Now, without further ado, my summary of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!
The story’s about two minor characters from Hamlet, they’re called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath at such a revelation.
They’re introduced by having no memory whatsoever about who they are, where they are and why they’re there. The only thing they’re certain about is that they’ve been spinning coins for a long time and it always lands heads for some reason.
They only know their names due to a quick flashback where a messenger called them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, though from the context of the flashback, it’s difficult to realize who’s who…
But for the sake of consistency here, Gary Oldman on the left is Rosencrantz and Tim Roth on the right is Guildenstern.
The two have very opposite personalities.
Rosencrantz is optimistic, he’s playful and naïve, but there’s a bit of a scientific mind to him. He takes things rather literally, but when it comes to common sense, he at times becomes the sane man over Guildenstern.
Guildenstern is cynical, he’s serious and assertive, but while he is the more philosophic out of the two, he tends to have a skewed sense of priorities. He’s smarter than Rosencrantz and has to put up with his lower intelligence, but there are times when a more simple-minded approach overcomes his rather complex way of handling things.
They come across a group of actors, with the head of the actors offering to present an erotic play for our two heroes, with them participating. Realizing they’re not so much actors as much as a pimp and a rable of prostitutes, Guildenstern refuses, while Rosencrantz, whether out of innocence or out of curiosity depending on the play, is kinda interested in learning what the players actually do, though still reluctant on actually participating himself.
Eventually to humour Rosencrantz, Guildenstern wins a bet with the players to make them do a play, which is full of “blood, love and rhetoric”. (Psst, it’s Hamlet)
Not truly interested, though, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern just walk away.
They somehow end up in Hamlet’s castle, where they meet King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s Uncle turned Step-father and his Mother, now turned Step-Aunt. If that confuses you, just read Hamlet (which may confuse some people even more) or just take it as it is.
From the words of Claudius and Gertrude, they’ve found out something more about themselves, apparently they’re Hamlet’s childhood friends.
And thus they get the mission they got in the actual play of Hamlet, to spy on him and find out why he’s acting mad lately.
From here on out the story goes in a format of this:
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern mess around with stuff waiting for things to happen,
And then scenes of Hamlet happening from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s point of view.
What’s great about this is that this format works for both people who haven’t watched Hamlet as well as people who did. Because Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the Hamlet play never got the full picture. And neither do they here. Which means for the people who HAVEN’T seen Hamlet, they’ll be as confused as both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But people who HAVE seen Hamlet will get the little injokes and just enjoy how the two characters were apparently around to see small tidbits of the Hamlet story.
Eventually they come across the players/actors/prostitutes again, which brightens Hamlet’s day a lot more than the presence of his supposed childhood friends. Hamlet wants them to do an existing play called “The Murder of Gonzago”, albeit one that he heavily edits for some reason.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get sneakpeaks of the play during the player’s rehearsals, and something that audiences will probably note is how the play very much reflects the story of Hamlet and eventually Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which finally ends with everyone dead, including them.
And lo and behold, everything the play showed ends up happening in real life. Claudius is shocked at the play for some reason and stops it prematurely, which for some reason makes Hamlet very happy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get a letter from Claudius, who tells them they should bring Hamlet to England and give the message to the English king. Then they find out Hamlet killed some guy named Polonius and must find this Polonius guy’s corpse. They eventually end up on a boat to England where they find out the message is for the English King to execute Hamlet. They decide not to tell Hamlet and they get attacked by pirates.
Again, in the eyes of audiences who haven’t seen Hamlet, these are all a series of random events which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves are completely confused about as they simply get pushed in one situation or another,
Meanwhile in the eyes of audiences who HAVE seen Hamlet, this would open their eyes on how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern never had control of the situation at all. Suddenly these two characters whom people for ages have been calling treacherous traitors are now seen as two poor confused individuals who were way over their heads.
Sadly it doesn’t end well for them, because just like in the play, they end up getting hanged, because Hamlet apparently switched the letter they got with his own forged letter, which orders the English king to execute them instead of Hamlet.
Well, that’s quite a summary. What is the point of the whole thing?
Read on in the next page by clicking that button!