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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

  * * *

  TOM STOPPARD was catapulted into the front ranks of modern playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened in London in 1967. Its subsequent run in New York brought it the same enthusiastic acclaim, and the play has since been performed numerous times in the major theatrical centers of the world. It has won top honors for a play and playwright in a poll of London Theater critics, and in its printed form it was chosen one of the “Notable Books of 1967” by the American Library Association.

  * * *

  “Stoppard is the master comedian of ideas in the English language,” Jack Kroll said about him in Newsweek. Each of his stage works has confirmed this view. Theatergoers have been able to admire his wit and thrill to his command of the English language in Jumpers, The Real Inspector Hound, Travesties, Enter A Free Man, After Magritte, and Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land. He is also the author of the novel Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon.

  * * *

  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead



  Every Good Boy Deserves Favor and Professional Foul


  The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays

  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


  The Invention of Love

  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

  by Tom Stoppard

  Consulting editor: Henry Popkin

  Copyright © 1967 by Tom Stoppard

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, New York 10003 or

  CAUTION : This play is fully protected, in whole, in part or in any form under the copyright laws of the United states of America, the British Empire, including the Dominion of Canada, and all other countries of the Copyright union, and is subject to royalty. All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, radio, television, recitation, public reading, and any method of photographic reproduction are strictly reserved. All inquiries concerning amateur and stock performances in the united states should be addressed to Samuel French, Inc., 45 W. 25th street, New york, NY 10010, and for professional rights, Peters Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell Street, London WC28 5HA, England.

  Printed in the United States of America

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-30108

  ISBN-10: 0-8021-3275-8

  ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-3275-8

  Grove Press

  an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

  841 Broadway

  New York, NY 10003

  Distributed by Publishers Group West

  09 10 11 12 75 74 73 72 71 70 69

  The first performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was given in a slightly shortened form on August 24, 1966 at Cranston Street Hall, Edinburgh, by the Oxford Theatre Group as part of the “fringe” of the Edinburgh Festival. The cast was as follows:


  David Marks


  Give Cable


  Jules Roach


  Ron Forfar, Nic Renton, Howard Daubney


  John Dodgson


  Janet Watts


  Nick Elliot


  Frances Morrow


  Walter Merricks

  Directed by Brian Daubney

  The first professional production was given on April 11, 1967 at the Old Vic Theatre, London, by the National Theatre Company. The cast was as follows:


  John stride


  Edward Petherbridge


  Graham Crowden


  Alan Adams


  Oliver Cotton, Neil Fitzpatrick, Luke Hardy, Roger Kemp


  John McEnery


  Caroline John


  Kenneth Mackintosh


  Mary Griffiths


  Peter Cellier


  David Hargreaves


  David Bailie


  David Ryall


  Christopher Timothy


  Denis de Marne


  Petronella Barker, Margo Cunningham, Kay Gallic David Belcher, Reginald Green, William Hobbs, Leonard Pearce, Ron Pember, Frederick Pyne

  Directed by Derek Goldby

  Designed by Desmond Heeley

  The New York premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was given on October 16,1967 at the Alvin Theatre. The cast was as follows:


  Brian Murray


  John Wood


  Paul Hecht


  Douglas Norwick


  Roger Kemp, Dino Laudicina, B. J. DeSimone, Roy Lozano


  Noel Craig


  Pat McAneny


  Roger Hamilton


  Anne Meacham


  Ralph Drischell


  Alexander Courtney


  Michael Holmes


  Walter Beery, Stephen Bernstein, Gaetano Bon Giovanni, Margaret Braidwood, Esther Buffler, Alexander Courtney, Elizabeth Eis, Elizabeth Franz, William Grannell, John Handy, Mary Hara, Carl Jacobs, Ed Marshall, Ted Pezzulo, Jonathan Reynolds


  Bruce Levine, Arthur Lora,

  Bernie Karl, Jack Knitzer

  Directed by Derek Goldby

  Designed by Desmond Heeley

  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead


  Two ELIZABETHANS passing the time in a place without any visible character.

  They are well dressed—hats, cloaks, sticks and all.

