Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

by Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead [is] verbally dazzling . . . the most exciting, witty intellectual treat imaginable.” —Edith Oliver, The New Yorker

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 128
  • Publication Date March 01, 1971
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3275-8
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eve view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

Tom Stoppard was catapulted into the front ranks of modem playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened in London in 1967. Its subsequent run in New York brought it the same enthusiastic acclaim, and the play has since been performed numerous times in the major theatrical centers of the world. It has won top honors for play and playwright in a poll of London Theater critics, and in its printed form it was chosen one of the “Notable Books of 1967” by the American Library Association.


“A masterpiece, not unlike Shakespeare’s plays; it’s artfully, imaginatively written, multidimensional, and hilarious.” —New Yorker

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead . . . has proved its sturdiness and power to endure . . . It is, after all, the most performed, most studied, most earnestly analyzed and strenuously anatomized of all Mr. Stoppard’s plays: the foundation of his international career and the inevitable starting point for anyone wanting to appreciate him.” —Benedict Nightingale, New York Times

“A coruscatingly brilliant, endlessly thought-provoking masterpiece.” —Wall Street Journal

“In making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern . . . Stoppard mixed the poetic melodrama of Shakespeare with the doom-laden minimalism of Samuel Beckett and topped it with the slapstick of the Marx Brothers.” —Rolling Stone

“Very funny. Very brilliant. Very chilling. It has the dust of thought about it and the particles glitter excitingly in the theatrical air . . . This is a most remarkable and thrilling play. In one bound Mr. Stoppard is asking to be considered as among the finest English-speaking writers of our stage, for this is a work of fascinating distinction.” —Clive Barnes, New York Times

“Astonishing—a youthful prank bursting with theatrical mischief and literary flair.” —Washington Post

“A tour de force . . . Fascinating . . . A triumph.” —Roger Ebert

“Tom Stoppard’s lively twist on Hamlet . . . [A] metapharcical romp . . . Stoppard’s philosophizing playfulness is clearly indebted to the music hall absurdism of Waiting for Godot . . . Stoppard’s fertile wit keeps this three-act drama pulsing along . . . A subtle pathos, along with the playwright’s verbal sophistication, prevents the play from degenerating into a collegiate vaudeville . . . The language remains spry . . . It attains a comic lyricism that’s as funny as it is piercing.” —Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times

“Full of philosophizing, nuances and complexities . . . [An] absurdist tragi-comedy . . . Stoppard’s . . . writing is pristine.” —Charlotte Observer

“Like Beckett, Stoppard shows two figures struggling to find identity and purpose in a world that makes little sense . . . Stoppard is always praised for his intellectual ingenuity: far more important is how, even in his late 20s, he was obsessed with human transience.” —Michael Billington, Guardian

“After the first night of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the National Theatre in 1967, Tom Stoppard awoke and found himself famous. It’s still a delightful shock, every few years, to be reminded how brilliant and engaging this play remains.” —Independent (UK)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead feels as fresh and inventive as it must have fifty years ago when it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and catapulted Tom Stoppard to an international career that continues today. [An] occasionally baffling, always hilarious play.” —Cameron Kelsall, Talkin’ Broadway

“[A] brilliant play.” —Toby Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Stoppard’s intellectual word games and bits of comic business are exhilaratingly clever while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s antics as they stumble in and out of Hamlet make them part Abbott and Costello, part Laurel and Hardy, part Olsen and Johnson, and part Vladimir and Estragon . . . Invigorating brilliance . . . A literate and thought-provoking celebration of the spoken word.” —TV Guide

“Tom Stoppard’s . . . meta-theater masterpiece.” —Noel Murray, A.V. Club

“[A] funny play . . . Stoppard wittily plucked two minor characters from Hamlet and created a dazzlingly wordy and deliberately confounding play . . . Although R & G is among the earliest of Stoppard plays, it has all the comic ingenuity and intellectual razzle-dazzle that has become his signature.” —Simon Saltzman, Curtain Up

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . . . [is] now a solid part of the Stoppard canon, and . . . it’s a treat . . . The two men become vehicles for Stoppard’s non-stop wit with words, flow of ideas and diddling with logic . . . As always, Stoppard’s cerebral work will leave some people energized by its storm of ideas.” —Howard Shapiro, NewsWorks

“Intimate, funny and anachronistically atmospheric . . . Without doubt, the play resides within the traditions of the Theatre of the Absurd . . . Stoppard makes it so entertainingly witty, fun and ultimately affecting, you will hardly notice you have been being existential . . . A testament to Stoppard . . . Medieval yet modern, silly yet existential, and all around thoroughly entertaining.” —Kate Wingfield, Metro Weekly

“This monumental and hugely successful play is a highly entertaining mind gym in which Stoppard uses a complex yet fluid dialogue between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern . . . to effortlessly explore the nature of our elusive and all-too-temporal existence.” —Jonathan Thomsen, Limelight Magazine (Australia)

“A classic of absurdist comedy . . . Mr. Stoppard has fun upending expectations . . . [A] seriously amusing romp.” —Bob Brown, CentralJersey.com


Act One

Two ELIZABETHANS passing the time in a place without any visible character.

They are well dressed—hats, cloaks, sticks and all.

Each of them has a large leather money bag.

GUILDENSTERN’s bag is nearly empty.

ROSENCRANTZ’s bag is nearly full.
The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: GUILDENSTERN (hereafter “GUIL”) takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall, ROSENCRANTZ (hereafter “ROS”) studies it, announces it as “heads” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this for some time.

The run of “heads” is impossible, yet ROS betrays no surprise at all—he feels none. However, he is nice enough to feel a little embarrassed at taking so much money off his friend. Let that be his character note.

GUIL is well alive to the oddity of it. He is not worried about the money, but he is worried by the implications; aware but not going to panic about it—his character note.

GUIL sits, ROS stands (he does the moving, retrieving coins). GUIL spins, ROS studies coin.

ROS: Heads.

He picks it up and puts it in his bag. The process is repeated.








GUIL (flipping a coin): There is an art to the building up of suspense.

ROS: Heads.

