[[quoteright:304:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/RosencrantzAndGuildensternAreDead_8410.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:304:What's it like to be dead in a box?]]

->''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 [[TitleDrop Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.]]''

A 1966 play by Creator/TomStoppard. A PerspectiveFlip of ''{{Theatre/Hamlet}}'', heavily inspired by ''Theatre/WaitingForGodot''. The excellent 1990 film version (also directed by Stoppard) is best known. It 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 ''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 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.

----
!!Tropes featured in this play include:

* 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..."
* 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.
** "NOT NOW!"
** "DELVE!"
* BlackComedy
* BlackComedyRape: In addition to HurricaneOfPuns:
-->''"We can show you rapiers!" ''Cue a man and woman fencing'' "Or rape!" ''Cue the woman jumping on the man's crotch.'' [[BreadEggsBreadedEggs "Or both!"]] ''Cue the woman raping the man while fencing another man. (And for extra squick, the "woman" is named Alfred...)
* 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 line 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
* CompletelyMissingThePoint: In an in-story example which also counts as a CrowningMomentOfFunny: "I've frequently not been 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.
* DownerEnding: It's in the title, so you know exactly how it's going to end.
* EscortMission
* 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)'' ]]
* 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... [[TearJerker Now you see me...]]
* GeniusDitz: Rosencrantz
** DitzyGenius: Guildenstern
* HeadsOrTails: They periodically flip a coin to make a decision, but it is established early on that the coin always lands heads up, as a symptom of YouCantFightFate. Until the one time it's tails.
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Guildenstern
* {{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 R&G 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 R&G on alternate nights with the same cast. R&G'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 one of them even spits into the audience.
* NuclearCandle: The second act opens in near-darkness. Then Hamlet lights a single oil-lamp, and the stagelights 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 unnecessary.
* OntologicalMystery: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's attempts at understanding the nature of their own existence.
* PerspectiveFlip
* {{Pinball Protagonist}}s: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
* PlayingAgainstType: GaryOldman and TimRoth spent much of the 1990's playing hammy villains, so it was a shock for some audiences back then to see them in such a comedy.
* 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 almost 90 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 like a cradle]]. In the case of the ball and feather...
-->'''Rosencrantz''': You would think that these two objects would hit the ground at different times. (''drops them'') [[spoiler:...and you'd be right.]]
* 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 OscarWilde's definition of fiction in ''Theatre/TheImportanceOfBeingEarnest''.
* ShowWithinAShow: ''The Murder of Gonzago''. The movie adaptation gets even worse about it -- we have the court watching ''The Murder of Gonzago'' as the characters of ''Gonzago'' are watching a puppet show ''for the same reason Hamlet staged all this in the first place.'' 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 Branagh had it done in less than thirty seconds).
* SupportingProtagonist
* ThoseTwoGuys and/or ThoseTwoBadGuys: Much of the play is a deconstruction of these.
* TitleDrop: The film's final line
* 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. (He considers his own performance "merely competent.")
* {{Tragedy}}: Deconstructed
* WorldLimitedToThePlot: It's pretty much the entire point of the play.
* YourPrincessIsInAnotherCastle: The death of [[spoiler: The Player.]]
----