  Each of them has a large leather money bag.

  GUILDENSTERN’s bag is nearly empty.

  ROSENCRANTZ’s bag is nearly full.

  The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: GUILDENSTERN (hereafter “GUIL”) takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall, ROSENCRANTZ (hereafter “ROS”) studies it, announces it as “heads” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this for some time.

  The run of “heads” is impossible, yet ROS betrays no surprise at all—he feels none. However, he is nice enough to feel a little embarrassed at taking so much money off his friend. Let
that be his character note.

  GUIL is well alive to the oddity of it. He is not worried about the money, but he is worried by the implications; aware but not going to panic about it—his character note.

  GUIL sits, ROS stands (he does the moving, retrieving coins).

  GUIL spins, ROS studies coin.

  ROS : Heads.

  He picks it up and puts it in his bag. The process is repeated.








  GUIL (flipping a coin): There is an art to the building up of suspense.

  ROS : Heads.

  GUIL (flipping another): Though it can be done by luck alone.

  ROS : Heads.

  GUIL : If that’s the word I’m after.

  ROS (raises his head atGUIL): Seventy-sue—love.

  GUIL gets up but has nowhere to go. He spins another coin over his shoulder without looking at it, his attention being directed at his environment or lack of it.


  GUIL : A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else at least in the law of probability. (He slips a coin over his shoulder as he goes to look upstage.)

  ROS : Heads.

  GUIL, examining the confines of the stage, flips over two more coins as he does so, one by one of course, ROS announces each of them as “heads.”

  GUIL (musing): The law of probability, it has been oddly asserted, is something to do with the proposition that if six monkeys (he has surprised himself). . . if six monkeys were . . .

  ROS : Game?

  GUIL : Were they?

  ROS : Are you?

  GUIL (understanding): Game. (Flips a coin.) The law of averages, if I have got this right, means 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——

  ROS : Heads. (He picks up the coin.)

  GUIL : Which even at first glance does not strike one as a particularly rewarding speculation, in either sense, even without the monkeys. I mean you wouldn’t bet on it. I mean / would, but you wouldn’t. . . . (As he flips a coin.)

  ROS : Heads.

  GUIL : Would you? (Flips a coin.)

  ROS : Heads.


  Heads. (He looks up atGUIL— embarrassed laugh.) Getting a bit of a bore, isn’t it?

  GUIL (coldly): A bore?

  ROS: Well. . .

  GUIL : What about the suspense?

  ROS (innocently): What suspense?

  Small pause.

  GUIL : It must be the law of diminishing returns I feel the spell about to be broken. (Energizing himself somewhat. He takes out a coin, spins it high, catches it, turns it over on to the back of his other hand, studies the coin—and tosses it to ROS. His energy deflates and he sits.)

  Well, it was an even chance . . . if my calculations are correct.

  ROS : Eighty-five in a row—beaten the record!

  GUIL : Don’t be absurd.

  ROS : Easily!

  GUIL (angry): Is that ft, then? Is that all?

  ROS : What?

  GUIL : A new record? Is that as far as you are prepared to go?

  ROS : Well . . .

  GUIL : No questions? Not even a pause?

  ROS: YOU spun them yourself.

  GUIL : Not a flicker of doubt?

  ROS (aggrieved, aggressive): Well, I won—didn’t I?

  GUIL (approaches him—quieter): And if you’d lost? If they’d come down against you, eighty-five times, one after another, just like that?

  ROS (dumbly): Eighty-five in a row? Tails?

  GUIL : Yes! What would you think?

  ROS (doubtfully): Well . . . . (Jocularly.) Well, I’d have a good look at your coins for a start!

  GUIL (retiring): I’m relieved. At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor. . . . I suppose it’s the last to go. Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps . . . you, alone . . . (He turns on him suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.

  ROS clasps his hand, GUIL pulls him up to him.

  GUIL (more intensely): We have been spinning coins together since (He releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we have spun coins!

  ROS : Oh no—we’ve been spinning coins for as long as I remember.

  GUIL: HOW long is that?

  ROS : I forget. Mind you—eighty-five times!

  GUIL : Yes?

