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 characteristics can be described for either. He pretends to be Hamlet so that Rosencrantz can try out an approach of inquiry into the reasons for the prince’s odd behavior. Like Rosencrantz, as the result of a trick by Hamlet, whom Claudius meant to have executed, Guildenstern is condemned to die.
The Player, a spokesperson for the tragedians. His conversations with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern expose him (and, by proximity, all the tragedians) as having few principles, a lack not shared by the two gentlemen. Guildenstern sees him as a “comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes.”
The Tragedians, a troupe of six traveling actors, including Alfred, a small boy, and the Player. There is a drummer, a horn player, and a flutist; one other moves the cart of props. They are on the way to the royal court, where they will be commissioned by Hamlet to play a drama of his design.