Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Isolation

By Tom Stoppard

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In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, main characters Ros and Guil, when left alone in the play, often suffer from feelings of isolation. In the opening and closing scenes of the play, it is just Ros and Guil alone on stage. One wonders if it is the degree to which these two are isolated that has led to their constant idleness and passivity, or if things worked the other way around. From the very start of the play, however, it does seem as if Ros and Guil are marked, as if they are moving toward their deaths, simply passing through the action of the play. The sense of isolation reaches its highest pitch, perhaps, when it is just the two of them in the dark on the boat in the last act. It is, in a sense, a premonition of death, or a fear of what death might be: bodiless nothingness, with only the mind working.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Guil and Ros constantly seem like outsiders in the play. Why are they so alienated from the rest of the cast? What factors lead to their isolation?
  2. What is the relationship between isolation and control in the play? Do Ros and Guil seem more in control of their situation when they are on their own or when they are in the company of others?
  3. How do other characters define isolation and how does it effect their actions? For example, how does Hamlet's sense of isolation from court differ from the isolation the Player feels when he finds that he is not playing to an audience?

Chew on This

Most of the interaction in the play is driven more by fear of isolation than it is by interest in, or sympathy with, others.

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