Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Manipulation

By Tom Stoppard


PLAYER: Now for a handful of guilders I happen to have a private and uncut performance of The Rape of the Sabine Women – or rather woman, or rather Alfred – (Over his shoulder.) Get your skirt on, Alfred – (1.187).

Why does the Player's proposal here offend Guil just a moment later? How is he using Alfred? Is he just being a director or is there something more sinister going on?

PLAYER: They're hardly divisible, sir – well, I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory – they're all blood, you see.
GUIL: Is that what the people want?
PLAYER: It's what we do. (1.260-262)

If blood may or may not be what the people want, is the player manipulating them into thinking that blood is what they want? Is this a power that writers and artists have in general – to determine people's tastes for them?

CLAUDIUS: Something have you heard
Of Hamlet's transformation, so call it,
Sith nor th'exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was. What it should be,
More than his father's death, that thus hath put him,
So much from th'understanding of himself,
I cannot dream of. I entreat you both
That, being of so young days brought up with him
And sith so neighboured to his youth and haviour
That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court
Some little time, so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather
So much as from occasion you may glean,
Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus,
That opened lies within our remedy. (1.287)

Considering that Claudius killed Hamlet's father and married his mother it seems like, if he has his wits about him, he should be able to figure out what's bothering Hamlet. If he might already know what is troubling him, why does he send in Ros and Guil? Is he also betraying Ros and Guil by asking them in such a manner that they won't recognize what they are doing as a betrayal of their friend?

GUIL: We have been briefed. Hamlet's transformation. What do you recollect?
ROS: Well, he's changed, hasn't he? The exterior and inward man fails to resemble –
GUIL: Draw him on to pleasures – glean what afflicts him. (1.331-333)

Does the fact that Ros imps Claudius's language suggest that Claudius's speech is determining the way that he is thinking? Does it suggest that he's totally under Claudius's sway?

GUIL: Exactly, it's a matter of asking the right questions and giving away as little as we can. It's a game. (1.337)

Does the fact that Guil looks at the upcoming encounter with Hamlet keep him from noticing that he is attempting to manipulate his friend into telling him what he wants?

HAMLET: My uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived?
GUIL: In what, my dear lord?
HAMLET: I am but mad north north-west; when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (2.3-5)

Is it possible that by feigning madness to control the people around him, Hamlet could become captive to his fake insanity – forced to act as if he were insane?

ROS: Perhaps they've all trampled each other to death in the rush… Give them a shout. Something provocative. Intrigue them (2.76).

This is one of many points where Ros attempts to control who comes on and off the stage. How does the fact that he's on a physical stage make it different than if this were a film (which it also is) and he were just trying to get people to come in and out of court rooms (which he does in the film)?

GUIL: Nobody leaves this room! (Pause, lamely.) Without a very good reason. (2.198)

Is Guil's desire for everyone to have reasons for their actions an effort to manipulate them (into having reasons, whether or not they actually do)?

CLAUDIUS (moves): Bring him before us.
(This hits ROS between the eyes but only his eyes show it. Again his hesitation is fractional. And then with great deliberation he turns to GUIL.)
ROS: Ho! Bring in the lord.
(Again there is a fractional moment in which ROS is smug, GUIL is trapped and betrayed. GUIL opens his mouth and closes it.) (2.426)

Is this the first time that Ros realizes that Claudius has been using them just to get to Hamlet? Why does his betrayal of Guil make him smug – does it really alleviate him of responsibility? This is a peak point of tension between Ros and Guil, but what exactly is going on here?

The black resolves to moonlight, by which HAMLET approaches the sleeping ROS and GUIL. He extracts the letter and takes it behind his umbrella; the light of his lantern shines through the fabric, HAMLET emerges again with the letter, and replaces it, and retires, blowing out his lantern. (3.212)

This is what we get of Hamlet's betrayal of Ros and Guil – no angst-filled monologues, no explanation or reflection, just this. Why doesn't Hamlet just throw the letter overboard? Why would he betray Ros and Guil by altering the letter? Is this any clearer in Stoppard's play than it was in Shakespeare's?