GUIL (flipping another): Though it can be done by luck alone.

ROS: Heads.

GUIL: If that’s the word I’m after.

ROS (raises his head atGUIL): Seventy-sue—love.

GUIL gets up but has nowhere to go. He spins another coin over his shoulder without looking at it, his attention being directed at his environment or lack of it.


GUIL: A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else at least in the law of probability. (He slips a coin over his shoulder as he goes to look upstage.)

ROS: Heads.

GUIL, examining the confines of the stage, flips over two more coins as he does so, one by one of course, ROS announces each of them as “heads.”

GUIL (musing): The law of probability, it has been oddly asserted, is something to do with the proposition that if six monkeys (he has surprised himself). . . if six monkeys were . . .

ROS: Game?

GUIL: Were they?

ROS: Are you?

GUIL (understanding): Game. (Flips a coin.) The law of averages, if I have got this right, means that if six monkeys were thrown up in the air for long enough they would land on their tails about as often as they would land on their—

ROS: Heads. (He picks up the coin.)

GUIL: Which even at first glance does not strike one as a particularly rewarding speculation, in either sense, even without the monkeys. I mean you wouldn’t bet on it. I mean / would, but you wouldn’t. . . . (As he flips a coin.)

ROS: Heads.

GUIL: Would you? (Flips a coin.)

ROS: Heads.


Heads. (He looks up at GUIL—embarrassed laugh.) Getting a bit of a bore, isn’t it?

GUIL (coldly): A bore?

ROS: Well. . .

GUIL: What about the suspense?

ROS (innocently): What suspense?

Small pause.

GUIL: It must be the law of diminishing returns I feel the spell about to be broken. (Energizing himself somewhat. He takes out a coin, spins it high, catches it, turns it over on to the back of his other hand, studies the coin—and tosses it to ROS. His energy deflates and he sits.) Well, it was an even chance . . . if my calculations are correct.

ROS: Eighty-five in a row—beaten the record!

GUIL: Don’t be absurd.

ROS: Easily!

GUIL (angry): Is that ft, then? Is that all?

ROS: What?

GUIL: A new record? Is that as far as you are prepared to go?

ROS: Well . . .

GUIL: No questions? Not even a pause?

ROS: YOU spun them yourself.

GUIL: Not a flicker of doubt?

ROS (aggrieved, aggressive): Well, I won—didn’t I?

GUIL (approaches him—quieter): And if you’d lost? If they’d come down against you, eighty-five times, one after another, just like that?

ROS (dumbly): Eighty-five in a row? Tails?

GUIL: Yes! What would you think?

ROS (doubtfully): Well . . . . (Jocularly.) Well, I’d have a good look at your coins for a start!

GUIL (retiring): I’m relieved. At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor. . . . I suppose it’s the last to go. Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps . . . you, alone . . . (He turns on him suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.

ROS clasps his hand, GUIL pulls him up to him.

GUIL (more intensely): We have been spinning coins together since (He releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we have spun coins!

ROS: Oh no—we’ve been spinning coins for as long as I remember.

GUIL: HOW long is that?

ROS: I forget. Mind you—eighty-five times!

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: It’ll take some beating, I imagine.

GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?

ROS: Fear?

GUIL (in fury—flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!

ROS: Heads. . . . (He puts it in his bag.)

GUIL sits despondently. He takes a coin, spins it, lets it fall between his feet. He looks at it, picks it up, throws it to ROS, who puts it in his bag.

GUIL takes another coin, spins it, catches it, turns it over on to his other hand, looks at it, and throws it to ROS, who puts it in his bag.

GUIL takes a third coin, spins it, catches it in his right hand, turns it over onto his left wrist, lobs it in the air, catches it with his left hand, raises his left leg, throws the coin up under it, catches it and turns it over on the top of his head, where it sits, ROS comes, looks at it, puts it in his bag.

ROS: I’m afraid.

GUIL: So am I.

ROS: I’m afraid it isn’t your day.

GUIL: I’m afraid it is.

Small pause.

ROS: Eighty-nine.

GUIL: It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of wealth. (He muses.) List of possible explanations. One: I’m willing it. Inside where nothing shows, I am the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins, and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past. (He spins a coin at ROS.)

ROS: Heads.

GUIL: Two: time has stopped dead, and the single experience of one coin being spun once has been repeated ninety times. . . . (He flips a coin, looks at it, tosses it to ROS.) On the whole, doubtful. Three: divine intervention, that is to say, a good turn from above concerning him, cf. children of Israel, or retribution from above concerning me, cf. Lot’s wife. Four: a spectacular vindication of the principle that each individual coin spun individually (he spins one) is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does. (It does. He tosses it to ROS.)

ROS: I’ve never known anything like it!

GUIL: And a syllogism: One, he has never known anything like it. Two, he has never known anything to write home about. Three, it is nothing to write home about. . . . Home. . . What’s the first thing you remember?

ROS: Oh, let’s see The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?

GUIL: No—the first thing you remember.

ROS: Ah. (Pause.) No, it’s no good, it’s gone. It was a long time ago.

GUIL (patient but edged): You don’t get my meaning. What is the first thing after all the things you’ve forgotten?

ROS: Oh I see. (Pause.) I’ve forgotten the question.

GUIL leaps up and paces.

GUIL: Are you happy?

ROS: What?

GUIL: Content? At ease?

ROS: I suppose so.

GUIL: What are you going to do now?

ROS: I don’t know. What do you want to do?

GUIL: I have no desires. None. (He stops pacing dead.) There was a messenger. . . that’s right. We were sent for. (He wheels at ROS and raps out:) Syllogism the second: One, probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. Discuss, (ROS is suitably startled. Acidly.) Not too heatedly.

ROS: I’m sorry I—What’s the matter with you?

