[[caption-width-right:304:Do you ever think of yourself as actually ''dead'', lying in a box with a lid on it?]]

->''The sight is dismal,\\
And our affairs from England come too late.\\
The ears are senseless that should give us hearing\\
To tell him his commandment is fulfilled,\\
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.''

A 1966 play by Creator/TomStoppard. A PerspectiveFlip of ''{{Theatre/Hamlet}}'', heavily inspired by ''Theatre/WaitingForGodot''. The 1990 film version (also directed by Stoppard) stars Creator/GaryOldman as Rosencrantz, Creator/TimRoth as Guildenstern, and Creator/RichardDreyfuss as the Player.

The leads are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were only [[ThoseTwoGuys minor characters]] in the [[Creator/WilliamShakespeare Shakespearean]] ''{{Hamlet}}''. Their dilemma: being minor characters, they were never granted much of a backstory, and as a result they have ''no memory'' of their lives. Including [[TheDividual which of them is supposed to be which]]. They're utterly, hopelessly stuck in a WorldLimitedToThePlot: all they know, instinctively, are the lines they're meant to say to Hamlet and the rest of the cast. They're appropriately freaked out by this.

As in ''{{Theatre/Hamlet}}'', they're called to visit their college friend Prince Hamlet, and they don't dare refuse because King Claudius did the asking. The whole play is about their [[PinballProtagonist lack of control of events]], and their failures to know and remember things they ought to know. But just like King Claudius summoned them to talk to Hamlet, Hamlet has summoned a troupe of actors to influence King Claudius. The leader of that troupe (the Player) takes it upon himself to address Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in all their existential confusion, almost pushing them into awareness of the fourth wall -- but never quite beyond it.

Real sections of ''{{Hamlet}}'' are inserted where appropriate.

There is much literate and [[{{Absurdism}} absurdist]] humor in this play, angling into philosophy. The play has become highly influential and helped cement the ThoseTwoGuys trope in modern literature. The perspective flip has also left a mark on culture: whereas the 1948 Creator/LaurenceOlivier film of ''Hamlet'' omitted Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because, well, they were minor characters, modern productions now treat the characters as integral to the plot and often briefly reference Stoppard.

!!This play provides examples of:

