Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Fear

By Tom Stoppard

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In the opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, there is a long string of coin flips that come up heads, which frightens Guil, one of the main characters. He later attempts to reason through how the laws of probability could seemingly be suspended, and at one point concludes, "The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear" (1.73). What Guil means is that we fear the unknown (such as death). Science, by trying to make things comprehensible, attempts to reduce this fear. By coming to know things about our world and the laws by which it works, we try to feel more at home in it, more like we have a handle on what is happening. The alternative – recognizing just how little we know about the world around us – causes fear.

Questions About Fear

  1. What is Guil's biggest fear? In what circumstance is he willing to show fear?
  2. Why do certain characters in the play, the Player in particular, seem incapable of experiencing fear? What would it take to frighten the Player?
  3. Can fear serve a constructive purpose? How does Guil think that fear can change the way that people think?

Chew on This

Guil's desire to have others experience the fear of death is a result of his own inability to overcome his own fear of death or to understand why he is afraid of it.

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