GUIL: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while there’s time. Now—counter to the previous syllogism: tricky one, follow me carefully, it may prove a comfort If we postulate, and we just have, that within un-, sub- or supernatural forces the probability is that the law of probability will not operate as a factor, then we must accept that the probability of the first part will not operate as a factor, in which case the law of probability will operate as a factor within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. And since it obviously hasn’t been doing so, we can take it that we are not held within un-, sub-or supernatural forces after all; in all probability, that is. Which is a great relief to me personally. (Small pause.) Which is all very well, except that (He continues with tight hysteria, under control) We have been spinning coins together since I don’t know when, and in all that time (if it is all that time) I don’t suppose either of us was more than a couple of gold pieces up or down. I hope that doesn’t sound surprising because its very unsurprisingness is something I am trying to keep hold of. The equanimity of your average tosser of coins depends upon a law, or rather a tendency, or let us say a probability, or at any rate a mathematically calculable chance, which ensures that he will not upset himself by losing too much nor upset his opponent by winning too often. This made for a kind of harmony and a kind of confidence. It related the fortuitous and the ordained into a reassuring union which we recognized as nature. The sun came up about as often as it went down, in the long run, and a coin showed heads about as often as it showed tails. Then a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else happened. Ninety-two coins spun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two consecutive times . . . and for the last three minutes on the wind of a windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute. . . .

ROS (cutting his fingernails): Another curious scientific phenomenon is the fact that the fingernails grow after death, as does the beard.

GUIL: What?

ROS (loud): Beard!

GUIL: But you’re not dead.

ROS (irritated): I didn’t say they started to grow after death! (Pause, calmer.) The fingernails also grow before birth, though not the beard.

GUIL: What?

ROS (shouts): Beard! What’s the matter with you? (Reflectively.) The toenails, on the other hand, never grow at all.

GUIL (bemused): The toenails never grow at all?

ROS: Do they? It’s a funny thing—I cut my fingernails all the time, and every time I think to cut them, they need cutting. Now, for instance. And yet, I never, to the best of my knowledge, cut my toenails. They ought to be curled under my feet by now, but it doesn’t happen. I never think about them. Perhaps 1 cut them absent-mindedly, when I’m thinking of something else.

GUIL (tensed up by this rambling): Do you remember the first thing that happened today?

ROS (promptly): I woke up, I suppose. (Triggered.) Oh—I’ve got it now—that man, a foreigner, he woke us up—

GUIL: A messenger. (He relaxes, sits.)

ROS: That’s it—pale sky before dawn, a man standing on his saddle to bang on the shutters—shouts—What’s all the row about?! Clear off!—But then he called our names. You remember that—this man woke us up.

GUIL: Yes.

ROS: We were sent for.

GUIL: Yes.

ROS: That’s why we’re here. (He looks round, seems doubtful, then the explanation.) Travelling.

GUIL: Yes.

ROS (dramatically): It was urgent—a matter of extreme urgency, a royal summons, his very words: official business and no questions asked—lights in the stable-yard, saddle up and off headlong and hotfoot across the land, our guides outstripped in breakneck pursuit of our duty! Fearful lest we come too late!!

Small pause.

GUIL: Too late for what?

ROS: How do I know? We haven’t got there yet.

GUIL: Then what are we doing here, I ask myself.

ROS: YOU might well ask.

GUIL: We better get on.

ROS: You might well think.

GUIL: We better get on.

ROS (actively): Right! (Pause.) On where?

GUIL: Forward.

ROS (forward to footlights): Ah. (Hesitates.) Which way do we—(He turns round.) Which way did we—?

GUIL: Practically starting from scratch. . . . An awakening, a man standing on his saddle to bang on the shutters, our names shouted in a certain dawn, a message, a summons . . . A new record for heads and tails. We have not been . . . picked out. . . simply to be abandoned . . . set loose to find our own way. . . . We are entitled to some direction. . . I would have thought.

ROS (alert, listening): I say ! I say. . .

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: I can hear—I thought I heard—music.

GUIL raises himself.

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: Like a band. (He looks around, laughs embarrassedly, expiating himself.) It sounded like—a band. Drums.

GUIL: Yes.

ROS (relaxes): It couldn’t have been real.

GUIL: “The colours red, blue and green are real. The colour yellow is a mystical experience shared by everybody” demolish.

ROS (at edge of stage): It must have been thunder. Like drums . . . By the end of the next speech, the band is faintly audible.

GUIL: A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until—”My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought 1 saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience. . . . “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

ROS (eagerly): I knew all along it was a band.

GUIL (tiredly): He knew all along it was a band.

ROS: Here they come!

GUIL (at the last moment before they enter—wistfully): I’m sorry it wasn’t a unicorn. It would have been nice to have unicorns.

The TRAGEDIANS are six in number, including a small BOY (ALFRED). Two pull and push a cart piled with props and belongings. There is also a DRUMMER, a HORN-PLAYER and a FLAUTIST. The SPOKESMAN (“the PLAYER”) has no instrument. He brings up the rear and is the first to notice them.


The group turns and halts.

(Joyously.) An audience!

ROS and GUIL half rise.

Don’t move!

They sink back. He regards them fondly.

Perfect! A lucky thing we came along.

ROS: For us?

PLAYER: Let us hope so. But to meet two gentlemen on the road—we would not hope to meet them off it.

ROS: No?

PLAYER: Well met, in fact, and just in time.

ROS: Why’s that?

PLAYER: Why, we grow rusty and you catch us at the very point of decadence—by this time tomorrow we might have forgotten everything we ever knew. That’s a thought, isn’t it? (He laughs generously.) We’d be back where we started—improvising.

ROS: Tumblers, are you?

PLAYER: We can give you a tumble if that’s your taste, and times being what they are. . . . Otherwise, for a jingle of coin we can do you a selection of gory romances, full of fine cadence and corpses, pirated from the Italian; and it doesn’t take much to make a jingle—even a single coin has music in it.

They all flourish and bow, raggedly.

Tragedians, at your command.

ROS and GUIL have got to their feet.

ROS: My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz.

GUIL confers briefly with him.

(Without embarrassment.) I’m sorry—his name’s Guildenstern, and I’m Rosencrantz.

PLAYER: A pleasure. We’ve played to bigger, of course, but quality counts for something. I recognized you at once. . .

ROS: And who are we?

PLAYER: —as fellow artists.

ROS: I thought we were gentlemen.

