The Play

     Act One
     Two ELIZABETHANS passing time in a place without any visible character.
     They are well-dressed - hats, cloaks, sticks and all.
     Each of them has a large leather money bag.
     Guildenstern's bag is nearly empty.
     Rosencrantz's bag is nearly full.
     The  reason being:  they are betting  on the  toss  of a  coin,  in the
following manner: Guildenstern  (hereafter  'GUIL') takes a  coin out of his
bag,  spins it, letting  it fall. Rosencrantz (hereafter 'ROS')  studies it,
announces it as  "heads" (as it happens)  and puts it into his own bag. Then
they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing it for some time.
     The run of "heads" is impossible, yet ROS  betrays no surprise at all -
he  feels  none. However he is nice enough  to feel a little embarrassed  at
taking so much money off his friend. Let that be his character note.
     GUIL is well alive to  the oddity of it.  He is  not worried about  the
money, but he is worried by the implications ; aware but not going to  panic
about it - his character note.
     GUIL sits. ROS stands (he does the moving, retrieving coins).
     GUIL spins. ROS studies coin.

     ROS: Heads.
     (He picks it up and puts it in his money bag. The process is repeated.)
     Heads.
     (Again.)
     ROS: Heads.
     (Again.)
     Heads.
     (Again.)
     Heads.
     GUIL (flipping a coin): There is an art to the building up of suspense.
     ROS: Heads.
     GUIL (flipping another): Though it can be done by luck alone.
     ROS: Heads.
     GUIL: If that's the word I'm after.
     ROS (raises his head at GUIL): Seventy-six love.
     (GUIL  gets up but has nowhere  to go. He  spins another  coin over his
shoulder  without  looking  at  it,  his  attention being  directed  at  his
environment or lack of it.)
     Heads.
     GUIL: A  weaker  man  might  be  moved  to re-examine  his faith, if in
nothing else at least in the law of probability.
     (He slips a coin over his shoulder as he goes to look upstage.)
     ROS: Heads.
     (GUIL, examining the confines of the stage,  flips over two more coins,
as he does so, one by one of course. ROS announces each of them as "heads".)
     GUIL (musing): The law of probability,  as it  has been oddly asserted,
is  something  to do  with  the  proposition that  if  six  monkeys  (he has
surprised himself)... if six monkeys were...
     ROS: Game?
     GUIL: Were they?
     ROS: Are you?
     GUIL (understanding): Games.  (Flips a coin.) The law of averages, if I
have got this right, means that if six monkeys were thrown up in the air for
long enough they would land on their tails about as often as they would land
on their -
     ROS: Heads. (He picks up the coin.)
     GUIL: Which at  first  glance  does  not  strike one  as a particularly
rewarding speculation, in either sense, even without the monkeys. I mean you
wouldn't  bet  on it.  I  mean  I would, but you wouldn't... (As  he flips a
coin.)
     ROS: Heads.
     GUIL: Would you? (Flips a coin.)
     ROS: Heads.
     (Repeat.)
     Heads. (He looks up at  GUIL - embarrassed laugh.) Getting  a bit of  a
bore, isn't it?
     GUIL (coldly): A bore?
     ROS: Well...
     GUIL: What about suspense?
     ROS (innocently): What suspense?
     (Small pause.)
     GUIL:  It must be the law of  diminishing returns... I  feel the  spell
about to be broken. (Energising himself somewhat.)
     (He takes out a  coin, spins  it high,  catches it, turns it over on to
the back  of  his other hand, studies the coin - and  tosses it  to ROS. His
energy deflates and he sits.)
     Well, it was a even chance... if my calculations are correct.
     ROS: Eighty-five in a row - beaten the record!
     GUIL: Don't be absurd.
     ROS: Easily!
     GUIL (angry): Is the it, then? Is that all?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: A new record? Is that as far as you prepared to go?
     ROS: Well...
     GUIL: No questions? Not even a pause?
     ROS: You spun it yourself.
     GUIL: Not a flicker of doubt?
     ROS (aggrieved, aggressive): Well, I won - didn't I?
     GUIL (approaches him - quieter): And if you'd lost? If they'd come down
against you, eighty -five times, one after another, just like that?
     ROS (dumbly): Eighty-five in a row? Tails?
     GUIL: Yes! What would you think?
     ROS  (doubtfully):  Well... (Jocularly.) Well, I'd have a  good look at
your coins for a start!
     GUIL  (retiring):  I'm  relieved.  At  least  we  can  still  count  on
self-interest as a predictable factor... I suppose it's the last to go. Your
capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps... you, alone...
     (He turns on him suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.
     (ROS claps his hand. GUIL pulls him up to him.)
     (More  intensely): We  have  been spinning coins together  since  - (He
releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we spun coins!
     ROS: Oh no - we've been spinning coins for as long as I remember.
     GUIL: How long is that?
     ROS: I forget. Mind you - eighty-five times!
     GUIL: Yes?
     ROS: It'll take some time beating, I imagine.
     GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?
     ROS: Fear?
     GUIL  (in fury -  flings  a coin on the  ground): Fear! The crack  that
might flood your brain with light!
     ROS: Heads... (He puts it in his bag.)
     (GUIL sits  despondently.  He takes  a  coin,  spins  it, lets  it fall
between his feet. He looks at it, picks it up; throws it to ROS, who puts it
in his bag.)
     (GUIL takes another coin, spins it, catches it, turns it over on to his
other hand, looks at it, and throws it to ROS who puts it in his bag.)
     (GUIL tales a third coin, spins it, catches it in his right hand, turns
it over on to his loft wrist, lobs it in the air, catches  it  with his left
hand, raises his left leg, throws the coin up under it, catches it and turns
it over on  to the top of his head, where  it sits. ROS comes, looks  at it,
puts it in his bag.)
     ROS: I'm afraid -
     GUIL: So am I.
     ROS: I'm afraid it isn't your day.
     GUIL: I'm afraid it is.
     (Small pause.)
     ROS: Eighty-nine.
     GUIL: It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of
wealth. (He  muses.) List  of  possible explanations. One:  I'm willing  it.
Inside where nothing shows,  I'm the essence of a man spinning double-headed
coins, and betting against himself in private  atonement for an unremembered
past. (He spins a coin at ROS.)
     ROS: Heads.
     GUIL:  Two: time has stopped  dead, and a single experience of one coin
being spun once has been repeated ninety times... (He flips a coin, looks at
it, tosses it to ROS.)  On the whole,  doubtful. Three: divine intervention,
that is  to say,  a good turn from above  concerning  him, cf.  children  of
Israel, or retribution from  above  concerning me, cf.  Lot's wife.  Four: a
spectacular  vindication of  the  principle  that each individual  coin spun
individually  (he spins one)  is as likely to come down  heads  as tails and
therefore should cause no surprise that each  individual  time it  does. (It
does. He tosses it to ROS.)
     ROS: I've never known anything like it!
     GUIL: And syllogism: One, he has never known anything like  it. Two: he
has never known anything  to write home about. Three, it's  nothing to write
home about... Home... What's the first thing you remember?
     ROS: Oh, let's see...The first thing that comes into my head, you mean?
     GUIL: No - the first thing you remember.
     ROS: Ah. (Pause.) No, it's no good, it's gone. It was a long time ago.
     GUIL (patient but edged): You don't  get my meaning.  What is the first
thing after all the things you've forgotten?
     ROS: Oh. I see. (Pause.) I've forgotten the question.
     GUIL: How long have you suffered from a bad memory?
     ROS: I can't remember.
     (GUIL paces.)
     GUIL: Are you happy?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: Content? At ease?
     ROS: I suppose so.
     GUIL: What are you going to do now?
     ROS: I don't know. What do you want to do?
     GUIL: I  have no  desires. None. (He  stops pacing  dead.)  There was a
messenger... that's right.  We  were  sent for.  (He  wheels at ROS and raps
out.) Syllogism  the  second: one: probability  is  a factor which  operates
within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three,
we  are  now within  un-,  sub-  or  supernatural forces.  Discuss.  (ROS is
suitably startled - Acidly.) Not too heatedly.
     ROS: I'm sorry, I - What's the matter with you?
     GUIL: A  scientific  approach  to the examination  of  phenomena  is  a
defence against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while
there's time. Now - counter to the previous syllogism: tricky one, follow me
carefully, it may prove a  comfort. If we postulate, and we just  have, that
within un-, sub- or supernatural forces  the probability is  that the law of
probability will  not operate  as  a factor, then we  must accept  that  the
probability  of the first  part will not operate as a factor,  in which case
the  law  of  probability will  operate as  a factor  within  un-,  sub-  or
supernatural forces. And  since  it obviously hasn't  been doing so, we  can
take  it  that we are not held within un-, sub- or supernatural forces after
all; in all probability, that is.  Which is a great relief to me personally.
(Small  pause.)  Which  is all very well, except that -  (He continues  with
tight hysteria, under control.) We have been spinning coins together since I
don't  know  when, and  in all that time (if it  is  all that time)  I don't
suppose  either of  us was  more than a  couple of gold pieces up or down. I
hope  that  doesn't sound surprising because  it's  very unsurprisingness is
something I am  trying  to  keep  hold of.  The  equanimity of your  average
pitcher and tosser of coins depends upon a law, or rather a tendency, or let
us say a  probability, or at  any rate  a mathematically  calculable chance,
which ensures  that he will  not upset himself by losing too much  nor upset
his opponent by winning too often. This made  for a kind  of  harmony and  a
kind of confidence. It related the fortuitous and ordained into a reassuring
union which  we  recognised as nature. The  sun came up about as often as it
went  down, in  the long run, and a  coin showed heads about as  often as it
showed  tails. Then  a messenger arrived. We had been sent for. Nothing else
happened. Ninety-two coins sun consecutively have come down heads ninety-two
consecutive  times...  and  for  the last three  minutes on the  wind  of  a
windless day I have heard the sound of drums and flute...
     ROS (cutting his fingernails): Another curious scientific phenomenon is
the fact that the fingernails grow after death, as does the beard.
     GUIL: What?
     ROS (loud): Beard!
     GUIL: But you're not dead.