* AmbiguousSyntax:
-->'''The Player:''' The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.\\
'''Rosencrantz:''' Good God. [[ParentalIncest We're out of our depths here.]]\\
'''The Player:''' No, no, no! He hasn't got a daughter! The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.\\
'''Rosencrantz:''' The old man is?\\
'''The Player:''' Hamlet... in love... with the old man's daughter... the old man... thinks.\\
'''Rosencrantz:''' Ah.
** In fact, it's all over the place.
* AreYouPonderingWhatImPondering
* ArsonMurderAndJaywalking: At the end of Guildenstern's LongList of Hamlet's "symptoms."
--> '''Guildenstern''': "...stabbing his elders, abusing his parents, insulting his lover, and appearing hatless in public..."
* {{Beat}}: Queen Gertrude as she's trying to remember which of them is which.
-->'''Gertrude''': "Good ''(fractional suspense)'' gentlemen..."
* BerserkButton: ''Don't'' talk to Guildenstern about death. Especially if you're an actor.
* BigWordShout: Two of them in the movie by Guildenstern, which cause an echo that can be heard by everyone in the court.
** [[PunctuatedForEmphasis "NOT! NOW!"]]
** "DELVE!"
* BlackComedyRape: Rape seems to form a good part of the Tragedians' repertory. In particular, the Player offers to enact "a private and uncut performance of the Rape of the Sabine Women--or rather woman, or rather Alfred," with an extra fee for AudienceParticipation.
* BreadEggsBreadedEggs:
-->"We can show you rapiers!" ''Players mimic a man and woman fencing'' "Or rape!" ''Players mimic the woman jumping on the man's crotch.'' "Or both!" ''Players mimic the woman raping the man while fencing another man.''
* ButThouMust: A dramatic version. Whenever ''{{Hamlet}}'' kicks in, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves speaking the "right" lines, only to go back to being lost immediately afterwards.
* CaptainObvious: Act Three of the play begins in darkness. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wake up and exchange a few lines. Cue sea noises, gulls, extensive outbreak of shouted [[BusmansVocabulary nautical jargon]] that goes on for some time. Until finally:
-->'''Rosencrantz''': We're on a boat.
* CessationOfExistence: [[spoiler:The ending of the play.]] Guildenstern also frequently insists upon it when the Players discuss staging death.
** Though Guildenstern's final lines arguably puts it in a different context. He wants to know what he could have done to change the course of events, when he could have said "no". You are, of course, free to watch the play or movie all you like. He'll never say anything to change the events even if he lives the story a thousand times.
** And ''another'' common interpretation is that the pair never left the empty stage in the beginning, saying "no", and leaving with the actors instead of playing their role.
* ComicRolePlay: Guildenstern pretends to be Hamlet to practice questioning. Later they both take turns as the English King.
* ComicallyMissingThePoint:
-->'''Rosencrantz''': Do you think death could possibly be a boat?\\
'''Guildenstern''': No, no, no... Death is... not. Death isn't. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not-be on a boat.\\
'''Rosencrantz''': I've frequently not been on boats.\\
'''Guildenstern''': No, no, no – what you've been is not on boats.
* TheCuckoolanderWasRight: Rosencrantz, frequently. Guildenstern is the smarter of the two in terms of raw cognitive power, but has a tendency to think in circles. Rosencrantz comes closer to actual brilliance, but falls short of the mark trying to vocalize or demonstrate his thoughts to Guildenstern.
* CriticalExistenceFailure
* DeadpanSnarker: Guildenstern.
* {{Deconstruction}}: Not just of ''{{Hamlet}}'' but of theater conventions in general.
* TheDividual: Taken UpToEleven with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Even ''they themselves'' can't tell which one is which.[[note]]The script gives them names for convenience—the more self-aware, neurotic one is "Guildenstern", the more cheerful, dim-witted one is "Rosencrantz"—and these names are conventionally used when actors are listed in the playbill. But the text of the play itself is very careful not to give any clue which is which; "Rosencrantz" answers to both names without noticing it.[[/note]]
** This goes back to a joke in ''{{Theatre/Hamlet}}''. When R and G appear at court, the King addresses them with "Thanks Rosencrantz, and gentle Guildenstern", and the Queen says "Thanks Guildenstern, and gentle Rosencrantz." Though the script doesn't say so, this is almost invariably performed as the Queen correcting the King, who mixed their names up.
* DownerEnding: It's in the title, so you know exactly how it's going to end.
* EscortMission: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves on a boat, escorting Hamlet to England.
* EskimosArentReal: Invoked when Rosencrantz claims not to believe in England, meaning he has no mental picture of what's going to happen once they get there, and Guildenstern sarcastically replies "Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?" Later they have the same exchange [[IronicEcho in reverse]].
* FanFiction: In a manner of speaking.
* FollowThePlottedLine: Stoppard has great fun constructing his plot this way: however far off topic they seem to get, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern always find themselves slotted back into ''{{Hamlet}}''.
* ForegoneConclusion: Believe it or not, [[spoiler: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die. Or maybe they don't and are in a time loop. Or maybe not. And in any case, they're only stage deaths... aren't they?]]
* GainaxEnding: [[spoiler: Death? A time loop based on the play being played multiple times? Simply leaving the focus of the play? "Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see me, now you –" ''(disappears)'' ]]
* GeniusDitz: Rosencrantz.
** DitzyGenius: Guildenstern.
* GroundhogDayLoop: Explicitly invoked at the end. Even though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern [[spoiler: are dead]], they'll return as soon as the [[AuthorAvatar messenger]] calls. Unfortunately, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern both suffer from LaserGuidedAmnesia; only the Player has RippleEffectProofMemory.
** Only in the movie, if there. In the play, death is the end... [[spoiler: [[TearJerker "Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see me, now you –"]]]]
* HeadsOrTails: They periodically flip coins, but it is established early on that the coins always lands heads up, as a symptom of YouCantFightFate. Until the one time it lands tails.
* TheHeroDies: [[ForegoneConclusion As the title suggests]], Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are executed as in ''Theatre/{{Hamlet}}''.
* HeroOfAnotherStory: Theatre/{{Hamlet}}, natch.
