Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a perspective flip of Hamlet, written from the viewpoint of the two least important characters who die in the course of Shakespeare's original. Hamlet itself contains a minor but significant fantastical element, the ghost of the dead king.

The ghost does not appear in Stoppard's play, but there is another arguably fantastical element that is crucial to understanding what is happening in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Although the two protagonists do not realize it (and are indeed extremely confused as a result), they only exist because they are characters in a play. They wake up on morning, summoned to Castle Elsinore, with no clear memory of their lives before that. They travel to the castle, appear for their scenes in Hamlet, and die for no readily comprehensible reason. And yet, even though they have trouble remembering which of them is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern, they have a sense that, even after they die, they will be back to go through the whole thing again (the next time the play is staged).

That is hardly the way reality works, but it's not really typical of fantasy either. So I am wondering whether it qualifies as on topic here.

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    So... what about this play are you looking to ask? Without some better context, it's probably a better fit on Literature.SE
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:12
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    People wake up with amnesia and have premonitions all the time. What's fantastical about that?
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:29
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    @Kevin This isn't merely amnesia, this is the characters being killed off and reborn every time the play is staged and their death scene comes up. I don't know about you, but I've only heard of very few cases where people have come back from the dead, and they're not normally just in time for the first scene in a play.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:45
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    @Edlothiad To be fair, Hamlet dies every time Hamlet is performed, I don't think that makes Hamlet SF&F. R&G is, after all, just a play within a play.
    – Blackwood
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 23:22
  • @Blackwood - A key element of Hamlet is the notion of a (prophetic) play-within-a-play and a very real ghost observed by multiple people. Certainly large chunks of it are on-topic.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 23:46
  • @Valorum I agree that Hamlet has elements of SF&F. I was trying to point out that the fact that Hamlet dies at the end of every performance of the play and is alive again at the start of the next performance is not enough to make the play SF&F.
    – Blackwood
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 23:51
  • Question. As they're about to die, do they think "Oh no, not again"?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 10:37

1 Answer 1


Yes, this play is most certainly on-topic, featuring many elements that would make it a suitable match to SFF:SE.


1) The characters themselves exist in a sort of other-worldy eigenstate while they wait for the events of the Hamlet play to catch up with them and propel them into their next scene. During these interludes they experience time-stoppage and repetitive events such as the famous coin-tossing scene.

2) Both characters repeatedly experience time-skips and amnesia brought on by their lack of characterisation in Hamlet.

3) Both characters repeatedly experience premonitions of future events including their own deaths.

4) The entire third act of the play takes place after the characters have died, during which time they discuss the nature of their reality.


Assuming we take the film into consideration (which I feel we should, given that it was directed by Stoppard himself), it was promoted as a

"dazzling setting in which illusion and reality overlap"

enter image description here

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    Note that any question about the play would almost certainly be on-topic on Literature:SE and any question about the film would most certainly be on-topic on Movies:SE
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 21:25
  • Not any question :-P "Was this a good film?"
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 0:24
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    @Randal'Thor - Any sensible question, I meant. It should go without saying that dumb questions are off-topic everywhere.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 0:45
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    As a physicist, I'm curious in which sense their state constitutes an "eigenstate".
    – Praxis
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 14:51
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    @Praxis - I was thinking more 'quantum wave function', waiting to be collapsed by the audience of the play observing them. Most of R&GAD takes place in the gaps where the audience isn't watching our players
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 16:50
  • @Valorum : I like that.
    – Praxis
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 18:27
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    I was honestly expecting the answer to be "No, because postmodernism is not SFnal," but this is actually pretty convincing. Upvoted.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:14
  • @Kevin - What is PoMo?
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:15
  • @Valorum: Expanded the abbreviation.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:16
  • Ah, I see. Weird for the sake of weird.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:32
  • Doesn't the word "SFnal" have one "n" too many?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 14:32
  • @MrLister -Yes it does
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 14:53
  • Neither the play nor the movie are SF. "Illusion and reality overlap" can convincingly describe most fiction; after all, fiction is false and therefore at odds with reality. Philosophizing about life and the universe is not necessarily SF or fantasy. This play is lacking in SF&F elements. It's definitely off-topic here.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:45
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    @Kevin Exactly. Postmodernism is not SF. Though, I suppose, there could be postmodern SF -- but this isn't it.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:45
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    @AndresF. - Feel free to post that as an answer that I can downvote.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 2:47

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