     ROS (irritated): I didn't say they started to grow after death! (Pause,
calmer.) The fingernails also grow before birth, though not the beard.
     GUIL: What?
     ROS  (shouts): Beard! What's  the matter  with you? (Reflectively.) The
toenails, on the other hand, never grow at all.
     GUIL (bemused): The toenails never grow at all?
     ROS: Do they? It's a funny  thing - I cut my fingernails all the  time,
and every time I  think to cut them,  they need cutting. Now, for  instance.
And yet, I never, to the best of my knowledge, cut my  toenails. They  ought
to  be  curled under my feet by now, but  it doesn't  happen.  I never think
about  them.  Perhaps  I cut  them  absent-mindedly,  when  I'm  thinking of
something else.
     GUIL (tensed up by this rambling): Do you remember the first thing that
happen today?
     ROS (promptly): I woke up, I suppose. (Triggered.) Oh - I've got it now
- that man, a foreigner, he woke us up -
     GUIL: A messenger. (He relaxes, sits.)
     ROS: That's it - pale  sky before dawn, a man standing on his saddle to
bang on the shutters - shouts - What's all  the row about?! Clear off! - but
then he called our names. You remember that - this man woke us up.
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS: We were sent for.
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS: That's  why we're here. (He looks round, seems doubtful, then  the
explanation.) Travelling.
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS (dramatically):  It was  urgent -  a  matter of extreme urgency,  a
royal summons, his very words: official business and  no  questions  asked -
lights in the stable-yard; saddle up and off headlong and hotfoot across the
land, our guides outstripped in breakneck pursuit of our duty! Fearful  lest
we come too late.
     (Small pause.)
     GUIL: Too late for what?
     ROS: How do I know? We haven't got there yet.
     GUIL: Then what are we doing here, I ask myself.
     ROS: You might well ask.
     GUIL: We better get on.
     ROS: You might well think.
     GUIL: Without much conviction; we better get on.
     ROS (actively): Right! (Pause.) On where?
     GUIL: Forward.
     ROS  (forward to footlights): Ah. (Hesitates.) Which way  do  we  - (He
turns round.) Which way did we - ?
     GUIL: Practically starting from scratch... An awakening, a man standing
on his  saddle to bang on the shutters, our names shouted in a certain dawn,
a message, a summons... A new record for pitch and toss. We have not  been..
picked out... simply to be abandoned...  set loose to find our own way... We
are entitled to some direction... I would have thought.
     ROS (alert, listening): I say - ! I say -
     (GUIL rises himself.)
     GUIL: Yes?
     ROS:  Like  a band.  (He looks  around, laughs embarrassedly, expiating
himself.) It sounded like - a band. Drums.
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS (relaxes): It couldn't have been real.
     GUIL: "The colours red, blue and green are real. The colour yellow is a
mystical experience shared by everybody" - demolish.
     ROS (at edge of stage): It must have been thunder. Like drums...
     (By the end of the next speech, the band is faintly audible.)
     GUIL:  A man  breaking his journey between  one place and  another at a
third  place  of  no  name, character,  population  or significance,  sees a
unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there
are precedents  for  mystical encounters  of various kinds,  or  to be  less
extreme, a choice of persuasions to  put it down to fancy; until - "My God,"
says the  second man, "I must  be dreaming,  I thought  I saw a unicorn." At
which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience  as alarming  as
it will ever be. A third  witness, you understand, adds no further dimension
but  only  spreads it thinner, and  a  fourth thinner  still,  and  the more
witnesses  there are, the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes
until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience...
"Look, look" recites  the crowd. "A horse with an arrow in its forehead!  It
must have been mistaken for a deer."
     ROS (eagerly): I knew all along it was a band.
     GUIL (tiredly): He knew all along it was a band.
     ROS: Here they come!
     GUIL  (at the last moment before they enter - wistfully):  I'm sorry it
wasn't the unicorn. It would have been nice to have unicorns.
     (The  TRAGEDIANS are  six in number, including a small BOY(ALFRED). Two
pull a  cart piled up with props and belongings. There is also a  DRUMMER, a
HORN-PLAYER and a  FLAUTIST. The SPOKESMAN ("the PLAYER") has no instrument.
He brings up the rear and is the first to notice them.)
     PLAYER: Halt!
     (The GROUP turns and halts.)
     (Joyously.) An audience!
     (ROS and GUIL half rise.)
     Don't move!
     (They sink back. He regards them fondly.)
     Perfect! A lucky thing we came along.
     ROS: For us?
     PLAYER:  Let us  hope so. But to meet  two  gentlemen on the  road - we
would not hope to meet them off it.
     ROS: No?
     PLAYER: Well met, in fact, and just in time.
     ROS: Why's that?
     PLAYER:  Why,  we  grow rusty  and you  catch  us at the  very point of
decadence - by this time tomorrow we might have forgotten everything we ever
knew. That's a thought, isn't it? (He laughs generously.) We'd be back where
we started - improvising.
     ROS: Tumblers, are you?
     PLAYER: We can give  you a tumble if that's  your taste and times being
what they are...  Otherwise, for a jingle  of coin we can do you a selection
of  gory romances, full of  fine cadence  and corpses, pirated from Italian;
and it doesn't take much to  make a jingle - even a single coin has music in
it.
     (They ALL flourish and bow, raggedly.)
     Tragedians, at your command.
     (ROS and GUIL have got to their feet.)
     ROS: My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz.
     (GUIL confers briefly with him.)
     (Without  embarrassment.) I'm sorry - his  name's Guildenstern, and I'm
Rosencrantz.
     PLAYER:  A pleasure.  We've played to bigger,  of course,  but  quality
counts for something. I recognised you at once -
     ROS: And who are we?
     PLAYER: - as fellow artists.
     ROS: I thought we were gentlemen.
     PLAYER: For some of us it  is performance,  for others, patronage. They
are two sides of  the same coin,  or, let us say, being as there are so many
of us,  the  same side of  two coins. (Bows again.) Don't clap  too loudly -
it's a very old world.
     ROS: What is your line?
     PLAYER: Tragedy, sir. Deaths and disclosures, universal and particular,
denouements both unexpected and inexorable, transvestite  melodrama  on  all
levels including the suggestive. We transport you into the world of intrigue
and illusion... clowns,  if you like, murderers  - we can do you  ghosts and
battles, on  the skirmish levels,  heroes, villains, tormented lovers  - set
pieces in the poetic vein; we  can do  you rapiers or rape  or both, by  all
means, faithless wives and ravished virgins - flagrante  delicto at a price,
but that comes under  realism for which there  are  special  terms.  Getting
warm, am I?
     ROS (doubtfully): Well, I don't know...
     PLAYER: It costs little to watch, and little more  if you happen to get
caught up in the action, if that's you taste and times being what they are.
     ROS: What are they?
     PLAYER: Indifferent.
     ROS: Bad?
     PLAYER: Wicked. Now  what precisely is your pleasure? (He turns to  the
TRAGEDIANS.) Gentlemen, disport yourselves.
     (The TRAGEDIANS shuffle into some kind of a line.)
     There! See anything you like?
     ROS (doubtful, innocent): What do they do?
     PLAYER: Let your imagination run riot. They are beyond surprise.
     ROS: And how much?
     PLAYER: To take part?
     ROS: To watch.
     PLAYER: Watch what?
     ROS: A private performance.
     PLAYER: How private?
     ROS: Well, there are only two of us. Is that enough?
     PLAYER: For an audience, disappointing. For voyeurs, about average.
     ROS: What's the difference?
     PLAYER: Ten guilders.
     ROS (horrified): Ten guilders!
     PLAYER: I mean eight.
     ROS: Together?
     PLAYER: Each. I don't think you understand -
     ROS: What are you saying?
     PLAYER: What am I saying - seven.
     ROS: Where have you been?
     PLAYER:  Roundabout. A nest of children carries the custom of the town.
Juvenile  companies,  they  are  the  fashion. But  they  cannot  match  our
repertoire... we'll stoop to anything if that's your bent... (He regards ROS
meaningfully but ROS returns the stare blankly.)
     ROS: They'll row up.
     PLAYER  (giving  up):  There's   one  being   born  every  minute.  (To
TRAGEDIANS.) On-ward!
     (The  TRAGEDIANS start to resume their  burdens and their journey. GUIL
stirs himself at last.)
     GUIL: Where are you going?
     PLAYER: Ha-alt!
     (They halt and turn.)
     Home, sir.
     GUIL: Where from?
     PLAYER: Home.  We're travelling people.  We take  our  chances where we
find them.
     GUIL: It was the chance, then?
     PLAYER: Chance?
     GUIL: You found us.
     PLAYER: Oh yes.
     GUIL: You were looking?
     PLAYER: Oh no.
     GUIL: Chance, then.
     PLAYER: Or fate.
     GUIL: Yours or ours?
     PLAYER: It could hardly be one without the other.
     GUIL: Fate, then.
     PLAYER:  Oh, yes. We have no control. Tonight we play  to the court. Or
the night after. Or to the tavern. Or not.
     GUIL: Perhaps I can use my influence.
     PLAYER: At the tavern?
     GUIL: At the court. I would say I have some influence.
     PLAYER: Would you say so?
     GUIL: I have influence yet.
     PLAYER: Yet what?
     (GUIL seizes the PLAYER violently.)
     GUIL: I have influence!
     (The PLAYER does not resist. GUIL loosens his hold.)
     (More  calmly.)  You said something  -  about getting caught up in  the
action -
     PLAYER (gaily freeing himself): I did! -  I did! -  You're quicker than
your friend... (Confidingly.) Now for a handful of guilders I happen to have
a private and uncut performance  of the Rape of the Sabine Women - or rather
woman, or rather Alfred - (Over his shoulder.) Get your skirt on, Alfred -
     (The BOY starts struggling into a female robe.)
     ... and for eight you can participate.
     (GUIL backs, PLAYER follows.)
     ... taking either part.
     (GUIL backs.)
     ... or both for ten.
     (GUIL tries to turn away, PLAYER holds his sleeve.)
     ... with encores -
     (GUIL  smashes the  PLAYER across  the face. The  PLAYER  recoils. GUIL
stands trembling.)