PLAYER: For some of us it is performance, for others, patronage. They are two sides of the same coin, or, let us say, being as there are so many of us, the same side of two coins. (Bows again.) Don’t clap too loudly—it’s a very old world.

ROS: What is your line?

PLAYER: Tragedy, sir. Deaths and disclosures, universal and particular, denouements both unexpected and inexorable, transvestite melodrama on all levels including the suggestive. We transport you into a world of intrigue and illusion . . . clowns, if you like, murderers—we can do you ghosts and battles, on the skirmish level, heroes, villains, tormented lovers—set pieces in the poetic vein; we can do you rapiers or rape or both, by all means, faithless wives and ravished virgins—flagrante delicto at a price, but that comes under realism for which there are special terms. Getting warm, am I?

ROS (doubtfully): Well, I don’t know. . . .

PLAYER: It costs little to watch, and little more if you happen to get caught up in the action, if that’s your taste and times being what they are.

ROS: What are they?

PLAYER: Indifferent.

ROS: Bad?

PLAYER: Wicked. Now what precisely is your pleasure? (He turns to the TRAGEDIANS.) Gentlemen, disport yourselves.

The TRAGEDIANS shuffle into some kind of line.

There! See anything you like?

ROS (doubtful, innocent): What do they do?

PLAYER: Let your imagination run riot. They are beyond surprise.

ROS: And how much?

PLAYER: TO take part?

ROS: To watch.

PLAYER: Watch what?

ROS: A private performance.

PLAYER: HOW private?

ROS: Well, there are only two of us. Is that enough?

PLAYER: For an audience, disappointing. For voyeurs, about average.

ROS: What’s the difference?

PLAYER: Ten guilders.

ROS (horrified): Ten guilders

PLAYER: I mean eight.

ROS: Together?

PLAYER: Each. I don’t think you understand—

ROS: What are you saying?

PLAYER: What am I saying—seven.

ROS: Where have you been!

PLAYER: Roundabout. A nest of children carries the custom of the town. Juvenile companies, they are the fashion. But they cannot match our repertoire . . . we’ll stoop to anything if that’s your bent. . . .

He regards ROS meaningfully but ROS returns the stare blankly.

ROS: They 11 grow up.

PLAYER (giving up): There’s one born every minute. (To TRAGEDIANS.) On-ward!

The TRAGEDIANS start to resume their burdens and their journey, GUIL stirs himself at last.

GUIL: Where are you going?

PLAYER: Ha-alt!

They halt and turn.

Home, sir.

GUIL: Where from?

PLAYER: Home. We’re travelling people. We take our chances where we find them.

GUIL: It was chance, then?

PLAYER: Chance?

GUIL: YOU found us.

PLAYER: Oh yes.

GUIL: YOU were looking?

PLAYER: Oh no.

GUIL: Chance, then.

PLAYER: Or fate.

GUIL: Yours or ours?

PLAYER: It could hardly be one without the other.

GUIL: Fate, then.

PLAYER: Oh yes. We have no control. Tonight we play to the court. Or the night after. Or to the tavern. Or not.

GUIL: Perhaps I can use my influence.

PLAYER: At the tavern?

GUIL: At the court. I would say I have some influence.

PLAYER: Would you say so?

GUIL: I have influence yet.

PLAYER: Yet what?

GUIL seizes the PLAYER violently.

GUIL: I have influence!

The PLAYER does not resist, GUIL loosens his hold.

(More calmly.) You said something—about getting caught up in the action—

PLAYER (gaily freeing himself): I did!—I did!—You’re quicker than your friend. . . . (Confidingly.) Now for a handful of guilders I happen to have a private and uncut performance of The Rape of the Sabine Women—or rather woman, or rather Alfred—
(Over his shoulder.) Get your skirt on, Alfred—

The BOY starts struggling into a female robe.

. . . and for eight you can participate.

GUIL backs, PLAYER follows.

. . . taking either part.

GUIL backs.

. . . or both for ten.

GUIL tries to turn away, PLAYER holds his sleeve.

. . . with encores—

GUIL smashes the PLAYER across the face. The PLAYER recoils, GUIL stands trembling.

(Resigned and quiet). Get your skirt off, Alfred. . . .

ALFRED struggles out of his half-on robe.

GUIL (shaking with rage and fright): It could have been—it didn’t have to be obscene. . . . It could have been—a bird out of season, dropping bright-feathered on my shoulder. . . . It could have been a tongueless dwarf standing by the road to point the way. . . . I was prepared. But it’s this, is it? No enigma, no dignity, nothing classical, portentous, only this—a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes. . . .

PLAYER (acknowledging the description with a sweep of his hat, bowing; sadly): You should have caught us in better times. We were purists then. (Straightens up.) On-ward.

The PLAYERS make to leave.

ROS (his voice has changed: he has caught on): Excuse me!

PLAYER: Ha-alt!

They halt.


ALFRED resumes the struggle. The PLAYER comes forward.

ROS: You’re not—ah—exclusively players, then?

PLAYER: We’re inclusively players, sir.

ROS: So you give—exhibitions?

PLAYER: Performances, sir.

ROS: Yes, of course. There’s more money in that, is there?

PLAYER: There’s more trade, sir.

ROS: Times being what they are.


ROS: Indifferent. . . .

PLAYER: Completely.

ROS: You know I’d no idea. . . .


ROS: I mean, I’ve heard of—but I’ve never actually. . . .


ROS: I mean, what exactly do you do?

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.

ROS (nervy, loud): Well, I’m not really the type of man who—no, but don’t hurry off—sit down and tell us about some of the things people ask you to do. . . .

The PLAYER turns away.

PLAYER: On-ward!

ROS: Just a minute!

They turn and look at him without expression.

Well, all right—I wouldn’t mind seeing—just an idea of the kind of— (Bravely.) What will you do for that? (And tosses a single coin on the ground between them.)

The PLAYER spits at the coin, from where he stands.

The TRAGEDIANS demur, trying to get at the coin. He kicks and cuffs them back.


ALFRED is still half in and out of his robe. The PLAYER cuffs him.

(To ALFRED:) What are you playing at?

