Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Versions of Reality

By Tom Stoppard

Versions of Reality

PLAYER: We keep to our usual stuff, more or less, only inside out. We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else. (1.207)

Is the Player here making a statement not only about what his troupe does, but also about what Stoppard is doing in his play? Does his theory of many entrances and exits suggest that there is one inescapable reality or that there are just infinitely many different realities?

GUIL: Do you like being…an actor?
ALFRED: No, sir.
(GUIL looks around him, at the audience.)
GUIL: You and I, Alfred – we could create a dramatic precedent here. (1.246-248)

Assuming that the dramatic precedent would be two actors walking out of a play that they are paid to act in, how does Guil recognize that he is an actor? How can Guil for a moment seem to understand that he is just a character in a Stoppard play? Does he cease to be Guil at this moment and become the actor that plays him?

GUIL: Well…aren't you going to change into your costume?
PLAYER: I never change out of it, sir. (1.271-272)

When the player says that he never changes out of his costume, does this mean that he is attempting to treat reality as he would treat a play or that he is attempting to treat a play as most people treat reality?

He tosses the coin to GUIL who catches it. Simultaneously – a lighting change sufficient to alter the exterior mood into interior, but nothing violent. (1.285)

This lighting change, which precedes Hamlet and Ophelia's first entrance on stage, is meant to suggest something about how the setting is changing. What does it suggest? How many different realities are at work in the play and how do they come into contact?

GUIL: All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque. (1.315)

Is there a difference between truth and reality in the play? How do we live so close to truth without actually noticing it?

PLAYER: 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)

Is this true of art? Is this the way that art differs from reality? Is it possible to make art out of reality?

GUIL: Autumnal – nothing to do with leaves. It is to do with a certain brownness at the edges of the day…Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it…Russets and tangerine shades of old gold flushing the very outside edge of the senses. (2.455)

What are Guil's standards for determining a season or a setting? Are they different from normal people's standards? How do all the little details add up to one coherent reality?

PLAYER: Naturally – we didn't get paid, owing to circumstances ever so slightly beyond our control, and 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. Did you know that any number doubled is even? (3.242)

What type of reality is this if you can lose all of your money betting on certainties? What does the player mean that if life were a bet you wouldn't take it? What would be the terms of the bet? What would it mean to win the bet?

The light has gone upstage. Only GUIL and ROS are visible as ROS's clapping falters to silence. (3.343)

How is this another shifting of reality within the play? How do the different spheres of action relate and overlap? Is Ros's clapping, as it fades away, much like the audiences' as they hope that the play will end on a high note? Is the clapping an attempt to forestall their impending fate?

GUIL: Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see me, now you – (and disappears) (3.347)

Does this surreal death fit in with the rest of the play? Is there gesturing to the fundamental difference between an acted death and a real one? In the end, is this a realistic play or not?