     (Resigned and quiet.) Get your skirt off, Alfred...
     (ALFRED struggles out of his half-on robe.)
     GUIL (shaking with rage  and fright): It could have  been -  it  didn't
have to be obscene... It  could have been  - a bird out of season,  dropping
bright-feathered  on  my  shoulder... It could  have been a tongueless dwarf
standing  by  the road to point the way...  I was prepared. But  it's  this,
isn't it? No enigma, no dignity, nothing classical, portentous, only this  -
a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes...
     PLAYER  (acknowledging the description with a sweep of his hat, bowing:
sadly):  You  should have caught us  in better times. We were purists  then.
(Straightens up.) On-ward.
     (The PLAYERS make to leave.)
     ROS (his voice has changed: he has caught on): Excuse me!
     PLAYER: Ha-alt!
     (They halt.)
     A-al-l-fred!
     (ALFRED resumes the struggle. The PLAYER comes forward.)
     ROS: You're not - ah - exclusively players, then?
     PLAYER: We're inclusively players, sir.
     ROS: So you give - exhibitions?
     PLAYER: Performances, sir.
     ROS: Yes, of course. There's more money in that, is there?
     PLAYER: There's more trade, sir.
     ROS: Times being what they are.
     PLAYER: Yes.
     ROS: Indifferent.
     PLAYER: Completely.
     ROS: You know I'd no idea -
     PLAYER: No -
     ROS: I mean, I've heard of - but I've never actually -
     PLAYER: No.
     ROS: I mean, what exactly do you do?
     PLAYER: We  keep to our usual stuff,  more or less, only inside out. We
do  on stage the  things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of
integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.
     ROS (nervy, loud): Well, I'm not really  the  type of man who - no, but
don't hurry off - sit down and  tell us  about some of the things people ask
you to do -
     (The PLAYER turns away.)
     PLAYER: On-ward!
     ROS: Just a minute!
     (They turn and look at him without expression.)
     Well, all  right - I wouldn't mind seeing - just an idea of the kind of
- (bravely).  What  will you  do for that? (And tosses a single  coin on the
ground between them.)
     (The PLAYER spits at the coin from where he stands.)
     PLAYER  (to  ROS, coldly): Leave it lying there. Perhaps  when  we come
back this way we'll be that muck cheaper.
     (The TRAGEDIANS demur, trying to  get the coin. He kicks and cuffs them
back.)
     On!
     (ALFRED is still half  in and  half out of his  robe. The PLAYER  cuffs
him.)
     (To ALFRED) What are you playing at?
     (ROS is shamed into fury.)
     ROS: Filth! Disgusting - oh, I know the kind  of  filth you trade in  -
I'll report you to  the authorities -  perverts! I know your game all right,
it's all filth!
     (The PLAYERS are about to leave. GUIL remained detached.)
     GUIL (casually): Do you like a bet?
     PLAYER: Ha-alt!
     (The TRAGEDIANS look interested. The PLAYER comes forward.)
     PLAYER: What kind of bet do you have in mind?
     (GUIL walks  half the distance towards the PLAYER, stops  with his foot
over the coin.)
     GUIL: Double or quits.
     PLAYER: Well... heads.
     (GUIL  raises  his  foot. The PLAYER bends. The TRAGEDIANS crowd round.
Relief and congratulations. The PLAYER  picks up the coin. GUIL throws him a
second coin.)
     GUIL: Again?
     (Some of the TRAGEDIANS are for it, others against. The PLAYER nods and
tosses the coin.)
     GUIL: Heads.
     (It is. H picks it up.)
     Again.
     (GUIL spins the coin.)
     PLAYER: Heads.
     (It is. PLAYER picks up coin. He has two coins again. He spins one.)
     GUIL: Heads.
     (It is. GUIL picks it up. Then tosses immediately.)
     PLAYER (fractional hesitation): Tails.
     (But it's heads. GUIL picks it up. PLAYER  tosses down his last coin by
the  way of paying it up, and turns away. GUIL doesn't  pick it up; he  puts
his foot on it.)
     GUIL: Heads.
     PLAYER: No!
     (Pause. The TRAGEDIANS are against this.)
     (Apologetically.) They don't like the odds.
     GUIL: After six in a row? I'd say they were in your favor.
     PLAYER: No.
     GUIL (lifts his foot; squats;  picks up the coin still squatting; looks
up): You were right - heads. (Spins it, slaps his hand on it, on the floor.)
     Heads I win.
     PLAYER: No.
     GUIL (uncovers coin): Right again. (Repeat.) Heads I win.
     PLAYER: No.
     GUIL (uncovers coin): And right again. (Repeat.) Heads I win.
     PLAYER: No!
     (He turns away, the TRAGEDIANS with him. GUIL stands up, comes close.)
     GUIL: Would you believe it? (Stands back, relaxes, smiles.) Bet me  the
year of my birth doubled is an odd number.
     PLAYER: Your birth - !
     GUIL: If you don't trust me don't bet with me.
     PLAYER: Would you trust me?
     GUIL: Bet me then.
     PLAYER: My birth?
     GUIL: Odd numbers you win.
     PLAYER: You're on -
     (The TRAGEDIANS have come forward, wide awake.)
     GUIL:  Good.  Year of your birth. Double it. Even  numbers  I  win, odd
numbers I lose.
     (Silence.  An awful  sigh  as the  TRAGEDIANS  realise  that any number
doubled is  even.  Then  a  terrible row as  they  object. Then  a  terrible
silence.)
     PLAYER: We have no money.
     (GUIL turns to him.)
     GUIL: Ah. Then what have you got?
     (The PLAYER silently brings ALFRED forward. GUIL regards ALFRED sadly.)
     Was it for this?
     PLAYER: It's the best we've got.
     GUIL (looking up and around): Then the times are bad indeed.
     (The  PLAYER  starts  to  speak, protestation, but  GUIL turns  on  him
viciously.)
     The very air stinks.
     (The PLAYER moves back. GUIL moves down to the footlight and turns.)
     Come here, Alfred.
     (ALFRED moves down and stands, frightened and small.)
     (Gently): Do you lose often?
     Alfred: Yes, sir.
     GUIL: Then what could you have to lose?
     Alfred: Nothing, sir.
     (Pause. GUIL regards him.)
     GUIL: Do you like being... an actor?
     Alfred: No, sir.
     (GUIL looks around him, at the audience.)
     GUIL: You and I, Alfred - we could create a dramatic precedent here.
     (And ALFRED, who has been near tears, starts to sniffle.)
     Come, come, Alfred, this is no way to fill the theatres of Europe.
     (The PLAYER has moved down, to remonstrate with ALFRED.  GUIL  cuts him
off again.)
     (Viciously) Do you know any good plays?
     PLAYER: Plays?
     ROS (coming forward, flattering shyly): Exhibitions...
     GUIL: I thought you were actors.
     PLAYER (dawning):  Oh.  Oh,  well, we are. We are. But  there been much
call -
     GUIL:  You  lost. Well,  then  -  one  of the Greeks,  perhaps?  You're
familiar with the  tragedies of  antiquity,  are you?  The  great  homicidal
classics? Matri, patri, fratri, sorrori, uxori and it goes without saying -
     ROS: Saucy -
     GUIL: - Suicidal - hm? Maidens aspiring to godheads -
     ROS: And vice versa -
     GUIL: Your kind of thing, is it?
     PLAYER:  Well, no, I can't say it is, really. We're more of  the blood,
love and rhetoric school.
     GUIL: Well,  I'll leave  the choice  to  you,  if there  is anything to
choose between them.
     PLAYER:  They're hardly divisible, sir - well, I can  do  you blood and
love without rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without love, and
I  can do you all three concurrent or  consecutive, but I can't do you  love
and  rhetoric without blood.  Blood  is compulsory -  they're all blood, you
see.
     GUIL: Is this what people want?
     PLAYER: It's what we do. (Small pause. He turns away.)
     (GUIL touches Alfred on the shoulder.)
     GUIL (wry, gentle): Thank you, we'll let you know.
     (The PLAYER has moved upstage. Alfred follows.)
     PLAYER (to TRAGEDIANS): Thirty-eight!
     ROS (moving across, fascinated and hopeful): Position?
     PLAYER: Sir?
     ROS: One of your - tableaux?
     PLAYER: No, sir.
     ROS: Oh.
     PLAYER (to TRAGEDIANS, now  departing with their cart,  already  taking
various props off it.) Entrances there and there (indicating upstage).
     (The PLAYER has not moved his position for his last four lines. He does
not move now. GUIL waits.)
     GUIL: Well... aren't you going to change into costume?
     PLAYER: I never change out, sir.
     GUIL: Always in character.
     PLAYER: That's it.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: Aren't you going to - come on?
     PLAYER: I am on.
     GUIL: But if you are on, you can't come on. Can you?
     PLAYER: I start on.
     GUIL: But it hasn't started. Go on. We'll look out for you.
     PLAYER: I'll give you a wave.
     (He doesn't move.  His  immobility is now pointed  and getting awkward.
Pause. ROS walks up to him till they are face to face.)
     ROS: Excuse me.
     (Pause. The  PLAYER lifts his downstage  foot. It was  covering  GUIL's
coin. ROS puts his foot on the coin. Smiles.)
     Thank you.
     (The PLAYER turns and goes. ROS has bent for the coin.)
     GUIL (moving out): Come on.
     ROS: I say - that was lucky.
     GUIL (turning): What?
     ROS: It was tails.
     (He tosses the coin to GUIL who catches it. Simultaneously - a lighting
change  sufficient to  alter the exterior mood into  interior,  but  nothing
violent.)
     And OPELIA runs on in some alarm, holding up her skirts  -  followed by
HAMLET.
     Note: The resemblance between HAMLET and  The PLAYER is superficial but
noticeable.
     (OPHELIA has been sewing and she holds the garment. They are both mute.
HAMLET, with  his  doublet all unbraced, no hat upon his head, his stockings
fouled,  ungartered and double-gyved  to  his ankle, pale  as his shirt, his
knees knocking each other... and with a look so piteous, he takes her by the
wrist and holds her hard, then he goes to the length of his arm and with his
other hand over his brow, falls to such perusal of her face as he would draw
it... At last, with a little shaking  of his arm, and thrice his head waving
up and down, he raises a  sigh so piteous and profound that it does  seem to
shatter  all his bulk and end his being. That done he lets her go,  and with
his head over his shoulder turned, he goes backwards without taking his eyes
off her... she runs off in the opposite direction.)