ROS is shamed into fury.

ROS: Filth! Disgusting—I’ll report you to the authorities—perverts! I know your game all right, it’s all filth!

The PLAYERS are about to leave, GUIL has remained detached.

GUIL (casually): Do you like a bet?

The TRAGEDIANS turn and look interested. The PLAYER comes forward.

PLAYER: What kind of bet did you have in mind?

GUIL walks half the distance towards the PLAYER, stops with his foot over the coin.

GUIL: Double or quits.

PLAYER: Well. . . heads.

GUIL raises his foot, the PLAYER bends. The TRAGEDIANS crowd round. Relief and congratulations. The PLAYER picks up the coin, GUIL throws him a second coin.

GUIL: Again?

Some of the TRAGEDIANS are for it, others against.

GUIL: Evens.

The PLAYER nods and tosses the coin.

GUIL: Heads.

It is. He picks it up.


GUIL spins coin.

PLAYER: Heads.

It is. PLAYER picks up coin. He has two coins again. He spins one.

GUIL: Heads.

It is. GUIL picks it up. Then tosses it immediately.

PLAYER (fractional hesitation): Tails.

But it’s heads, GUIL picks it up. PLAYER tosses down his last coin by way of paying up, and turns away, GUIL doesn’t pick it up; he puts his foot on it.

GUIL: Heads.


Pause. The TRAGEDIANS are against this.

(Apologetically.) They don’t like the odds.

GUIL (lifts his foot, squats; picks up the coin still squatting; looks up): You were right—heads. (Spins it, slaps his hand on it, on the floor.) Heads I win.


GUIL (uncovers coin): Right again. (Repeat.) Heads I win.


GUIL (uncovers coin): And right again. (Repeat.) Heads I win.


He turns away, the TRAGEDIANS with him. GUIL stands up, comes close.

GUIL: Would you believe it? (Stands back, relaxes, smiles.) Bet me the year of my birth doubled is an odd number.

PLAYER: Your birth!

GUIL: If you don’t trust me don’t bet with me.

PLAYER: Would you trust me?

GUIL: Bet me then.

PLAYER: My birth?

GUIL: Odd numbers you win.

PLAYER: You’re on. . . .

The TRAGEDIANS have come forward, wide awake.

GUIL: Good. Year of your birth. Double it. Even numbers I win. odd numbers I lose.

Silence. An awful sigh as the TRAGEDIANS realize that any number doubled is even. Then a terrible row as they object. Then a terrible silence.

PLAYER: We have no money.

GUIL turns to him.

GUIL: Ah. Then what have you got?

The PLAYER silently brings ALFRED forward, GUIL regards ALFRED sadly.

Was it for this?

PLAYER: It’s the best we’ve got.

GUIL (looking up and around): Then the times are bad indeed.

The PLAYER starts to speak, protestation, but GUIL turns on him viciously.

The very air stinks.

The PLAYER moves back, GUIL moves down to the footlights and turns.

Come here, Alfred.

ALFRED moves down and stands, frightened and small.

(Gently.) Do you lose often?

ALFRED: Yes, sir.

GUIL: Then what could you have left to lose?

ALFRED: Nothing, sir.

Pause, GUIL regards him.

GUIL: Do you like being . . . an actor?

ALFRED: No, sir.

GUIL looks around, at the audience.

GUIL: YOU and I, Alfred—we could create a dramatic precedent here.

And ALFRED, who has been near tears, starts to sniffle.

Come, come, Alfred, this is no way to fill the theatres of Europe.

The PLAYER has moved down, to remonstrate with ALFRED, GUIL cuts him off again.

(Viciously.) Do you know any good plays?

PLAYER: Plays?

ROS (coming forward, faltering shyly): Exhibitions. . . .

GUIL: I thought you said you were actors.

PLAYER (dawning): Oh. Oh well, we are. We are. But there hasn’t been much call. . . .

GUIL: You lost. Well then—one of the Greeks, perhaps? You’re familiar with the tragedies of antiquity, are you? The great homicidal classics? Matri, patri, fratri, sorrori, uxori and it goes without saying—

ROS: Saucy—

GUIL: —Suicidal—hm? Maidens aspiring to godheads—

ROS: And vice versa—

GUIL: Your kind of thing, is it?

PLAYER: Well, no, I can’t say it is, really. We’re more of the blood, love and rhetoric school.

GUIL: Well, 1’ll leave the choice to you, if there is anything to choose between them.

PLAYER: They’re hardly divisible, sir—well, I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can’t do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory—they’re all blood, you see.

GUIL: IS that what people want?

PLAYER: It’s what we do. (Small pause. He turns away.)

GUIL touches ALFRED on the shoulder.

GUIL (wry, gentle): Thank you; we’ll let you know.

The PLAYER has moved upstage. ALFRED follows.

PLAYER (to TRAGEDIANS): Thirty-eight!

ROS (moving across, fascinated and hopeful): Position?


ROS: One of your—tableaux?

PLAYER: No, sir.

ROS: Oh.

PLAYER (to the TRAGEDIANS, now departing with their cart, already taking various props off it): Entrances there and there (indicating upstage).

The PLAYER has not moved his position for his last four lines. He does not move now. GUIL waits.

GUIL: Well. . . aren’t you going to change into your costume?

PLAYER: I never change out of it, sir.

GUIL: Always in character.

PLAYER: That’s it.


GUIL: Aren’t you going to—come on!

PLAYER: I am on.

GUIL: But if you are on, you can’t come on. Can you?

PLAYER: I start on.

GUIL: But it hasn’t started. Go on. Well look out for you.

PLAYER: I’ll give you a wave.

He does not move. His immobility is now pointed, and getting awkward. Pause. ROS walks up to him till they are face to face.

ROS: Excuse me.

Pause. The PLAYER lifts his downstage foot It was covering GUIL’s coin, ROS puts his foot on the coin. Smiles.

Thank you.

The PLAYER turns and goes, ROS has bens for the coin.

GUIL (moving out): Come on.

ROS: I say—that was lucky.

GUIL (turning): What?

ROS: It was tails.

