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Synopsis and Characters

A man with a pool noodle menaces the audience, behind him several people fight with pool noodles.
Photo of Rob Lindley, Charence Higgins, Erik Hellman, Lorenzo Rush Jr., Amir Abdullah, Blake Hamilton Currie, Kenesha Kristine Reed, and Nate Burger by Michael Brosilow.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor figures in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (see below for video summaries). In Tom Stoppard’s absurdist tragicomedy, they take center stage. In this play, the titular characters are, as they say, “intrigued and never enlightened.” They ruminate constantly over the questions: Who are we? Where are we? and Why are we? The quest for answers is the driving force behind both the literal plot of the play, and the exploration of existential meaning within the characters’ struggles. Below is a bulleted list of the basic action of the play to support your viewing. 

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discuss the Theory of Probability. They are lost and confused, and cannot remember where they are, when they are, or why they are in this unidentified location. 
  • A group of actors, the Ensemble, emerges, eager to perform a show for their newly discovered audience of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The Ensemble is led by the Player.
  • The Ensemble’s performance alludes to the plot of Hamlet (the play from which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern originate). The show reminds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of their lives and where they are from, or at least helps them invent meaning. 
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wonder if they may be released from the performance if they play their roles correctly. Through a role-play exercise, they realize that Hamlet’s father has died; his uncle Claudius has taken the throne and married Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and Claudius’s ex-sister-in-law; and Hamlet is feeling heartbroken over his lover Ophelia.  
  • The Ensemble performs a shadow puppet show, called a ‘dumb show,’ to explain the drama within Hamlet’s family, including Hamlet’s murder of Polonius, Ophelia’s father. 
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suddenly awaken on a boat; Hamlet is there, too. They realize they are taking Hamlet to England, and they search for a letter from King Claudius and Queen Gertrude that explains their arrival to the English king. The two realize that the letter orders Hamlet’s death. 
  • They fall asleep and Hamlet swaps out the letter, which instead orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s deaths. 
  • A fight, apparently a pirate siege, results in Hamlet being kidnapped. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern realize the new letter calls for them to die. 
  • Guildenstern stabs the Player. Instead of dying, the Player reveals that his death was a part of the performance. This prompts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to question their own deaths and whether they may have been prevented. 


  • Rosencrantz: Childhood friend of Hamlet (played by Nate Burger)
  • Guildenstern: Childhood friend of Hamlet (played by Erik Hellman)
  • The Player: The leader of the Ensemble, a band of theatre-spirits (played by Lorenzo Rush Jr.
  • Ensemble/Claudius: A spirit of the theatre/Hamlet’s uncle and the new king of Denmark (played by Amir Abdullah)
  • Ensemble/Hamlet: A spirit of the theatre/the lovelorn, grieving prince of Denmark (played by Blake Hamilton Currie)
  • Ensemble/Ophelia: A spirit of the theatre/Hamlet’s love interest and Polonius’s daughter (played by Charence Higgins
  • Ensemble/Gertrude: A spirit of the theatre/Hamlet’s mother and the new wife of his uncle, Claudius (played by Elizabeth Ledo
  • Ensemble/Polonius: A spirit of the theatre/Ophelia’s father and chief counselor to the king (played by Rob Lindley

Posted on March 28, 2024 in Learning Guides, Productions

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