     (ROS and GUIL have frozen. GUIL unfreezes first. He jumps at ROS.)
     GUIL: Come on!
     (But a flourish - enter CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE, attended.)
     CLAUDIUS: Welcome, dear Rosencrantz... (he raises  a hand at GUIL while
ROS bows - GUIL bows late and hurriedly.)... and Guildenstern.
     (He  raises  a hand  at  ROS  while GUIL  bows  to him  -  ROS is still
straightening  up from his previous bow and half way  up he bows down again.
With his head down, he twists to look at GUIL, who is on the way up.)
     Moreover that we did much long to see you,
     The need we have to use you did provoke
     Our hasty sanding.
     (ROS and GUIL still adjusting their clothing for CLAUDIUS's presence.)
     Something have you heard
     Of Hamlet's transformation, so call it,
     Sith nor th'exterior nor inward man
     Resembles that it was. What it should be,
     More than his father's death, that thus hath put him,
     So much from th'understanding of himself,
     I cannot dream of. I entreat you both
     That, being of so young days brought up with him
     And sith so neighbored to his youth and haviour
     That you ... safe your rest here on our court
     Some little time, so by your companies
     To draw him on to pleasures and to gather
     So much as from occasion you may glean,
     Whether ought to us unknown afflicts him thus,
     That opened lies within our remedy.
     GERTRUDE: Good (fractional suspense) gentlemen...
     (They both bow.)
     He hath much talked of you,
     And sure I am, two men there is not living
     To whom he more adheres. If it will please you
     To show us so much gentry and good will
     As to expand your time with us awhile
     For the supply and profit of our hope,
     Your visitation shall receive such thanks
     As fits the king's remembrance.
     ROS: Both your majesties
     Might, by the sovereign power you have on us,
     Put your dread pleasure more into command
     Than to entreaty.
     GUIL: But we both obey,
     And here give up ourselves in the full bent
     To lay our service freely at your feet,
     To be commanded.
     CLAUDIUS: Thanks, Rosencrantz (turning to ROS who is caught unprepared,
while GUIL bows)  and  gentle  Guildenstern  (turning  to  GUIL who is  bent
double).
     GERTRUDE  (correcting): Thanks, Guildenstern (turning to ROS, who  bows
as GUIL checks upward movement  to bow too - both  bent double, squinting at
each other)... and gentle Rosencrantz. (Turning to GUIL,  both straightening
up - GUIL checks again and bows again.)
     And I beseech you instantly to visit
     My too much changed son. Go, some of you,
     And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.
     (To ATTENDANTS  exit backwards,  indicating  that  ROS  and GUIL should
follow.)
     GUIL: Heaven make our presence and our practices
     Pleasant and helpful to him.
     GERTRUDE: Ay, amen!
     (ROS and GUIL move  towards and downstage wing.  Before they get there,
POLONIUS enters. They stop and bow to  him. He nods and  hurries  upstage to
CLAUDIUS. They  turn  to  look  at  him but lose  interest  and come down to
footlights. POLINIUS meanwhile calling to CLAUDIUS.)
     POLONIUS:  The  ambassadors from  Norway,  my good lord,  are  joyfully
returned.
     CLAUDIUS: Thou still hast been the father of good news.
     POLONIUS: Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege,
     I hold my duty as I hold my soul,
     Both to my God and to my gracious King;
     And I do think or else this brain of mine
     Hunts not the trail of policy for sure
     As it hath used to do, that I have found
     The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy...
     (Exeunt - leaving ROS and GUIL)
     ROS: I want to go home.
     GUIL: Don't let them confuse you.
     ROS: I'm out of my step here -
     GUIL: We'll soon be home and high - dry and home - I'll -
     ROS: It's all over my depth -
     GUIL: I'll hie you home and -
     ROS: - out of my head -
     GUIL: - dry you high and -
     ROS  (cracking, high): - over  my  step over my head body! - I tell you
it's all stopping to a death, it's  boding to a depth,  stepping to  a head,
it's all heading to a dead stop -
     GUIL (the nursemaid): There!... and we'll soon be home  and  dry... and
high and dry... (Rapidly.) Has it ever happened to you  that all of a sudden
and for no reason at all you haven't the faintest idea how to spell the word
-  "wife"  -  or "house" -  because when you write  it down  you just  can't
remember ever having seen those letters in that order before...?
     ROS: I remember...
     GUIL: Yes?
     ROS: I remember there were no questions.
     GUIL: There  were  always questions. To exchange one set for another is
no great matter.
     ROS: Answers, yes. There were answers to everything.
     GUIL: You've forgotten.
     ROS (flaring): I haven't forgotten - how I used to remember my own name
- and yours, oh ): I haven't forgotten - how I used to remember my own  name
- and yours, oh yes! There were  answers everywhere you looked. There was no
question about it - people knew who I  was and if they didn't they asked and
I told them.
     GUIL: You did, the  trouble  is each  of them is...  plausible, without
being instinctive. All  your life you live so  close to truth,  it becomes a
permanent blur in the  corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into
outline  it is  like being ambushed  by a  grotesque. A man  standing in his
saddle in the half-lit half-alive dawn banged on the shutters and called two
names. He was just a hat and  the cloak levitating in  the grey plume of his
own breath, but when he called we came. That much is certain - we came.
     ROS: Well I can tell you  I'm sick to death of it. I don't care one way
or another, so why don't you make up your mind.
     GUIL: We can't afford  anything quite so arbitrary. Nor did we come all
this way for a christening. All that - preceded us. But we are comparatively
fortunate;  we might have  been  left  to sift  the  whole  field  of  human
nomenclature, like two blind men looting a bazaar for their own portraits...
At least we are presented with alternatives.
     ROS: Well as from now -
     GUIL: - But not choice.
     ROS: You made me look ridiculous in there.
     GUIL: I looked as ridiculous as you did.
     ROS (an anguished cry): Consistency is all I ask!
     GUIL (low, wry rhetoric): Give us this day our daily mask.
     ROS (a dying fall): I want  to go home. (Moves.) Which way did  we come
in? I've lost my sense of direction.
     GUIL: The only beginning is  birth and the only end  is death  - if you
can't count on that, what can you count on?
     (They connect again.)
     ROS: We don't owe anything to anyone.
     GUIL:  We've  been caught up.  Your  smallest  action sets  off another
somewhere else, and is set off by it. Keep an eye open, an ear cocked. Tread
warily, follow instructions. We'll be all right.
     ROS: For how long?
     GUIL: Till events have played themselves out. There's a logic at work -
it's all done for you, don't worry. Enjoy it. Relax. To be taken in hand and
led, like  being a child  again, even without the innocence, a  child - It's
like being given a prize, an extra slice of childhood when you  least expect
it, as a prize for being good, or a compensation for never having had one...
Do I contradict myself?
     ROS: I don't remember. What have we got to go on?
     GUIL:  We  have  been  briefed. Hamlet's  transformation.  What do  you
recollect?
     ROS: Well, he's changed, hasn't he?  The  exterior and inward man fails
to resemble -
     GUIL: Draw him on to pleasures - glean what afflicts him.
     ROS: Something more than his father's death -
     GUIL: He's always  talking about  us -  there aren't  two people living
whom he dotes on more than us.
     ROS: We cheer him up - find out what's the matter -
     GUIL: Exactly, it's the matter of asking the right questions and giving
away as little as we can. It's a game.
     ROS: And then we can go?
     GUIL: And receive such thanks as fits a king's remembrance.
     ROS:  I  like  the  sound  of  that. What  do  you  think  he  means by
remembrance?
     GUIL: He doesn't forget his friends.
     ROS: Wouldn't you care to estimate?
     GUIL: Difficult to say, really - come kings tend to be amnesiac, others
I suppose - the opposite, whatever that is...
     ROS: Yes - but -
     GUIL: Elephantine...?
     ROS: Hot how long - how much?
     GUIL: Retentive - he's a very retentive king, a royal retainer...
     ROS: What are you playing at?
     GUIL: Words, words. They're all we have to go on.
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Shouldn't we be doing something - constructive?
     GUIL: What did you have in mind?... A short, blunt human pyramid...?
     ROS: We could go.
     GUIL: Where?
     ROS: After him.
     GUIL: Why? They've got us placed now - if we start moving around, we'll
all be chasing each other all night.
     (Hiatus.)
     ROS (at footlights): How  very  intriguing!  (Turns.)  I  feel  like  a
spectator - an appalling  business. The only thing that makes it bearable is
the irrational belief that somebody interesting will come on in a minute...
     GUIL: See anyone?
     ROS: No. You?
     GUIL:  No.  (At footlights.)  What  a  fine  persecution -  to be  kept
intrigued without  ever  quite being enlightened...  (Pause.) We've  had  no
practice.
     ROS: We could play at questions.
     GUIL: What good would that do?
     ROS: Practice!
     GUIL: Statement! One-love.
     ROS: Cheating!
     GUIL: How?
     ROS: I hadn't started yet.
     GUIL: Statement. Two-love.
     ROS: Are you counting that?
     GUIL: What?
     ROS: Are you counting that?
     GUIL: Foul! No repetitions. Three-love. First game to...
     ROS: I'm not going to play if you're going to be like that.
     GUIL: Whose serve?
     ROS: Hah?
     GUIL: Foul! No grunts. Love-one.
     ROS: Whose go?
     GUIL: Why?
     ROS: Why not?
     GUIL: What for?
     ROS: Foul! No synonyms! One-all.
     GUIL: What in God's name is going all?
     ROS: Foul! No rhetoric. Two-one.
     GUIL: What does it all add up to?
     ROS: Can't you guess?
     GUIL: Were you addressing me?
     ROS: Is there anyone else?
     GUIL: Who?
     ROS: How would I know?
     GUIL: Why do you ask?
     ROS: Are you serious?
     GUIL: Was that rhetoric?
     ROS: No.