  ROS : It’ll take some beating, I imagine.

  GUIL : Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?

  ROS : Fear?

  GUIL (in fury—flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!

  ROS : Heads. . . . (He puts it in his bag.)

  GUIL sits despondently. He takes a coin, spins it, lets it fall between his feet. He looks at it, picks it up, throws it to ROS, who puts it in his bag.

  GUIL takes another coin, spins it, catches it, turns it over on to his other hand, looks at it, and throws it to ROS, who puts it in his bag.

  GUIL takes a third coin, spins it, catches it in his right hand, turns it over onto his left wrist, lobs it in the air, catches it with his left hand, raises his left leg, throws the coin up under it, catches it and turns it over on the top of his head, where it sits, ROS comes, looks at it, puts it in his bag.

  ROS : I’m afraid

  GUIL : So am I.

  ROS : I’m afraid it isn’t your day.

  GUIL : I’m afraid it is.

  Small pause.

  ROS : Eighty-nine.

  GUIL : It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of wealth. (He muses.) List of possible explanations. One: I’m willing it. Inside where nothing shows, I am the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins, and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past. (He spins a coin atROS.)

  ROS : Heads.

  GUIL : Two: time has stopped dead, and the single experience of one coin being spun once has been repeated ninety times. . . . (He flips a coin, looks at it, tosses it toROS .) On the whole, doubtful. Three: divine intervention, that is to say, a good turn from above concerning him, cf. children of Israel, or retribution from above concerning me, cf. Lot’s wife. Four: a spectacular vindication of the principle that each individual coin spun individually (he spins one) is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does. (It does. He tosses it toROS.)

  ROS : I’ve never known anything like it!

  GUIL : And a syllogism: One, he has never known anything like it. Two, he has never known anything to write home about. Three, it is nothing to write home about. . . . Home. . . What’s the first thing you remember?

  ROS : Oh, let’s see The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?

  GUIL: NO —the first thing you remember.

  ROS : Ah. (Pause.) No, it’s no good, it’s gone. It was a long time ago.

  GUIL (patient but edged): You don’t get my meaning. What is the first thing after all the things you’ve forgotten?

  ROS : Oh I see. (Pause.) I’ve forgotten the question.

  GUIL leaps up and paces.

  GUIL : Are you happy?

  ROS : What?

  GUIL : Content? At ease?

  ROS : I suppose so.

  GUIL : What are you going to do now?

  ROS : I don’t know. What do you want to do?

  GUIL : I have no desires. None. (He stops pacing dead.) There was a messenger. . . that’s right. We were sent for. (He wheels at ROS and raps out:) Syllogism the second: One, probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. Discuss, (ROS is suitably startled. Acidly.) Not too heatedly.

  ROS : I’m sorry I—What’s the matter with you?

  GUIL : The scientific approach to the exa
mination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while there’s time. Now— counter to the previous syllogism: tricky one, follow me carefully, it may prove a comfort If we postulate, and we just have, that within un-, sub- or supernatural forces the probability is that the law of probability will not operate as a factor, then we must accept that the probability of the first part will not operate as a factor, in which case the law of probability will operate as a factor within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. And since it obviously hasn’t been doing so, we can take it that we are not held within un-, sub-or supernatural forces after all; in all probability, that is. Which is a great relief to me personally. (Small pause.) Which is all very well, except that (He continues with tight hysteria, under control) We have been spinning coins together since I don’t know when, and in all that time (if it is all that time) I don’t suppose either of us was more than a couple of gold pieces up or down. I hope that doesn’t sound surprising because its very unsurprisingness is something I am trying to keep hold of. 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 recognized 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. Then a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else happened. Ninety-two coins spun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two consecutive times . . . and for the last three minutes on the wind of a windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute. . . .

  ROS (cutting his fingernails): Another curious scientific phenomenon is the fact that the fingernails grow after death, as does the beard.

  GUIL : What?

  ROS (loud): Beard!

  GUIL : But you’re not dead.

  ROS (irritated): I didn’t say they started to grow after death! (Pause, calmer.) The fingernails also grow before birth, though not the beard.

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