Study Guide

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Passivity

By Tom Stoppard

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Ros and Guil may be at the center of the action in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but they certainly don't drive it. It can be seen most clearly in Act II how they are just left to sit around and wait unless someone else crosses the stage or tells them what to do. Another main character, the Player, seems to suggest that they should be more active and that Guil shouldn't waste so much time questioning things, but Guil is less concerned with action than with freedom of action. Yet, in the end, the fact that Ros and Guil betray their friend Hamlet makes their passivity morally significant; their failure to act may play a role in their own fates.

Questions About Passivity

  1. Guil and Ros spend most of the play as spectators. Do they have a choice? Is this the result of their passivity or the result of their situation?
  2. Are there times in the play when not acting is a better choice than acting?
  3. Is Guil's hostility to the Player and his view of life as drama somehow bound up with Guil's inability to act in ordinary life?
  4. Are there points in the play when passivity takes on moral significance? When and how?

Chew on This

The tragedy of the play results not from Ros and Guil's passivity, but from their desire to take an active role in events. If they were consistently inactive, then the play would be a comedy and not a tragedy.

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