Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Mortality

By Tom Stoppard

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So, you probably noticed that the word "dead" in the title Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and that there is a lot of discussion of death in the play. Stoppard's play is intensely aware of the fact that we will all, one day, die. It is also aware of the fact that death simply cannot be captured in art. The main character, Guil, sees death as the negative, as a blind spot in the mind – something that humans are incapable of thinking about. As a result, he sees acted out deaths in plays as pretense – claiming to put something on stage that one cannot. In contrast, Guil's rival, the Player, thinks that no one can tell the difference between an acted death and a real one, and he thus decides to give his audiences the sort of entertainment they want – death, and lots of it.

Questions About Mortality

  1. In this play, what is the point of fearing or understanding death?
  2. Look closely at some of Guil's descriptions of death. What does it mean to say that death is "not"? If death is unthinkable, then why does Guil even feel the need to discuss it? Is his attempt to describe it completely vain?
  3. Does the Player understand what death is? Why would an audience prefer an acted death to a real one?

Chew on This

The differences in Guil's and the Player's views of death come from the fact that Guil desires that his death be significant while the Player understands that death is the most commonplace thing in the world.

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