Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (film)

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a 1990 film which makes the minor characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the play Hamlet into major players of a surreal comic drama.

Written and directed by Tom Stoppard, based upon his 1966 stage play of the same name.


  • Half of what he said meant something else, and the other half didn't mean anything at all.
  • Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going to end?
  • Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well. At least I'm not dead."
  • Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering, stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure.
  • We drift down time, clutching at straws. But what good's a brick to a drowning man?
  • Be happy – if you're not even happy, what's so good about surviving? We'll be all right. I suppose we just go on.
  • 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?


  • The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear.
  • 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 recognised 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.
  • You're familiar with the tragedies of antiquity, are you? The great homicidal classics?
  • What could we possibly have in common except our situation?
  • 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's like being ambushed by a grotesque.
  • The colours red, blue and green are real. The colour yellow is a mystical experience shared by everybody. Demolish.
  • We cross our bridges when we come to them, and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
  • If we had a destiny, then so had he, and if this is ours, then that was his, and if there are no explanations for us, then let there be none for him.
  • Words. Words. They're all we have to go on.
  • The only beginning is birth, and the only end is death – if you can't count on that, what can you count on?
  • There must have been a time, in the beginning, when we could have said – no. But somehow we missed it.
  • No, no, no … you've got it all wrong … you can't act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen – it's not gasps and blood and falling about – that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all – now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back – an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.
  • Pragmatism?! Is that all you have to offer?
  • 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 …?
  • We only know what we're told, and that's little enough. And for all we know, it isn't even true.

The Player

  • Audiences know what they expect, and that is all they are prepared to believe in.
  • For a handful of coin I happen to have a private and uncut performance of "The Rape of the Sabine Women," or rather woman, or rather Alfred, and for eight you can participate.
  • 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.
  • We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.
    • Sometimes quoted as: Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.
  • Life is a gamble, at terrible odds – if it was a bet, you wouldn't take it.
  • There we were – demented children mincing about in clothes that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing each other with wooden swords, hollow protestations of faith hurled after empty promises of vengeance – and every gesture, every pose, vanishing into the thin unpopulated air. We ransomed our dignity to the clouds, and the uncomprehending birds listened. Don't you see?! We're actors – we're the opposite of people!
  • We're more of the love, blood and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can't give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They're all blood, you see.
  • We are tied down to a language which makes up in obscurity what it lacks in style.
  • Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.
  • Pirates could happen to anyone.
  • I congratulate you on the unambiguity of your situation.
  • My talent is more general. I extract significance from melodrama, a significance which it does not, in fact, contain.


  • 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 fulfill'd – that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.
    • Lines of Hamlet, from which the title of the play and movie are derived.


Guildenstern: Is that you?
Rosencrantz: I don't know.
Guildenstern (disgusted): It's you.

Rosencrantz: Shouldn't we be doing something – constructive?
Guildenstern: What did you have in mind? … A short, blunt human pyramid …?

Guildenstern: A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.
Rosencrantz: Or just as mad.
Guildenstern: Or just as mad.
Rosencrantz: And he does both.
Guildenstern: So there you are.
Rosencrantz: Stark raving sane.

Guildenstern: What's the first thing you remember?
Rosencrantz: Oh, let's see. … The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
Guildenstern: No – the first thing you remember.
Rosencrantz: Ah. … No, it's no good. It's gone. It was a long time ago.
Guildenstern: No, you don't take my meaning. What's the first thing you remember after all the things you've forgotten?
Rosencrantz: Oh, I see … I've forgotten the question.

Guildenstern: Rosencrantz?
Rosencrantz: What?
Guildenstern: Guildenstern?
Rosencrantz: What?
Guildenstern: Don't you discriminate at all?!

Guildenstern: What a shambles! We're just not getting anywhere.
Rosencrantz: Not even England. I don't believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?

Player: Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion.
Guildenstern: And what's that, in this case?
Player: It never varies – we aim at the point where everyone who is marked for death dies.
Guildenstern: Marked?
Player: Between "just desserts" and "tragic irony" we are given quite a large scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.
Guildenstern: Who decides?
Player: Decides? It is written.

The Player: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
Rosencrantz: Good God. 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: Do you think Death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no … death is not. Death isn't. 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 … what you've been is not on boats.

Guildenstern: Who are we that so much should converge on our little deaths?
The Player: You are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That's enough.

Rosencrantz: Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Guildenstern: No.
Rosencrantz: Nor do I, really. It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box. One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you. Not without any air. You'd wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? In a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it. Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that. I mean, you'd be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you're dead. It isn't a pleasant thought. Especially if you're dead, really. Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, "I'm going to stuff you in this box. Now, would you rather be alive or dead?" Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You'd have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking, "Well. At least I'm not dead. In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out." [bangs on lid] "Hey, you! What's your name? Come out of there!"
[Long pause]
Guildenstern: I think I'm going to kill you.

Guildenstern: 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 this sort of mystical encounter, or rather, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy, until – "My god!" shouts a second man, "I must be dreaming! I thought I just saw a unicorn!" At which point a dimension is added which makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no new dimension, only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are, the thinner it spreads 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!"
Rosencrantz: I knew all along it was a band.
Guildenstern: He knew all along it was a band.
Rosencrantz: And here they come!
Guildenstern: I'm sorry it wasn't a unicorn. It would have been nice to have unicorns.

Guildenstern: The law of probabilities states that if six monkeys were … if six monkeys were …
Rosencrantz: Game?
Guildenstern: Were they?
Rosencrantz: Are you?
Guildenstern: Game. The law of probabilities states 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 …
Rosencrantz: Heads.
Guildenstern: Which even at first glance doesn't strike one as a particularly rewarding speculation in either sense … even without the monkeys. I mean, you wouldn't bet on it. I mean, I would, but you wouldn't.

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (film)
Last modified on 26 September 2008, at 20:49