If you’ve read Hamlet, you should read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is a play within a play, a telling of at Shakespeare’s story from the point of view of the minor characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or Ros and Guil, as Stoppard refers to them). The men are caught up in the story, without any knowledge of their lives before the events of Hamlet, and no knowledge of what happens to them in the tale’s bloody conclusion. As they obliviously wander through the world that Shakespeare created, they ponder their existence, their purpose, and the events taking place around them. They question fate, chance, life, and death in wonderful conversations and wordplay. The character of The Player (the leader of the theater troupe that performs for the royals in Hamlet) is woven throughout the play, and is the only character that understands what is going on, as he appears to be aware of the events of Shakespeare’s tale.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt to determine who they are (literally, they don’t remember which of them is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern in reference to the fact that in Hamlet they are interchangeable and always mentioned together) and how they should go about the task that has been set for them: to ascertain Hamlet’s state of mind. They undertake games of Question and Answer, and role-play in an attempt to make sense of his behavior. The dialogue consists of humorous banter at times, as well as deep, philosophical conversations. As they consider their futures, their conversation is a classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exchange which concludes as Rosencrantz offers the following advice on death: “I wouldn’t think about it, if I were you. You’d only get depressed. Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?”