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

And OPHELIA runs on in some alarm, holding up her skirts-followed by HAMLET.

OPHELIA has been sewing and she holds the garment. They are both mute, HAMLET, with his doublet all unbraced, no hat upon his head, his stockings fouled, ungartered and down-gyved to his ankle, pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other . . . and with a look so piteous, he takes her by the wrist and holds her hard, then he goes to the length of his arm, and with his other hand over his brow, falls to such perusal of her face as he would draw it. . . . At last, with a little shaking of his arm, and thrice his head waving up and down, he raises a sigh so piteous and profound that it does seem to shatter all his bulk and end his being. That done he lets her go, and with his head over his shoulder turned, he goes out backwards without taking his eyes off her . . . she runs off in the opposite direction.

ROS and GUIL have frozen, GUIL unfreezes first. He jumps at ROS.

GUIL: Come on!

But a flourish—enter CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE, attended.

CLAUDIUS: Welcome, dear Rosencrantz . . . (he raises a hand at GUIL while ROS bows—GUIL bows late and hurriedly) . . . and Guildenstern.

He raises a hand at ROS while GUIL bows to him—ROS is still straightening up from his previous bow and halfway up he bows down again. With his head down, he twists to look at GUIL, who is on the way up.

Moreover that we did much long to see you, The need we have to use you did provoke Our hasty sending.

ROS and GUIL still adjusting their clothing for CLAUDIUs’ presence.

Something have you heard Of Hamlet’s transformation, so call it, Sith nor th’exterior nor the inward man Resembles that it was. What it should be, More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him, So much from th’understanding of himself, I cannot dream of. I entreat you both That, being of so young days brought up with him And sith so neighboured to his youth and haviour That you vouch safe your rest here in our court Some little time, so by your companies To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather So much as from occasion you may glean, Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus, That opened lies within our remedy.

GERTRUDE: Good (fractional suspense) gentlemen . . .

They both bow.

He hath much talked of you, And sure I am, two men there is not living To whom he more adheres. If it will please you To show us so much gentry and goodwill As to expand your time with us awhile For the supply and profit of our hope, Your visitation shall receive such thanks As fits a king’s remembrance.

ROS: Both your majesties. . . . Might, by the sovereign power you have of us, Put your dread pleasures more into command Than to entreaty.

GUIL: But we both obey, And here give up ourselves in the full bent To lay our service freely at your feet, To be commanded.

CLAUDIUS: Thanks, Rosencrantz (turning to ROS who is caught unprepared, while GUIL bows) and gentle Guildenstern (turning to GUIL who is bent double).

GERTRUDE (correcting): Thanks Guildenstern (turning to ROS, who bows as GUIL checks upward movement to bow too—both bent double, squinting at each other). . . and gentle Rosencrantz (turning to GUIL, both straightening up—GUIL checks again and bows again). And I beseech you instantly to visitMy too much changed son. Go, some of you,And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.

Two ATTENDANTS exit backwards, indicating that ROS and GUIL should follow.

GUIL: Heaven make our presence and our practices Pleasant and helpful to him.

GERTRUDE: Ay, amen!

ROS and GUIL move towards a downstage wing. Before they get there, POLONIUS enters. They stop and bow to him. He nods and hurries upstage to CLAUDIUS. They turn to look at him.

POLONIUS: The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord, are joyfully returned.

CLAUDIUS: Thou still hast been the father of good news.

POLONIUS: Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege, I hold my duty as I hold my soul, Both to my God and to my gracious King; And I do think, or else this brain of mine Hunts not the trail of policy so sure As it hath used to do, that I have found The very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy. . . .

Exeunt—leaving ROS and GUIL.

ROS: I want to go home.

GUIL: Don’t let them confuse you.

ROS: I’m out of my step here—

GUIL: We’ll soon be home and high—dry and home—I’ll—

ROS: It’s all over my depth—

GUIL: —I’ll hie you home and—

ROS: —out of my head—

GUIL: —dry you high and—

ROS (cracking, high): —over my step over my head body!—I tell you it’s all stopping to a death, it’s boding to a depth, stepping to a head, it’s all heading to a dead stop—

GUIL (the nursemaid): There!. . . . and we’ll soon be home and dry. . . and high and dry (Rapidly.) Has it ever happened to you that all of a sudden and for no reason at all you haven’t the faintest idea how to spell the word—”wife”—or “house”—because when you write it down you just can’t remember ever having seen those letters in that order before . . .?

ROS: I remember—

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: I remember when there were no questions.

GUIL: There were always questions. To exchange one set for another is no great matter.

ROS: Answers, yes. There were answers to everything.

GUIL: You’ve forgotten.

ROS (flaring): I haven’t forgotten—how I used to remember my own name—and yours, oh yes! There were answers everywhere you looked. There was no question about it—people knew who I was and if they didn’t they asked and I told them.

GUIL: YOU did, the trouble is, each of them is . . . plausible, without being instinctive. 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. A man standing in his saddle in the half-lit half-alive dawn banged on the shutters and called two names. He was just a hat and a cloak levitating in the grey plume of his own breath, but when he called we came. That much is certain—we came.

ROS: Well I can tell you I’m sick to death of it. I don’t care one way or another, so why don’t you make up your mind.

GUIL: We can’t afford anything quite so arbitrary. Nor did we come all this way for a christening. All that—preceded us. But we are comparatively fortunate; we might have been left to sift the whole field of human nomenclature, like two blind men looting a bazaar for their own portraits. . . . At least we are presented with alternatives.

ROS: Well as from now—

GUIL: —But not choice.

ROS: You made me look ridiculous in there.

GUIL: I looked just as ridiculous as you did.

ROS (an anguished cry): Consistency is all I ask!

GUIL (low, wry rhetoric): Give us this day our daily mask.

ROS (a dying fall): I want to go home. (Moves.) Which way did we come in? I’ve lost my sense of direction.

GUIL: The only beginning is birth and the only end is death—if you can’t count on that, what can you count on?

They connect again.

ROS: We don’t owe anything to anyone.

