Tom Stoppard, who was a philosopher at the time of writing “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Deaf”, wrote this play in 1967. Existentialism is the philosophy of making rational choices to define your own meaning in this world, even if it’s irrational. Stoppard makes Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern the protagonists in his play, and effectively tells the story of their characters. This play concerns two characters who struggle with philosophical themes such as free will, identity, and fate.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern is a pair of friends who have no idea what they are or why they are there. In the play’s beginning, both characters have no memory of where they were going or what they were doing. They are also confused about their own deaths. Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and their friends are constantly confused. They feel that they cannot make meaningful decisions. Both characters are unable to recall their names, which is a major problem. Stoppard’s concept of identity is reflected in their constant confusion and loss of self-awareness. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s journey shows the importance of chance and the difficulties of discerning others’ true intentions and desires.

It is possible to create stereotypes by naming and classifying others. This can limit the ability of an individual to discover their own identity. Both Rose and Guildenstern do not know their real names. Both Rose and Guildenstern are unaware of their real names. “I don’t forget – I remember how well I used to know my name – yours too, yes, of course! Answers were everywhere. People knew me, and if not they asked. I told them. Rosencrantz tries to convince Guildenstern that he really knows his own identity by saying this. Their confusion and lack of confidence is caused by not knowing each other’s name. Stoppard’s use of two characters who appear to change identities makes him question the concept of identity in general. Players confuse each other and struggle to identify their own identity. Claudius, Hamlet, and Rosencrantz, for example, confuse themselves. Stoppard makes Rosencrantz, Guildenstern more human by instilling in them a deep-seated desire that is universal: the need to understand. Even though they cannot achieve a redeeming end, the audience can sympathize because they vacillate from awareness to comprehension. Stoppard’s plays also question the identities of the characters, and suggest that the self may not even exist. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are both extremely porous. Rosencrantz misidentifies Guildenstern in Act Three when he thinks that his leg belongs to him. Rosencrantz is intrigued but not able to recognize himself when he sees the Tragedians portraying themselves. If it’s not -! Rosencrantz then tells the character that represents him that he never forgets a face…not because I know yours. Rosencrantz misinterprets the character as himself, saying the character has almost recognised him, but it is Rosencrantz. I? Yes, I’m afraid you’re quite wrong. Rosencrantz says: “You’ve got me confused with someone else.” You may think of their name as their identity. This would be the case in Rosencrantz and Guildensterns’ cases. I believe that the name of a human being should not be used as a way to control or limit them. Instead, it should represent their own life. Because they didn’t know their names, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern never had the chance to discover their identities.

After reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is Dead, I am convinced that free will in this novel is a myth. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the characters have limited choices. Shakespeare’s Hamlet doesn’t give the characters distinct identities. Stoppard repeats this confusion throughout his play. When Rosencrantz grows frustrated at not being able to tell whether his name was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or not, Guildenstern replies that they are “relatively fortunate” because we would have had to search through the entire human nomenclature field, like a pair of blind men searching a bazaar looking for portraits. Hamlet’s indifference to death is the fate of everyone, as this play shows. The trajectory of death seems to override the efforts of every individual. Guildenstern compares the trajectory of life to that of a boat. ‘We may move, we may change directions, but it is all part of a bigger movement which carries us as inexorably along as the current …”. Guildenstern is left wondering what went so wrong when he realized that Rosencrantz was also marked for death. He realizes that what he had thought to be a boat of freedom is actually a vessel of deception. Although the boat can be moved around freely, its destination has been predetermined. This is why it is out of the control and responsibility of the passengers. Guildenstern’s conclusion to the play on predestination and free will is that we are both free in our actions and forced by forces beyond our control.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s story will make you question your own life philosophy. The characters’ struggles with identity and free-will cause the audience also to wrestle with these topics. In my own life, I’ve struggled to define myself and have been trying to do so for most of my adulthood. To find my identity, I decided to use my birth name as a guide to discovering what my true life entails. Guildenstern telling Rosencrantz that “You have no idea where we are standing” in Act Two can reflect the confusion people may feel about who they are.

It is also a call back to direction, and also an expression of the larger issue; that Rosencrantz Guildenstern doesn’t understand motives and forces working around them. It may seem that there is no direction to life, but I think both identity and free will allow us to choose our own path.


  • rowandavid

    I am a 32-year-old educational blogger and student. I love to share my knowledge and experiences with others through writing. I believe that knowledge is power, and I am passionate about helping others learn and grow.