     GUIL: Statement! Two-all. Game point.
     ROS: What's the matter with you today?
     GUIL: When?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: Are you deaf?
     ROS: Am I dead?
     GUIL: Yes or no?
     ROS: Is there a choice?
     GUIL: Is there a God?
     ROS: Foul! No non sequiturs, three-two, one game all.
     GUIL (seriously): What's your name?
     ROS: What's yours?
     GUIL: I asked you first.
     ROS: Statement. One-love.
     GUIL: What's your name when you're at home?
     ROS: What's yours?
     GUIL: When I'm at home?
     ROS: Is it different at home?
     GUIL: What home?
     ROS: Haven't you got one?
     GUIL: Why do you ask?
     ROS: What are you driving at?
     GUIL (with emphasis): What's your name?!
     ROS: Repetition. Two-love. Match point to me.
     GUIL (seizing him violently): WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
     ROS: Rhetoric! Game and match! (Pause.) Where's it going to end?
     GUIL: That's the question.
     ROS: It's all questions.
     GUIL: Do you think it matters?
     ROS: Doesn't it matter to you?
     GUIL: Why should it matter?
     ROS: What does it matter why?
     GUIL (teasing gently): Doesn't it matter why it matters?
     ROS (rounding on him): What's the matter with you?
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: It doesn't matter.
     ROS (voice in the wilderness): ... What's the game?
     GUIL: What are the rules?
     (Enter  HAMLET behind, crossing  the  stage, reading a book -  as he is
about to disappear GUIL notices him.)
     GUIL (sharply): Rosencrantz!
     ROS (jumps): What?
     (HAMLET goes. Triumph dawns on them, they smile.)
     GUIL: There! How was that?
     ROS: Clever!
     GUIL: Natural?
     ROS: Instinctive.
     GUIL: Got it in your head?
     ROS: I take my hat off you.
     GUIL: Shake hands.
     (They do.)
     ROS: Now I'll try you - Guil - !
     GUIL: - Not yet - catch me unawares.
     ROS: Right. (They separate. Pause. Aside to GUIL.) Ready?
     GUIL (explodes): Don't be stupid.
     ROS: Sorry.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL (snaps): Guildenstern!
     ROS (jumps): What? (He is immediately crestfallen, GUIL is disgusted.)
     GUIL: Consistency is all I ask!
     ROS (guilty): Give us this day our daily week...
     (Beat.)
     ROS: Who was that?
     GUIL: Didn't you know him?
     ROS: He didn't know me.
     GUIL: He didn't see you.
     ROS: I didn't see him.
     GUIL: We shall see. I hardly knew him, he's changed.
     ROS: You could see that?
     GUIL: Transformed.
     ROS: How do you know?
     GUIL: Inside and out.
     ROS: I see.
     GUIL: He's not himself.
     ROS: He's changed.
     GUIL: I could see that. (Beat.) Glean what afflicts him.
     ROS: Me?
     GUIL: Him.
     ROS: How?
     GUIL: Question and answer. Old ways are the best ways.
     ROS: He's afflicted.
     GUIL: You question, I'll answer.
     ROS: He's not himself, you know.
     GUIL: I'm him, you see.
     (Beat.)
     ROS: Who am I then?
     GUIL: You're yourself.
     ROS: And he's you?
     GUIL: Not a bit of it.
     ROS: Are you afflicted?
     GUIL: That's the idea. Are you ready?
     ROS: Let's go back a bit.
     GUIL: I'm afflicted.
     ROS: I see.
     GUIL: Glean what afflicts me.
     ROS: Right.
     GUIL: Question and answer.
     ROS: How should I begin?
     GUIL: Address me.
     ROS: My dear Guildenstern!
     GUIL (quietly): You've forgotten - haven't you?
     ROS: My dear Rosencrantz!
     GUIL (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?
     GUIL: You know what to do?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: Are you stupid?
     ROS: Pardon?
     GUIL: Are you deaf?
     ROS: Did you speak?
     GUIL (admonishing): Not now -
     ROS: Statement.
     GUIL (shouts): Not now! (Pause.) If  I had my doubts, or rather  hopes,
they  are  dispelled. What  could we  possibly  have in  common  except  our
situation? (They separate and sit.) Perhaps he'll come back this way.
     ROS: Should we go?
     GUIL: Why?
     (Pause.)
     ROS (starts up. Snaps  fingers.): Oh! You mean - you pretend to be him,
and I ask you questions!
     GUIL (dry): Very good.
     ROS: You had me confused.
     GUIL: I could see I had.
     ROS: How should I begin?
     GUIL: Address me.
     (They stand and face each other, posing.)
     ROS: My honoured Lord!
     GUIL: My dear Rosencrantz!
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Am I pretending to be you, then?
     GUIL: Certainly not. If you like. Shall we continue?
     ROS: Question and answer.
     GUIL: Right.
     ROS: Right. My honoured Lord!
     GUIL: My dear fellow!
     ROS: How are you?
     GUIL: Afflicted!
     ROS: Really? In what way?
     GUIL: Transformed.
     ROS: Inside or out?
     GUIL: Both.
     ROS: I see. (Pause.) No much new there.
     GUIL:  Go  into details.  Delve.  Probe the  background,  establish the
situation.
     ROS: So - so your uncle is the king of Denmark?
     GUIL: And my father before him.
     ROS: But surely -
     GUIL: You might well ask.
     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.
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS: Unorthodox.
     GUIL: Undid me.
     ROS: Undeniable. Where were you?
     GUIL: In Germany.
     ROS: Usurpation, then.
     GUIL: He slipped in.
     ROS: Which reminds me.
     GUIL: Well, it would.
     ROS: I don't want to be personal.
     GUIL: It's common knowledge.
     ROS: Your mother's marriage.
     GUIL: He slipped in.
     (Beat.)
     ROS (lugubriously): His body was still warm.
     GUIL: So was hers.
     ROS: Extraordinary.
     GUIL: Indecent.
     ROS: Hasty.
     GUIL: Suspicious.
     ROS: It makes you think.
     GUIL: Don't think I haven't though of it.
     ROS: And with her husband's brother.
     GUIL: They were close.
     ROS: She went to him -
     GUIL: - Too close -
     ROS: - for comfort.
     GUIL: It looks bad.
     ROS: It adds up.
     GUIL: Incest and adultery.
     ROS: Would you go so far?
     GUIL: 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 on to his throne  and  into his  sheets, thereby offending both legal
and natural practice.  Now, why exactly  you behaving  in this extraordinary
manner?
     GUIL: I can't imagine.  (Pause.)  But all  that  is well  known, common
property. Yet he sent for us. And we did come.
     ROS (alert, ear cocked): I say! I heard music -
     GUIL: We're here.
     ROS: - Like a band - I thought I heard a band.
     GUIL: Rosencrantz...
     ROS (absently, still listening): What?
     (Pause, short.)
     GUIL (gently wry): Guildenstern...
     ROS (irritated by the repetition): What?
     GUIL: Don't you discriminate at all?
     ROS (turning dumbly): What?
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: Go and see if he's there.
     ROS: Who?
     GUIL: There.
     (ROS goes  to an upstage  wing,  looks,  returns,  formally  making his
report.)
     ROS: Yes.
     GUIL: What is he doing?
     (ROS repeats movement.)
     ROS: Talking.
     GUIL: To himself?
     (ROS starts to move. GUIL cuts him impatiently.)
     Is he alone?
     ROS: No.
     GUIL: Then he's not talking to himself, is he?
     ROS: Not by himself... Coming this way, I think. (Shiftily.) Should  we
go?
     GUIL: Why? We're marked now.
     (HAMLET enters, backwards, talking, followed by POLONIUS, upstage.  ROS
and GUIL occupy the two downstage corners looking upstage.)
     HAMLET: ...  for you yourself, sir, should be as  old as I am if like a
crab you could go backwards.
     POLONIUS (aside): Though this be madness, yet there  is  method in  it.
Will you walk out of air, my Lord?
     HAMLET: Into my grave.
     POLONIUS: Indeed, that's out of air.
     (HAMLET crosses  to upstage exit, POLONIUS asiding unintelligibly until
-)
     My lord, I will take my leave of you.
     HAMLET: You cannot take  from me  anything that I  will more  willingly
part withal - except my life, except my life, except my life...
     POLONIUS (crossing downstage): Fare you well, my lord. (To ROS.) You go
to seek Lord HAMLET? There he is.
     ROS (to POLONIUS) God save you, sir.
     (POLONIUS goes.)
     GUIL (calls upstage to HAMLET): My honoured Lord!
     ROS: My most dear Lord!
     (HAMLET centred upstage, turns to them.)
     HAMLET: My excellent good friends! How dost thou Guildenstern?  (Coming
downstage with am arm raised  to  ROS, GUIL meanwhile bowing to no greeting.
HAMLET corrects himself. Still to ROS.) Ah Rosencrantz!
     (They laugh good naturedly at the mistake. They all meet midstage, turn
upside to walk, HAMLET in the middle, arm over each shoulder.)
     HAMLET: Good lads, how do you both?

     (A fade  out. That is  to say,  the conversation - see Shakespeare, Act
II, Scene ii - runs down quickly; it is still animated and interspersed with
laughter, but it is overtaken by rising music and fading light.)
     
     Act Two.
     HAMLET, ROS and GUIL talking,  the continuation of  the previous scene.
Their  conversation, on the  move,  is  indecipherable at  first. The  first
illegible line is  HAMLET's,  coming  at the  end  of  a short speech ?  see
Shakespeare Act II, scene ii.

     HAMLET:  S'blood,  there is something  in this  more than  natural,  if
philosophy could take it out.
     (A flourish from the TRAGEDIANS' band.)
     GUIL: There are the players.
     HAMLET: Gentlemen, you are welcome in Elsinore.  Your hands, come then.
(He takes their hands.) The appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony.
Let me comply with you in this garb, lest my extent to the  players (which I
tell you  must  show fairly outwards) should  more appear like entertainment
than  yours.  You  are welcome.  (About  to leave.) But my  uncle-father and
aunt-mother are deceived.
     GUIL: In what, my dear lord?