GUIL: We’ve been caught up. Your smallest action sets off another somewhere else, and is set off by it. Keep an eye open, an ear cocked. Tread warily, follow instructions. We’ll be all right.

ROS: For how long?

GUIL: Till events have played themselves out. There’s a logic at work—it’s all done for you, don’t worry. Enjoy it. Relax. To be taken in hand and led, like being a child again, even without the innocence, a child—it’s like being given a prize, an extra slice of childhood when you least expect it, as a prize for being good, or compensation for never having had one. . . . Do I contradict myself?

ROS: I can’t remember. . . . What have we got to go on?

GUIL: We have been briefed. Hamlet’s transformation. What do you recollect?

ROS: Well, he’s changed, hasn’t he? The exterior and inward man fails to resemble.

GUIL: Draw him on to pleasures—glean what afflicts him.

ROS: Something more than his father’s death—

GUIL: He’s always talking about us—there aren’t two people living whom he dotes on more than us.

ROS: We cheer him up—find out what’s the matter—

GUIL: Exactly, it’s a matter of asking the right questions and giving away as little as we can. It’s a game.

ROS: And then we can go?

GUIL: And receive such thanks as fits a king’s remembrance.

ROS: I like the sound of that. What do you think he means by remembrance?

GUIL: He doesn’t forget his friends.

ROS: Would you care to estimate?

GUIL: Difficult to say, really—some kings tend to be amnesiac, others I suppose—the opposite, whatever that is. . . .

ROS: Yes—but—

GUIL: Elephantine . . .?

ROS: Not how long—how much?

GUIL: Retentive—he’s a very retentive king, a royal retainer. . . .

ROS: What are you playing at?

GUIL: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.


ROS: Shouldn’t we be doing something—constructive?

GUIL: What did you have in mind? . . . A short, blunt human pyramid . . . ?

ROS: We could go.

GUIL: Where?

ROS: After him.

GUIL: Why? They’ve got us placed now—if we start moving around, we’ll all be chasing each other all night.


ROS (at footlights): How very intriguing! (Turns.) I feel like a spectator—an appalling business. The only thing that makes it bearable is the irrational belief that somebody interesting will come on in a minute. . . .

GUIL: See anyone?


GUIL: NO. (At footlights.) What a fine persecution—to be kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened. . . . (Pause.) We’ve had no practice.

ROS: We could play at questions.

GUIL: What good would that do?

ROS: Practice!

GUIL: Statement! One—love.

ROS: Cheating!

GUIL: How?

ROS: I hadn’t started yet.

GUIL: Statement. Two—love.

ROS: Are you counting that?

GUIL: What?

ROS: Are you counting that?

GUIL: Foul! No repetitions. Three—love. First game to.

ROS: I’m not going to play if you’re going to be like that.

GUIL: Whose serve?

ROS: Hah?

GUIL: Foul! No grunts. Love—one.

ROS: Whose go?

GUIL: Why?

ROS: Why not?

GUIL: What for?

ROS: Foul! No synonyms! One—all.

GUIL: What in God’s name is going on?

ROS: Foul! No rhetoric. Two—one.

GUIL: What does it all add up to?

ROS: Can’t you guess?

GUIL: Were you addressing me?

ROS: Is there anyone else?

GUIL: Who?

ROS: HOW would I know?

GUIL: Why do you ask?

ROS: Are you serious?

GUIL: Was that rhetoric?


GUIL: Statement! Two—all. Game point.

ROS: What’s the matter with you today?

GUIL: When?

ROS: What?

GUIL: Are you deaf?

ROS: Am I dead?

GUIL: Yes or no?

ROS: Is there a choice?

GUIL: Is there a God?

ROS: Foul! No non sequiturs, three—two, one game all.

GUIL (seriously): What’s your name?

ROS: What’s yours?

GUIL: I asked you first.

ROS: Statement. One—love.

GUIL: What’s your name when you’re at home?

ROS: What’s yours?

GUIL: When I’m at home?

ROS: Is it different at home?

GUIL: What home?

ROS: Haven’t you got one?

GUIL: Why do you ask?

ROS: What are you driving at?

GUIL (with emphasis): What’s your name?!

ROS: Repetition. Two—love. Match point to me.

GUIL {seizing him violently): WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

ROS: Rhetoric! Game and match! (Pause.) Where’s it going to end?

GUIL: That’s the question.

ROS: It’s all questions.

GUIL: Do you think it matters?

ROS: Doesn’t it matter to you?

GUIL: Why should it matter?

ROS: What does it matter why?

GUIL (teasing gently): Doesn’t it matter why it matters?

ROS (rounding on him): What’s the matter with you?


GUIL: It doesn’t matter.

ROS (voice in the wilderness): . . . What’s the game?

GUIL: What are the rules?

Enter HAMLET behind, crossing the stage, reading a book—as he is about to disappear GUIL notices him.

GUIL (sharply): Rosencrantz!

ROS (jumps): What!

HAMLET goes. Triumph dawns on them, they smile.

GUIL: There! How was that?

ROS: Clever!

GUIL: Natural?

ROS: Instinctive.

GUIL: Got it in your head?

ROS: I take my hat off to you.

GUIL: Shake hands.

They do.

ROS: Now I’ll try you—Guil—!

GUIL: —Not yet—catch me unawares.

ROS: Right.

They separate. Pause. Aside to GUIL.


GUIL (explodes): Don’t be stupid. ROS: Sorry.


GUIL (snaps): Guildenstern!

ROS (jumps): What?

He is immediately crestfallen, GUIL is disgusted.

GUIL: Consistency is all I ask!

ROS (quietly): Immortality is all I seek. . . .

GUIL (dying fall): Give us this day our daily week. . . .


ROS: Who was that?

GUIL: Didn’t you know him?

ROS: He didn’t know me.

GUIL: He didn’t see you.

ROS: I didn’t see him.

GUIL: We shall see. I hardly knew him. he’s changed.

ROS: You could see that?

GUIL: Transformed.

ROS: HOW do you know?

GUIL: Inside and out.

ROS: I see.

GUIL: He’s not himself.

ROS: He’s changed.

GUIL: I could see that.


