Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Rosencrantz, a well-dressed Elizabethan courtier, with hat, cloak, stick, and all, carrying a large leather moneybag and waiting for something, or someone, for reasons that he does not seem to understand. He and his comrade, Guildenstern, are enough alike to be confused with each other. In fact, he introduces himself as Guildenstern, not noticing the error until his companion calls a brief conference with him. In part, he, with Guildenstern, seems to mark time while waiting for a messenger who will advise him as to his function in the plot of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A favorite pastime is witty word games, but they are played with an urgency that suggests that, rather than being fun, they are more a way of avoiding despair. Commissioned by Claudius, he only understands that his job, along with Guildenstern, is to learn something about Hamlet’s strange behavior. He, practicing with Guildenstern, arrives at one approach by which to confront Hamlet and to inquire why he is behaving so oddly. As a result of a trick by Hamlet, whom Claudius meant to have executed, Rosencrantz is condemned to die.
Guildenstern, another Elizabethan courtier, well dressed with hat, cloak, and stick, and also carrying a large leather moneybag and waiting for something, or someone, for reasons that he does not seem to understand. He and Rosencrantz are so much alike that no distinguishing...
(The entire section is 387 words.)
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In Stoppard's play, Guildenstern is the more philosophical and intellectual of the two courtiers who double as minor characters in Shakespeare's play and major characters in Stoppard's. The opening sequence of coin tossing vexes Guildenstern because he craves order and predictability in the universe. The apparent violation of probability in coin tossing drives him to seek an explanation but he attempts to remain calm when no satisfactory answers arise. He has a wry sense of humor, can be quite sarcastic, and is resilient, though he is also quick to anger and subject to panic or despondency when he finally feels overwhelmed. Guildenstern likes to hear himself talk and often rambles at length, sometimes without making a lot of sense. He frequently uses parables and analogies to attempt to understand the mysteries that confront him and he likes verbal games as a way of working things out. Wary and nervous, he likes to stay in control and questions more than his friend, Rosencrantz, whom he often badgers but ultimately is trying to protect and support with optimism whenever possible.
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Rosencrantz is a minor character in Shakespeare' s Hamlet and one of the two major characters in Stoppard's unusual version of Shakespeare's story. In Shakespeare's play, Rosencrantz is one of Hamlet's university friends from Wittenberg. With Guildenstern, he is summoned by King Claudius to come to Denmark because Hamlet, after returning to Denmark for his father's funeral and his mother's wedding, began acting quite strangely. Rosencrantz helps Guildenstern spy on Hamlet for Claudius and then is assigned with his friend to take Hamlet to England after Hamlet kills Polonius. When Hamlet returns to England, he reports to his friend Horatio that on the ship to England he discovered Claudius' s letter ordering his death. He substituted a letter ordering the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and escaped the ship when pirates attacked it. In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are such nondescript characters that Claudius and his queen Gertrude can't distinguish between them.
In Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz is the more timid of the two courtiers and considerably less reflective and philosophical than his friend, Guildenstern. At the beginning of the play Rosencrantz is winning on every toss of the "heads or tails" game and is embarrassed to be taking so much money from his friend but is either oblivious or unconcerned about how unusual this streak of "heads" might be. He is relatively unreflective, naive, innocent, even simple-minded and...
(The entire section is 281 words.)
Alfred is a Stoppard invention who does not appear in Shakespeare's play. Alfred is a small boy, one of the six tragedians, who is highlighted in Stoppard's play because he is forced to play the feminine roles in drag and finds his cross-dressing very humiliating.
The Ambassador from England appears in both plays but only at the end to announce that the orders to execute Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been carried out.
In Shakespeare's play, Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, secretly murders Hamlet's father, marries Hamlet's mother, and sends for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to gather information on Hamlet's behavior as Hamlet mopes around the court. After Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius orders Hamlet escorted to England by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, where orders in a sealed letter are supposed to have Hamlet killed.
In both Shakespeare's and Stoppard's plays, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and the new wife of King Claudius.
The hero of Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet is a relatively minor character in Stoppard's play, where he drifts in and out performing actions and speaking lines from his classic role as the melancholy Dane. In Stoppard's play, Hamlet is eventually portrayed more playfully as he lounges in a deck chair.
Horatio is Hamlet's best friend in Shakespeare's play. In...
(The entire section is 511 words.)