     HAMLET: I  am but mad  north  north-west; when the wind is southerly  I
know a hawk from a handsaw.
     (POLUNIUS enters, as GUIL turns away.)
     POLONIUS: Well be you gentlemen.
     HAMLET  (to ROS): Mark you,  Guildenstern (uncertainly to GUIL) and you
too; at  each ear  a hearer. That great baby you see there is not yet out of
swaddling clouts... (He takes ROS upstage with him, talking together.)
     POLONIUS: My Lord! I have news to tell you.
     HAMLET  (releasing ROS and mimicking):  My lord, I  have  news  to tell
you... When Rocius was an actor in Rome...
     (ROS comes down to re-join GUIL.)
     POLONIUS (as he  follows  HAMLET out): The  actors  are  come hither my
lord.
     HAMLET: Buzz, buzz.
     (Exeunt HAMLET and POLONIUS.)
     (ROS and GUIL ponder. Each reluctant to speak first.)
     GUIL: Hm?
     ROS: Yes?
     GUIL: What?
     ROS: I thought you...
     GUIL: No.
     ROS: Ah.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: I think we can say we made some headway.
     ROS: You think so?
     GUIL: I think we can say that.
     ROS: I think we can say he made us look ridiculous.
     GUIL: We played it close to the chest of course.
     ROS (derisively): "Question and answer. Old ways are the best ways"! He
was scoring off us all down the line.
     GUIL: He caught us  on  the  wrong foot once or  twice, perhaps, but  I
thought we gained some ground.
     ROS (simply): He murdered us.
     GUIL: He might have had the edge.
     ROS (roused): Twenty-seven - three, and you think he might have had the
edge?! He murdered us.
     GUIL: What about our evasions?
     ROS: Oh, our evasions were lovely.  "Were  you sent for?" he  says. "My
lord, we were sent for..." I didn't where to put myself.
     GUIL: He had six rhetoricals -
     ROS: It was question and  answer, all right. Twenty-seven  questions he
got out in ten minutes, and answered  three. I was waiting for you to delve.
"When is he going to start delving?" I asked myself.
     GUIL: - And two repetitions.
     ROS: Hardly a leading question between us.
     GUIL: We got his symptoms, didn't we?
     ROS: Half of  what he said  meant something  else, and the  other  half
didn't mean anything at all.
     GUIL: Thwarted ambition - a sense of grievance, that's my diagnosis.
     ROS: Six rhetorical and two repetitions, leaving  nineteen  of which we
answered  fifteen.  And  what  did  we  get  in  return?  He's depressed!...
Denmark's a prison and  he'd  rather  live  in a nutshell; some  shadow-play
about the nature of ambition, which never got down to cases, and finally one
direct question which might  have led  somewhere, and  led  in  fact  to his
illuminating claim to tell a hawk from a handsaw.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: When the wind is southerly.
     ROS: And when the weather is clear.
     GUIL: And when it isn't he can't.
     ROS: He's at  the mercy of the elements. (Licks his finger and holds it
up - facing audience.) Is that southerly?
     (They stare at the audience.)
     GUIL: It doesn't look southerly. What made you think so?
     ROS: I didn't say I think so. It could be northerly for all I know.
     GUIL: I wouldn't have thought so.
     ROS: Well, if you're going to be dogmatic.
     GUIL:  Wait a minute - we came from roughly south according to a  rough
map.
     ROS:  I  see.  Well,  which  way  did  we  come in?  (GUIL looks around
vaguely.) Roughly.
     GUIL  (clears his throat): In the morning the sun  would be easterly. I
think we can assume that.
     ROS: That it's morning?
     GUIL: If it is, and  the sun is over there (his  right as he  faces the
audience) for instance, that  (front) would be northerly. On the other hand,
if it's not morning and the sun is over there (his left)... that... (lamely)
would  still  be northerly.  (Picking up.) To put it another way, if we came
from down there (front)  and  it is morning, the  sun would be up there (his
left), and if it is actually  over there (his right) and it's still morning,
we must have come from up there (behind him),  and if that is southerly (his
left)  and  the  sun is really  over  there  (front),  then it's  afternoon.
However, if none of these is the case -
     ROS: Why don't you go and have a look?
     GUIL: Pragmatism?! - is that all you have to offer? You seem to have no
conception of where we stand! You won't find the answer written down for you
in the bowl of  a compass  - I can tell  you that. (Pause.) Besides, you can
never tell this far north - it's probably dark out there.
     ROS: I merely suggest that the position of the sun, if it is out, would
give you a rough idea of the time; alternatively, the clock, if it is going,
would give you  a rough  idea of the position of  the  sun.  I  forget which
you're trying to establish.
     GUIL: I'm trying to establish the direction of the wind.
     ROS: There isn't any wind. Draught, yes.
     GUIL: In  that case, the  origin. Trace it to the  source and  it might
give  us a  rough  idea of the way we came in - which might  give us a rough
idea of south, for further reference.
     ROS:  It's coming up through  the floor. (He studies  the floor.)  That
can't be south, can it?
     GUIL: That's not direction. Lick your toe and wave it around a bit.
     (ROS considers the distance to his foot.)
     ROS: No, I think you'd have to lick it for me.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: I'm prepared to let the whole matter drop.
     ROS: Or I could lick yours, of course.
     GUIL: No thank you.
     ROS: I'll even wave it around for you.
     GUIL (down ROS's throat): What in God's name is the matter with you?
     ROS: Just being friendly.
     GUIL  (retiring): Somebody might  come in. It's what we're counting on,
after all. Ultimately.
     (Good pause.)
     ROS: Perhaps they've all trampled each other to death in the rush. Give
them a shout. Something provocative. Intrigue them.
     GUIL: Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace,  to
which we are... condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one  - that
is the  meaning  of  order.  If  we start  being  arbitrary  it'll just be a
shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to
discover, or  even  suspect, that our spontaneity was  part  of their order,
we'd know that  we  were lost. (He sits.) A Chinaman of the T'ang  Dynasty -
and, by  which  definition, a philosopher  - dreamed he was a butterfly, and
from that  moment  he was never  quite  sure that  he  was  not a  butterfly
dreaming it was a Chinese philosopher. Envy him, in his two-fold security.
     (A good pause. ROS leaps up and bellows at the audience.)
     ROS: Fire!
     (GUIL jumps up.)
     GUIL: Where?
     ROS: It's  all right - I'm demonstrating the  misuse of free speech. To
prove  that it exists. (He regards the audience, that is the direction, with
contempt - and other directions, then front again.) Not  a move. They should
burn to death in their shoes.
     (ROS  takes  out one  of his  coins. Spins it. Catches it. Looks at it.
Replaces it.)
     GUIL: What was it?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: Heads or tails?
     ROS: Oh. I didn't look.
     GUIL: Yes you did.
     ROS: Oh, did I? (He takes a coin, studies it.) Quite right - it rings a
bell.
     GUIL: What's the last thing you remember?
     ROS: I don't wish to be reminded of it.
     GUIL:  We cross our bridges  when we come to them and burn them  behind
us, with nothing to show our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke,
and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
     (ROS approaches him brightly, holding a coin between finger  and thumb.
He covers it with the other hand, draws his fist  apart and holds  them  for
GUIL. GUIL considers  them. Indicates the left hand, ROS opens it to show it
empty.)
     ROS: No.
     (Repeat process. GUIL indicates left hand again. ROS shows it empty.)
     Double bluff!
     (Repeat process - GUIL taps one hand, then the other hand, quickly. ROS
inadvertently  shows that both are empty. ROS laughs  as GUIL turns upstage.
ROS stops laughing, looks around his left, pats his clothes, puzzled.)
     (POLONIUS breaks that up by entering upstage followed by the TRAGEDIANS
and HAMLET.)
     POLONIUS (entering): Come, sirs.
     HAMLET: Follow him, friends. We'll hear a play tomorrow.
     (Aside to the PLAYER, who is the last of the TRAGEDIANS.)
     Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play "The Murder of Gonzago"?
     PLAYER: Ay, my lord.
     HAMLET: We'll ha't tomorrow night. You could for a  need study a speech
of some dozen or sixteen lines which I would set down and insert in't, could
you not?
     PLAYER: Ay, my lord.
     HAMLET: Very well. Follow that lord, and look you mock him not.
     (The  PLAYER crossing  downstage,  notes ROS  and  GUIL.  Stops. HAMLET
crossing downstage addresses them without a pause.)
     HAMLET: My good friends, I'll leave you  till  tonight. You are welcome
to Elsinore.
     ROS: Good, my lord.
     (HAMLET goes.)
     GUIL: So you've caught up.
     PLAYER (coldly): Not yet, sir.
     GUIL: Now mind your tongue, or we'll have it out and throw  the rest of
you away, like a nightingale at a Roman feast.
     PLAYER: Took the very words out of my mouth.
     GUIL: You'd be lost for words.
     ROS: You'd be tongue-tied.
     GUIL: Like a mute in a monologue.
     ROS: Like a nightingale at a Roman feast.
     GUIL: Your diction will go to pieces.
     ROS: Your lines will be cut.
     GUIL: To dumbshows.
     ROS: And dramatic pauses.
     GUIL: You'll never find your tongue.
     ROS: Lick your lips.
     GUIL: Taste your tears.
     ROS: Your breakfast.
     GUIL: You won't know the difference.
     ROS: There won't be any.
     GUIL: We'll take the very words out of your mouth.
     ROS: So you've caught up.
     GUIL: So you've caught up.
     PLAYER (tops): Not yet! (Bitterly.) You left us.
     GUIL: Ah! I'd forgotten - you  performed  a dramatic  spectacle by  the
wayside -  a thing  much  thought  of  in the New  Testament.  How did yours
compare as an impromptu?
     PLAYER: Badly - neither witnessed nor reported.
     GUIL:  Yes,  I'm  sorry  we had  to miss  it. I  hope you didn't  leave
anything out - I'd be furious to think I didn't miss all of it.
     (The PLAYER, progressively aggrieved, now burst out.)
     PLAYER: We can't look each other in the face! (Pause, more in control.)
You  don't understand the humiliation  of it - to be tricked out of a single
assumption,  which makes our existence viable - that somebody is watching...
