Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: a Close Look on Final Moments
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s Final Moments
The final scene of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead provides a compilation of the themes present throughout the entire play. The act begins with the usual foolish banter between the comedic duo, and ends with the announcement of their deaths. Even in their final moments, the pair struggles to identify who they are and their purpose, and questions whether a choice to avoid their fate ever presented itself. As the players appear, art once again blurs and fights with reality, as the duo believes art can never convey true emotions or death. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern express their fear to die, despite constantly discussing it throughout the play prior. The denouement of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead serves as a final addressment to each of the overarching themes presented in Stoppard’s work.
The scene opens in complete darkness until, after several lines, a light is shed upon Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s situation, revealing a boat. The boat represents their fate, and the inability to change the direction of the boat demonstrating how the pair lack freewill and merely drift along with the tide, making no effort to defy their predetermined demise. Guildenstern demonstrates an understanding of this through his lack of motivation to do anything, and his admiration for the boat shows an acceptance of fate, “…You don’t have to worry about which way to go, or whether to go at all-the question doesn’t arise…” (100). As the duo realizes their impending doom, they become panicked and begin to question whether they ever had a choice, “…there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said-no” (125). As seen throughout the entire play, the question as to whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a choice in their actions or freewill is but an illusion is addressed, with the prior confirmed through their unwilling disappearance.
As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern question their actions and inability to escape their fate, the initial identity confusion present throughout the play develops until any differentiation between the characters is lost, “Ros: We are Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Guil: Which is which? Ros: Well, I’m-You’re-“ (121). Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves lose their sense of identity, after realizing their inescapable fate and concluding that nothing holds meaning. Upon seeing their anguish and confusion, the player tries to comfort them by stating who they are, but they refuse to accept their minor roles, and wish to understand. Their identities fluidly exist, where whatever distinguishable traits that previously existed dissipate. As the pair nears death, they lose their grip on reality and begin to lose themselves.
The final introduction of the tragedians into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s reality allows the combination of the themes of mortality and art. Guildenstern accuses the players of lacking the experience and emotional depth to truly portray death, “Even as you die you know that you will come back in a different hat” (123). Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern believe their death to be a neutral zone of which they will never escape, at the final moments, the line between reality and art blends, and Guildenstern portrays a knowledge of being a character in a play that may constantly replay itself. The fear of death previously exhibited by the characters vanishes, and the characters finally accept death and their role in the play.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s acceptance of death and acknowledgment of the play itself, connects each of the themes developed throughout the play. The characters recognize their inevitable predetermined destinies and no choice or action of theirs holds meaning or can change the outcome. This acknowledgement causes the duo to question why this occurs, and eventually accept their identities as characters in a play, blurring the line between art and reality. The achieved enlightenment ends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s panic and confusion over death, allowing them to accept their fate and realize that as long as the performances of the play continue, they will never truly die, only exist in a negative zone until revived to replay the events. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s last appearance in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead epitomizes the overarching themes of the play and resolves many questions presented prior to the final act.
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