Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Selections from the Play. The full text of the play is available at Barnes & Noble.

(Act II, pg. 51)

ROS: It could go on for ever. Well, not for ever, I suppose.
    (Pause) Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead,
    lying in a box with a lid on it?
GUlL: No.
ROS: Nor do I, really... It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean one
    thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to
    take into account the fact that one is dead... which should
    make a difference... shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know
    you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being
    asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you,
    not without any air - you'd wake up dead, for a start and then
    where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That's the bit I
    don't like, frankly. That's why I don't think of it.
    (GUlL stirs restlessly, pulling his cloak round him.)
    Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box
    like that, I mean you'd be in there for ever. Even taking
    into account the fact that you're dead, really... ask
    yourself, if! asked you straight off - I'm going to stuff you
    in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead?
    Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better
    than no life at all. I expect. You'd have a chance at least.
    You could he there thinking - well, at least I'm not dead!
    In a minute someone's going to bang on the lid and tell me
    to come out. (Banging on the floor with his fists.) 'Hey you,
    whatsyernaine! Come out of there!'
GUlL: (Jumps up savagely) You don't have to flog it to death!
ROS: I wouldn't think about it, if! were you. You'd only get
    depressed. (Pause.) Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean,
    where's it going to end?
            [ . . . ]

ROS: All right, we know you're in there! Come out talking! (Pause)
    We have no control. None at all...(He paces.) Whatever
    became of the moment when one first knew about death?
    There must have been one, a moment, in childhood when it
    first occurred to you that you don't go on forever. It must
    have been shattering — stamped into one's memory. And yet
    I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. What
    does one make of that? We must be born with an intutuion
    of mortality. Before we know the words for it, before we
    know that there are words, out we come, bloodied and
    squalling with the knowledge that for all the compasses in
    the world, there is only one direction, and time is its only