The plot was two corpses gone before we caught sight of ourselves,  stripped
naked in the middle of nowhere and pouring ourselves down a bottomless well.
     ROS: Is that thirty eight?
     PLAYER  (lost):  There  we  are - demented  children  mincing about  in
clothes  that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love
in wigs  and rhymed couplets, killing  each other with wooden swords, hollow
protestations of faith hurled  after empty promises of vengeance - and every
gesture, every pose,  vanishing into the thin  unpopulated air. We  ransomed
our  dignity  to  the  clouds,  and the uncomprehending  birds listened. (He
rounds  on  them.)  Don't you  see?!  We're actors -  we're the  opposite of
people! (They recoil nonplussed, his voice calms.) Think, in your head, now,
think of  the  most...  private... secret... intimate... thing you have ever
done secure  in  the knowledge of  its privacy... (He gives them -  and  the
audience - a good pause. ROS takes a shifty look.)  Are you thinking  of it?
(He strikes with his voice and his head.) Well, I saw you do it!
     (ROS leaps up, dissembling madly.)
     ROS: You never!  It's a lie!  (He catches  himself  with a  giggle in a
vacuum and sits down again.)
     PLAYER:  We're  actors...  We  pledged  our identities, secure  in  the
conventions  of  our  trade;  that  someone  would be  watching.  And  than,
gradually, no one was. We were  caught, high  and dry. It was not  until the
murder's  long soliloquy that we were able to look around; frozen we were in
the  profil, our eyes searched you out, first confidently, then  hesitantly,
then  desperately  as  each patch of turf, each log, each  exposed corned in
every direction  proved  uninhabited,  and  all the while the murderous King
addressed the horizon with his dreary interminable guilt... Our  heads began
to move, wary as lizards,  the corpse of unsullied Rosalinda  peeped through
his fingers, and the King  faltered.  Even then, habit and a  stubborn trust
that our audience spied upon us from  behind  the nearest  bush, forced  our
bodies  to  blunder  on long after they had emptied of  meaning, until  like
runaway carts they dragged to a halt. No one came forward. No one shouted at
us. The silence was unbreakable, it imposed itself  upon us; it was obscene.
We took off our crowns and swords and cloth of gold and  moved silent on the
road to Elsinore.
     (Silence. Then GUIL claps solo with slow measured irony.)
     GUIL: Brilliantly re-created  - if  these eyes  could  weep!...  Rather
strong on metaphor, mind you. No  criticism - only a matter of taste. And so
here you are - with a vengeance. That's a figure of speech... isn't it? Well
let's say we've made up for it, for you may have no doubt whom to thank  for
your performance at the court.
     ROS: We are counting  on  you to take him out  of himself.  You are the
pleasures which  we  draw him  on  to -  (he escapes a fractional giggle but
recovers immediately) and by that I don't mean your usual filth; you can't .
treat royalty like people  with normal perverted  desires. They know nothing
of that and you know nothing of them, to your mutual survival. So give him a
good clean show suitable for all the family, or you  can rest assured you'll
be playing the tavern tonight.
     GUIL: Or the night, after.
     ROS: Or not.
     PLAYER: We already have an entry here. And always have had.
     GUIL: You've played for him before?
     PLAYER: Yes, sir.
     ROS: And what's his bent?
     PLAYER: Classical.
     ROS: Saucy!
     GUIL: What will you play?
     PLAYER: "The Murder of Gonzago".
     GUIL: Full of fine cadence and corpses.
     PLAYER: Pirated from the Italian....
     ROS: What is it about?
     PLAYER: It's about a King and Queen....
     GUIL: Escapism! What else?
     PLAYER: Blood - -
     GUIL: - Love and rhetoric.
     PLAYER: Yes. (Going.)
     GUIL: Where are you going?
     PLAYER: I can come and go as I please.
     GUIL: You're evidently a man who knows his way around.
     PLAYER: I've been here before.
     GUIL: We're still finding our feet.
     PLAYER: I should concentrate on not losing your heads.
     GUIL: Do you speak from knowledge?
     PLAYER: Precedent.
     GUIL: You've been here before.
     PLAYER: And I know which way the wind is blowing.
     GUIL: Operating on two levels, are we?!  How clever! I expect  it comes
naturally to you, being in the business so to speak.
     (The PLAYER's grave  face does not  change. He makes to move off again.
GUIL for the second time cuts him off.)
     The truth is,  we value  your company, for  want of any  other. We have
been  left  so  much  to our  own devices - after a while  one  welcomes the
uncertainty of being left to other people's.
     PLAYER: Uncertainty is the normal state. You're nobody special.
     (He makes to leave again. GUIL loses his cool.)
     GUIL: But for God's sake what are we supposed to do?
     PLAYER:  Relax.  Respond. That's what people do.  You  can't go through
life questioning your situation at every turn.
     GUIL: But we don't  know what's going on, or what to do with ourselves.
We don't know how to act.
     PLAYER: Act natural. You know why you're here at least.
     GUIL: We only know what we're told, and that's  little enough. And  for
all we know it isn't even true.
     PLAYER: For all anyone knows, nothing is. Everything has to be taken on
trust;  truth is only that  which is taken to be true. It's the currency  of
living.  There may be nothing  behind it, but it doesn't make any difference
so long as it is honoured. One acts on assumptions. What do you assume?
     ROS: Hamlet is  not  himself,  outside  or in.  We  have to glean  what
afflicts him.
     GUIL: He doesn't give much away.
     PLAYER: Who does, nowadays?
     GUIL: He's - melancholy.
     PLAYER: Melancholy?
     ROS: Mad.
     PLAYER: How is he mad?
     ROS: Ah. (To GUIL.) How is he mad?
     GUIL: More morose than mad, perhaps.
     PLAYER: Melancholy.
     GUIL: Moody.
     ROS: He has moods.
     PLAYER: Of moroseness?
     GUIL: Madness. And yet.
     ROS: Quite.
     GUIL: For instance.
     ROS: He talks to himself, which might be madness.
     GUIL: If he didn't talk sense, which he does.
     ROS: Which suggests the opposite.
     PLAYER: Of what?
     (Small pause.)
     GUIL:  I think I have it.  A man talking sense  to himself is no madder
than a man talking nonsense not to himself.
     ROS: Or just as mad.
     GUIL: Or just as mad.
     ROS: And he does both.
     GUIL: So there you are.
     ROS: Stark raving sane.
     (Pause.)
     PLAYER: Why?
     GUIL: Ah. (To ROS.) Why?
     ROS: Exactly.
     GUIL: Exactly what? .
     ROS: Exactly why.
     GUIL: Exactly why what?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: Why?
     ROS: Why what, exactly?
     GUIL: Why is he mad?!
     ROS: I don't know!
     (Beat.)
     PLAYER: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
     ROS (appalled): Good God! We're out of our depth here.
     PLAYER: No, no, no - he hasn't got a daughter - the old man thinks he's
in love with his daughter.
     ROS: The old man is?
     PLAYER:  Hamlet, in  love  with the  old  man's daughter,  the  old man
thinks.
     ROS: Ha! It's beginning to make sense! Unrequited passion!
     (The PLAYER moves.)
     GUIL (Fascist):  Nobody leaves this room!  (Pause, lamely.)  Without  a
very good reason.
     PLAYER: Why not?
     GUIL: All  this strolling about is getting too  arbitrary by half - I'm
rapidly losing my grip. From now on reason will prevail.
     PLAYER: I have lines to learn.
     GUIL: Pass!
     (The PLAYER passes into one of the wings. ROS cups his hands and shouts
into the opposite one.)
     ROS: Next!
     (But no one comes.)
     GUIL: What did you expect?
     ROS: Something ... someone ... nothing. (They sit facing front.)
     Are you hungry?
     GUIL: No, are you?
     ROS (thinks): No. You remember that coin?
     GUIL: No.
     ROS: I think I lost it.
     GUIL: What coin?
     ROS: I don't remember exactly.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: Oh, that coin ... clever.
     ROS: I can't remember how I did it.
     GUIL: It probably comes natural to you.
     ROS: Yes, I've got a show-stopper there.
     GUIL: Do it again.
     (Slight pause.)
     ROS: We can't afford it.
     GUIL: Yes, one must think of the future.
     ROS: It's the normal thing.
     GUIL: To have one. One is, after all, having it all  the time... now...
and now... and now....
     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?
     GUIL: 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....
     (GUIL 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  I 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 lie 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,
whatsyername! Come out of there!"
     GUIL (jumps up savagely): You don't have to flog it to death!
     (Pause.)
     ROS:  I  wouldn't  think  about  it, if  I were  you.  You'd  only  get
depressed. (Pause.) Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where's it going
to  end?  (Pause, then brightly.)  Two early  Christians chanced to  meet in
Heaven. "Saul of  Tarsus yet!" cried  one. "What are you doing  here?!"  ...
"Tarsus-Schmarsus", replied the other, "I'm Paul already."
     (ROS stands up restlessly and flaps his arms.)
     They  don't care.  We count for nothing.  We could  remain  silent till
we're green in the face, they wouldn't come.
     GUIL: Blue, red.
     ROS: A  Christian,  a  Moslem and a Jew  chanced to meet  in  a  closed
carriage....  "Silverstein!"  cried the Jew, "Who's  your  friend?" ... "His
name's Abdullah", replied  the Moslem, "but he's no friend of  mine since he
became a convert." (He leaps up again, stamps his  foot and shouts  into the
wings.) 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 for  ever. 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 intuition 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's only one
direction, and  time  is  its  only  measure.  (He  reflects,  getting  more
desperate and rapid.) A Hindu, a Buddhist  and a lion-tamer chanced to meet,
in a circus on  the Indo-Chinese border. (He  breaks out.) They're taking us
for granted! Well,  I won't stand for it!  In future, notice will be  taken.
(He wheels again to face into the wings.) Keep out, then! I forbid anyone to
enter! (No one comes - Breathing heavily.) That's better....
     (Immediately,  behind  him   a  grand  procession  enters,  principally
CLAUDIUS, GERTRUDE,  POLONIUS and OPHELIA. CLAUDIUS takes  ROS's elbow as he
passes and is immediately deep in  conversation: the  context is Shakespeare
Act  III,  Scene  i. GUIL  still  faces front as  CLAUDIUS,  ROS, etc., pass
upstage and turn.)