Glean what afflicts him.

ROS: Me?

GUIL: Him.


GUIL: Question and answer. Old ways are the best ways.

ROS: He’s afflicted.

GUIL: YOU question, I’ll answer.

ROS: He’s not himself, you know.

GUIL: I’m him, you see.


ROS: Who am I then?

GUIL: You’re yourself.

ROS: And he’s you?

GUIL: Not a bit of it.

ROS: Are you afflicted?

GUIL: That’s the idea. Are you ready?

ROS: Let’s go back a bit.

GUIL: I’m afflicted.

ROS: I see.

GUIL: Glean what afflicts me.

ROS: Right.

GUIL: Question and answer.

ROS: HOW should I begin?

GUIL: Address me.

ROS: My dear Guildenstern!

GUIL (quietly): You’ve forgotten—haven’t you?

ROS: My dear Rosencrantz!

GUIL (great control): I don’t think you quite understand. What we are attempting is a hypothesis in which / answer for him, while you ask me questions.

ROS: Ah! Ready?

GUIL: You know what to do?

ROS: What?

GUIL: Are you stupid?

ROS: Pardon?

GUIL: Are you deaf?

ROS: Did you speak?

GUIL (admonishing): Not now. . . .

ROS: Statement.

GUIL (shouts): Not now! (Pause.) If I had any doubts, or rather hopes, they are dispelled. What could we possibly have in common except our situation? (They separate and sit.) Perhaps he’ll come back this way.

ROS: Should we go?

GUIL: Why?


ROS (starts up. Snaps fingers): Oh! You mean—you pretend to be him, and / ask you questions!

GUIL (dry): Very good.

ROS: You had me confused.

GUIL: I could see I had.

ROS: How should I begin?

GUIL: Address me.

They stand and face each other, posing.

ROS: My honoured Lord!

GUIL: My dear Rosencrantz!


ROS: Am I pretending to be you, then?

GUIL: Certainly not. If you like. Shall we continue?

ROS: Question and answer.

GUIL: Right.

ROS: Right. My honoured lord!

GUIL: My dear fellow!

ROS: How are you?

GUIL: Afflicted!

ROS: Really? In what way?

GUIL: Transformed.

ROS: Inside or out?

GUIL: Both.

ROS: I see. (Pause.) Not much new there.

GUIL: Go into details. Delve. Probe the background, establish the situation.

ROS: So—so your uncle is the king of Denmark?!

GUIL: And my father before him.

ROS: His father before him?

GUIL: No, my father before him.

ROS: But surely—

GUIL: YOU might well ask.

ROS: Let me get it straight. Your father was king. You were his only son. Your father dies. You are of age. Your uncle becomes king.

GUIL: Yes.

ROS: Unorthodox.

GUIL: Undid me.

ROS: Undeniable. Where were you?

GUIL: In Germany.

ROS: Usurpation, then.

GUIL: He slipped in.

ROS: Which reminds me.

GUIL: Well, it would.

ROS: I don’t want to be personal.

GUIL: It’s common knowledge.

ROS: Your mother’s marriage.

GUIL: He slipped in.


Ros (lugubriously): His body was still warm.

GUIL: So was hers.

ROS: Extraordinary.

GUIL: Indecent.

ROS: Hasty.

GUIL: Suspicious.

ROS: It makes you think.

GUIL: Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. . . .

ROS: And with her husband’s brother.

GUIL: They were close.

ROS: She went to him. . . .

GUIL: —Too close. . . .

ROS: —for comfort. . . .

GUIL: It looks bad.

ROS: It adds up.

GUIL: Incest to adultery.

ROS: Would you go so far?

GUIL: Never.

ROS: TO sum up: your father, whom you love, dies, you are his heir, you come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold before his young brother popped onto his throne and into his sheets, thereby offending both legal and natural practice. Now why exactly are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?

GUIL: I can’t imagine! (Pause.) But all that is well known, common property. Yet he sent for us. And we did come.

ROS (alert, ear cocked): I say! I heard music. . . .

GUIL: We’re here.

ROS: —Like a band—I thought I heard a band.

GUIL: Rosencrantz . . .

ROS (absently, still listening): What?

Pause, short.

GUIL (gently wry): Guildenstern. . .

ROS (irritated by the repetition): What?

GUIL: Don’t you discriminate at all?

ROS (turning dumbly): Wha’?


GUIL: Go and see if he’s there.

ROS: Who?

GUIL: There.

ROS goes to an upstage wing, looks, returns, formally making his report.

ROS: Yes.

GUIL: What is he doing?

ROS repeats movement.

ROS: Talking.

GUIL: To himself?

ROS starts to move, GUIL cuts in impatiently.

Is he alone?

GUIL: Then he’s not talking to himself, is he?

ROS: Not by himself. . . . Coming this way, I think. (Shiftily.) Should we go?

GUIL: Why? We’re marked now.

HAMLET enters, backwards, talking, followed by POLONIUS, upstage, ROS and GUIL occupy the two downstage corners looking upstage.

HAMLET: . . . for you yourself, sir, should be as old as I am if like a crab you could go backward.

POLONIUS (aside): Though this be madness, yet there is method in it. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

HAMLET: Into my grave.

POLONIUS: Indeed, that’s out of the air.

HAMLET crosses to upstage exit, POLONIUS asiding unintelligibly until. . . .

My lord, I will take my leave of you.

HAMLET: You cannot take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life. . . .

POLONIUS (crossing downstage): Fare you well, my lord. (To ROS:) You go to seek Lord Hamlet? There he is.

ROS (to POLONIUS): God save you sir.


GUIL (calls upstage to HAMLET): My honoured lord!

ROS: My most dear lord!

HAMLET centred upstage, turns to them.

HAMLET: My excellent good friends! How dost thou Guildenstern? (Coming downstage with an arm raised to ROS, GUIL meanwhile bowing to no greeting, HAMLET corrects himself. Still to ROS:) Ah Rosencrantz!

They laugh good-naturedly at the mistake. They all meet midstage, turn upstage to walk, HAMLET in the middle, arm over each shoulder.

HAMLET: Good lads how do you both?