* HeterosexualLifePartners: The titular duo.
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Guildenstern comforts a panicking Rosencrantz after their meeting with Claudius.
* {{Lampshading}}
* LaserGuidedAmnesia
* LeaningOnTheFourthWall
* LowerDeckEpisode: The entire play.
** At least one production was presented back to back with ''{{Hamlet}}'' - ''Hamlet'' ran for a few weeks first with ''Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead'' being the next play at the theatre. With the same cast. In the same roles. With the 'Shakespeare' scenes staged exactly the same way.
** Sometimes in the late 80s, the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival ran ''Hamlet'' and ''Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead'' on alternate nights with the same cast. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's entrance in ''Hamlet'' had them flipping a coin.
* MediumAwareness: Kind of, almost. They ''know'' something funny is going on ("Heads... Heads... Heads...."), and one of them has a sneaking suspicion that it could be something like "We're just two minor characters in someone else's story."
** More attention called to this in stage productions. The characters spend the entire time on the stage while the rest of the play sweeps in and out, and their private musings between the two are often spent looking out across the audience or 'into the camera' as it were. In some versions, Hamlet even walks forward and spits into the audience.
** The Player, on the other hand, ''absolutely'' has MediumAwareness and has accepted it, which is probably why he's so cheerfully sardonic about everything. If all the world's a stage, that's fine, because he needs an audience.
* NuclearCandle: Act Three opens in near-darkness. When Hamlet lights a single oil-lamp, the stage lights all come on. The stage directions even note that this is highly unrealistic.
* OffStageWaitingRoom: Subverted, as this is the main setting of the play.
* OhAndXDies: This play, among other things, deconstructs the rather casual way in which they are announced dead in ''{{Hamlet}}'': by way of messenger, off stage, and rather unnecessarily.
* OneBookAuthor: Creator/TomStoppard's SelfAdaptation of the play was the only film he directed.
* OntologicalMystery: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's attempts at understanding the nature of their own existence.
* PerspectiveFlip
* {{Pinball Protagonist}}s: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
* PopculturalOsmosis: Even people who haven't seen the play and know nothing of its contents are aware of it - and its leads.
* {{Postmodernism}}: '''Yeah.''' Much of the play is a roundabout method of deconstructing the suspension of disbelief.
* RandomNumberGod: At the beginning of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flip a coin 92 times and it comes up heads each time. One of Guildenstern's proposed explanations is "divine intervention": God wants Rosencrantz (betting on heads) to win, or Guildenstern to lose. The subtext is that he's right, it ''is'' divine intervention: the ''author of the play'' wants the coins to come up heads over and over again.
* RealityEnsues: Twice Rosencrantz thinks he's found more objects behaving unusually just like the coin that proves their world is being manipulated. The two instances are a dropped ball and feather, and a set of pots arranged like a Newton's Cradle. In the case of the pots, [[spoiler:they break instead of swinging]]. In the case of the ball and feather...
-->'''Rosencrantz''': You would think this [ball] would fall faster than this [feather], wouldn't you? ''[drops them]'' [[spoiler:''[the feather, encountering more air resistance, is much the slower to fall]''...And you'd be absolutely right.]]
* RealityIsUnrealistic: The Player talks about how he once got permission to have a condemned actor hanged as part of a show...and it was terribly unconvincing.
* RedOniBlueOni: Rosencrantz is red to Guildenstern's blue.
* RequisiteRoyalRegalia: A rare case where we see the regalia ''come off'' after the king and queen are done having an audience.
* RippleEffectProofMemory: The Player, who knows perfectly well that he's been here before.
* ShoutOut: The Player's definition of tragedy is a misquote of Creator/OscarWilde's definition of fiction in ''Theatre/TheImportanceOfBeingEarnest''.
-->'''The Player:''' We're tragedians, you see. We follow directions -- there is no choice involved. The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.
* ShowWithinAShow: ''The Murder of Gonzago''. The movie adaptation makes it incredibly meta--as you know, Hamlet stages ''The Murder of Gonzago'', which has the same basic plot outline as ''Hamlet'', to startle his uncle into confessing. Well, the main character of ''Gonzago'' ''also'' stages a puppet show with the same basic plot outline as ''Gonzago'' to startle ''his'' uncle into confessing... It's basically ''Hamlet'' Within ''Hamlet'' Within ''Hamlet''. Within ''Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead''. Which is within ''Hamlet''.
** There's also that scene in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come on the Players performing ''Hamlet'' for a group of peasants. One of the show's hallmarks is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern keep coming into contact with the story of ''Hamlet'' and don't recognize it as their life.
** The silent play they see is actually in ''Hamlet'' as well where it serves as a prelude to ''The Murder of Gonzago''. Virtually all directors just leave it out because it's such a nonsensical bit of writing (even Creator/KennethBranagh had it done in less than thirty seconds).
* SlidingScaleOfAdaptationModification: Type 5. Aside from the newer content, the inserts from ''Hamlet'' are taken verbatim from the original play.
* SupportingProtagonist
* TheatricsOfPain: Demonstrated when Guildenstern seizes the Player's dagger and tries to stab him to death. Guildenstern thinks the Player has been KilledOffForReal, when the Tragedians start applauding and congratulating the Player on a death scene well played. (The Player considers his own performance to be "merely competent.")
* ThoseTwoGuys and/or ThoseTwoBadGuys: Much of the play is a deconstruction of these.
* TitleDrop: The film's final line.
* {{Tragedy}}: Deconstructed.
* TheWickedStage: The Player is duplicitous and willing to put on erotic adventures if the price is right, which will also include the hapless Alfred, the young crossdresser in the troupe.
* WorldLimitedToThePlot: It's pretty much the entire point of the play.
* YourPrincessIsInAnotherCastle: The death of [[spoiler: The Player.]]
--> '''Guildenstern:''' ''There must have been a moment... at the beginning, when we could have said "no." Somehow we missed it. Well... we'll know better next time.''
--> '''Player:''' ''Till then.''