Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet, courtiers used as a foil for Hamlet's feigned madness. In this scene, the person they're referring to is Hamlet himself, who has recently walked across the stage.

ROSENCRANTZ: Who was that?

GUlLDENSTERN: Didn't you know him?

ROS: He didn't know me.

GUlL: He didn't see you.

ROS: I didn't see him.

GUlL: We shall see. I hardly knew him, he's changed.

ROS: You could see that?

GUlL: Transformed.

ROS: How do you know?

GUlL: Inside and out.

ROS: I see.

GUlL: He's not himself.

ROS: He's changed.

GUlL: I could see that.


Glean what afflicts him.

ROS: Me?

GUlL: Him.

ROS: How?

GUlL: Question and answer. Old ways are the best ways.

ROS: He's afflicted.

GUlL: You question, I'll answer.

ROS: He's not himself, you know.

GUlL: I'm him, you see.


ROS: Who am I then?

GUlL: You're yourself.

ROS: And he's you?

GUlL: Not a bit of it.

ROS: Are you afflicted?

GUlL: That's the idea. Are you ready?

ROS: Let's go back a bit.

GUlL: I'm afflicted.

ROS: I see.

GUlL: Glean what afflicts me.

ROS: Right.

GUlL: Question and answer.

ROS: How should I begin?

GUlL: Address me.

ROS: My dear Guildenstern!

GUlL (quietly): You've forgotten -- haven't you?

ROS: My dear Rosencrantz!

GUlL (great control): I don't think you quite understand. What we are attempting is a hypothesis in which I answer for him, while you ask me questions.

ROS: Ah! Ready?

GUlL: You know what to do?

ROS: What?

GUlL: Are you stupid? . . .


ROS (starts up. Snaps fingers): Oh! You mean-you pretend to be him, and I ask you questions!

GUlL (dry): Very good.

ROS: You had me confused.

GUlL: I could see I had.

ROS: How should I begin?

GUlL: Address me.

They stand and face each other, posing.

ROS: My honoured Lord!

GUlL: My dear Rosencrantz!


ROS: Am I pretending to be you, then?

GUlL: Certainly not. If you like. Shall we continue?

ROS: Question and answer.

GUlL: Right.

ROS: Right. My honoured lord!

GUlL: My dear fellow!

ROS: How are you?

GUlL: Afflicted!

ROS: Really? In what way?

GUlL: Transformed.

ROS: Inside or out?

GUlL: Both.

ROS: I see. (Pause.) Not much new there.

GUlL: Go into details. Delve. Probe the background, establish the situation.

ROS: So -- so your uncle is the king of Denmark?!

GUlL: And my father before him.

ROS: His father before him?

GUlL: No, my father before him. . . .

ROS: Let me get it straight. Your father was king. You were his only son. Your father dies. You are of age. Your uncle becomes king.

GUlL: Yes.

ROS: Unorthodox.

GUlL: Undid me.

ROS: Undeniable. Where were you?

GUlL: In Germany.

ROS: Usurpation, then.

GUlL: He slipped in.

ROS: Which reminds me.

GUlL: Well, it would.

ROS: I don't want to be personal.

GUlL: It's common knowledge.

ROS: Your mother's marriage.

GUlL: He slipped in.


ROS (lugubriously): His body was still warm.

GUlL: So was hers.

ROS: Extraordinary.

GUlL: Indecent.

ROS: Hasty.

GUlL: Suspicious.

ROS: It makes you think.

GUlL: Don't think I haven't thought of it.

ROS: And with her husband's brother.

GUlL: They were close.

ROS: She went to him--

GUlL: --Too close--

ROS: --for comfort.

GUlL: It looks bad.

ROS: It adds up.

GUlL: Incest to adultery.

ROS: Would you go so far?

GUlL: Never.

ROS: To sum up: your father, whom you love, dies, you are his heir, you come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold before his young brother popped onto his throne and into his sheets, thereby offending both legal and natural practice. Now why exactly are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?

GUlL: I can't imagine!


Source: Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (New York: Grove Press, 1967) pp. 46-51.