different?

ROS: We drift down time, clutching at straws. But what good's a brick to a drowning man? (3.169)

Ros sometimes gives in to simpler forms of fear – crying and sniffling and whatnot. What's the difference here? How does fear here enable eloquence?

PLAYER (Dying amid the dying – tragically; romantically.): So there's an end to that – it's commonplace: light goes with life, and in the winter of your years the dark comes early. (3.342)

What would it take to bring death home to the player and to make him fear it? How does his language and his manner of speaking help him to float above the fear of death?