A Brief Synopsis of
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, having forgotten their summons to Hamlet's
castle at Elsinore, are passing the time tossing coins and musing over a
continuous and seemingly impossible run of heads over tails. As they
remember their task, they are approached by a band of tragedians led by the
Player, who offers them a "private" performance with Alfred, a boy actor.
After some wagering with the Player, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern request a
play but are quickly transported to Elsinore before it begins.
At the castle they are greeted by Claudius and Gertrude who tell them of
Hamlet's "transformation" and their wish that the two attend him and find the
cause. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play a game of questions with each other
to prepare for the task but when they encounter Hamlet they become frustrated
by his answers.
With Rosencrantz and Guildenstern looking on, Hamlet commands the Player
to perform a play, The Murder of Gonzago, "to catch the conscience of the
King." Gertrude enters and questions them about their conversation with
Hamlet and they report his interest in the players. Claudius tells them to
encourage him in that pursuit.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern watch the tragedian's dress rehearsal for the
dumbshow from The Murder of Gonzago. The play now includes two spies who are
executed in the final scene.
Claudius tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Polonius has been slain
by Hamlet. He orders them to bring Hamlet and the body of Polonius to the
chapel. They encounter Hamlet but he escapes, dragging the dead body with
him. When Hamlet is found again, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are ordered by
Claudius to accompany him on a ship bound for England and to deliver a letter
to the English king. On board, they discover the letter orders Hamlet's
When pirates attack the ship, Hamlet escapes. Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern discover that Claudius' letter has been switched by Hamlet. The
letter that should have brought them favor now orders their deaths. As they
contemplate their situation, the action switches to Denmark where an
ambassador brings the news that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.