     GUIL: Death followed by eternity ... the worst of both worlds. It is  a
terrible thought.
     (He turns upstage in time  to take over the conversation with CLAUDIUS.
GERTRUDE and ROS head downstage.)
     GERTRUDE: Did he receive you well?
     ROS: Most like a gentleman.
     GUIL (returning  in time  to  take it up): But with much forcing of his
disposition.
     ROS (a flat lie and  he  knows it and shows it, perhaps catching GUIL's
eye): Niggard of question, but of our demands most free in his reply.
     GERTRUDE: Did you assay him to any pastime?
     ROS: Madam, it so fell out that certain players
     We o'erraught on the way: of these we told him
     And there did seem in him a kind of joy
     To hear of it. They are here about the court,
     And, as I think, they have already order
     This night to play before him.
     POLONIUS: 'Tis most true
     And he beseeched me to entreat your Majesties
     To hear and see the matter.
     CLAUDIUS: With all my heart, and it doth content me
     To hear him so inclined.
     Good gentlemen, give him a further edge
     And drive his purpose into these delights.
     ROS: We shall, my lord.
     CLAUDIUS (leading out procession):
     Sweet Gertrude, leave us, too,
     For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,
     That he, as t'were by accident, may here
     Affront Ophelia....
     (Exeunt CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE.)
     ROS  (peevish): Never a moment's peace! In and out, on and off, they're
coming at us from all sides.
     GUIL: You're never satisfied.
     ROS: Catching us on the trot.... Why can't we go by them!
     GUIL: What's the difference?
     ROS: I'm going.
     (ROS  pulls his cloak round him. GUIL ignores  him.  Without confidence
ROS heads upstage. He looks out and comes back quickly.)
     He's coming.
     GUIL: What's he doing?
     ROS: Nothing.
     GUIL: He must be doing something.
     ROS: Walking.
     GUIL: On his hands?
     ROS: No, on his feet.
     GUIL: Stark naked?
     ROS: Fully dressed.
     GUIL: Selling toffee apples?
     ROS: Not that I noticed.
     GUIL: You could be wrong?
     ROS: I don't think so.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL:  I  can't for the life  of me  see how  we're  going to  get into
conversation.
     (HAMLET enters  upstage, and pauses, weighing  up the pros  and cons of
making his quietus.)
     (ROS and GUIL watch him.)
     ROS:  Nevertheless,  I suppose one might say that this was a chance....
One might well ... accost him.... Yes, it definitely looks like a chance  to
me.... Something on  the  lines of a direct informal approach ... man to man
... straight from the shoulder.... Now look here,  what's it  all  about ...
sort of thing. Yes. Yes, this looks like one to be  grabbed with both hands,
I  should  say ... if I were asked.... No  point in looking at a gift  horse
till you see the whites of its eyes, etcetera. (He has moved towards  HAMLET
but his nerve fails. He returns.) We're overawed, that's  our  trouble. When
it comes to the point we succumb to their personality....
     (OPHELIA enters, with prayerbook, a religious procession of one.)
     HAMLET: Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.
     (At his voice she has stopped for him, he catches her up.)
     OPHELIA: Good my lord, how does your honour for this many a day?
     HAMLET: I humbly thank you - well, well, well.
     (They disappear talking into the wing.)
     ROS: It's like living in a public park!
     GUIL: Very impressive. Yes, I thought your direct informal approach was
going  to  stop this thing  dead  in  its tracks there.  If I  might make  a
suggestion - shut up and sit down. Stop being perverse.
     ROS (near tears): I'm not going to stand for it!
     (A FEMALE FIGURE, ostensibly  the QUEEN, enters. ROS marches  up behind
her, puts his hands over her eyes and says with a desperate frivolity.)
     ROS: Guess who?!
     PLAYER (having appeared in a downstage corner): Alfred!
     (ROS lets go, spins around. He had been holding ALFRED, in his robe and
blonde wig. PLAYER is in the downstage  corner still. ROS comes down to that
exit. The PLAYER does not budge. He and ROS stand toe to toe.)
     ROS: Excuse me.
     (The  PLAYER lifts his downstage foot. ROS bends to put his hand on the
floor. The PLAYER lowers his foot. ROS screams and leaps away.)
     PLAYER (gravely): I beg your pardon.
     GUIL (to ROS): What did he do?
     PLAYER: I put my foot down.
     ROS: My hand was on the floor!
     GUIL: You put your hand under his foot?
     ROS: I - -
     GUIL: What for?
     ROS: I thought - - (Grabs GUIL.)
     Don't leave me!
     (He makes a break for  an exit. A TRAGEDIAN dressed  as a king  enters,
ROS recoils, breaks for the opposite wing. Two cloaked tragedians enter. ROS
tries again  but another  tragedian enters, and ROS retires to midstage. The
PLAYER claps his hands matter-of-factly.)
     PLAYER: Right! We haven't got much time.
     GUIL: What are you doing?
     PLAYER: Dress  rehearsal. Now  if you  two  wouldn't  mind just  moving
back... there ... good.... (To TRAGEDIANS.) Everyone ready? And for goodness
sake,  remember what we're doing.  (To ROS and GUIL.) We always use the same
costumes more or less, and they forget what they are supposed  to  be in you
see.... Stop picking your nose,  Alfred. When Queens have to they do it by a
cerebral process passed down in the blood.... Good. Silence! Off we go!
     PLAYER-KING: Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart - -
     (PLAYER jumps up angrily.)
     PLAYER:  No,  no, no! Dumbshow first, your confounded  majesty! (To ROS
and  GUIL.)  They're  a  bit  out  of  practice,  but  they  always  pick up
wonderfully for the deaths - it brings out the poetry in them.
     GUIL: How nice.
     PLAYER: There's nothing more unconvincing than an, unconvincing death.
     GUIL: I'm sure.
     (PLAYER claps his hands.)
     PLAYER: Act One - moves now.
     (The  mime. Soft  music from a recorder. PLAYER-KING  and  PLAYER-QUEEN
embrace. She kneels and makes  a  show of protestation to him. He  takes her
up, declining his head upon her neck. He lies down. She, seeing  him asleep,
leaves him.)
     GUIL: What is the dumbshow for?
     PLAYER: Well, it's a device, really - it makes the action  that follows
more or less comprehensible; you understand, we  are tied down to a language
which makes up in obscurity what it lacks in style.
     (The  mime  (continued) -  enter another. He takes  off  the  SLEEPER's
crown, kisses it. He had brought in a small bottle  of liquid.  He pours the
poison  in  the  SLEEPER's  ear,  and  leaves  him.  The  sleeper  convulses
heroically, dying.)
     ROS: Who was that?
     PLAYER: The King's brother and uncle to the Prince.
     GUIL: Not exactly fraternal.
     PLAYER: Not exactly avuncular, as time goes on.
     (The QUEEN returns, makes passionate action, finding the KING dead. The
POISONER comes in  again, attended  by two  others (the two in cloaks).  The
POISONER  seems  to  console  with  her. The dead body  is carried away. The
POISONER  woos the  QUEEN with  gifts. She seems harsh awhile but in the end
accepts  his love.  End of  mime,  at which  point,  the  wail of a woman in
torment  and  OPHELIA  appears,  wailing,  closely  followed by HAMLET in  a
hysterical state, shouting at her, circling her, both midstage.)
     HAMLET: Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad!
     (She falls on her knees weeping.)
     I say we  will have no more marriage!  (His voice drops  to include the
TRAGEDIANS, who have frozen.) Those that are married already (he leans close
to the PLAYER-QUEEN and  POISONER, speaking  with quiet  edge) all  but  one
shall live. (He  smiles briefly at them without mirth,  and starts  to  back
out, his parting shot rising again.) The rest shall keep as they are. (As he
leaves, OPHELIA tottering upstage,  he speaks into her  ear  a quick clipped
sentence.) To a nunnery, go.
     (He  goes out.  OPHELIA falls  on  her knees  upstage, her  sobs barely
audible. A slight silence.)
     PLAYER-KING: Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart - -
     (CLAUDIUS enters  with POLONIUS and goes  over to OPHELIA and lifts her
to her feet. The TRAGEDIANS jump back with heads inclined.)
     CLAUDIUS: Love? His affections do not that way tend,
     Or what he spake, though it lacked form a little,
     Was not like madness. There's something
     in his soul o'er which his melancholy sits on
     brood, and I do doubt the hatch and the
     disclose will be some danger; which for to
     prevent I have in quick determination thus set
     it down: he shall with speed to England....
     (Which carries the three of them - CLAUDIUS, POLONIUS, OPHELIA - out of
sight. The PLAYER moves, clapping his hands for attention.)
     PLAYER: Gentlemen! (They look at him.) It doesn't seem to be coming. We
are not getting it at all. (To GUIL.) What did you think?
     GUIL: What was I supposed to think?
     PLAYER (to TRAGEDIANS): You're not getting across!
     (ROS had gone halfway up to OPHELIA; he returns.)
     ROS: That didn't look like love to me.
     GUIL: Starting from scratch again....
     PLAYER (to TRAGEDIANS): It was a mess.
     ROS (to GUIL): It's going to be chaos on the night.
     GUIL: Keep back - we're spectators.
     PLAYER: Act two! Positions!
     GUIL: Wasn't that the end?
     PLAYER: Do you call that an ending? - with  practically everyone on his
feet? My goodness no - over your dead body.
     GUIL: How am I supposed to take that?
     PLAYER:  Lying down.  (He laughs  briefly  and  in  a second has  never
laughed in his life.) There's a design at work in  all art - surely you know
that?  Events must  play  themselves out  to  aesthetic, moral  and  logical
conclusion.
     GUIL: And what's that, in this case?
     PLAYER: It  never  varies  - we aim  at the point where everyone who is
marked for death dies.
     GUIL: Marked?
     PLAYER: Between "just desserts" and "tragic irony" we are given quite a
lot of scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone
about as far as  they can possibly go when  things have  got about as bad as
they reasonably get. (He switches on a smile.)
     GUIL: Who decides?
     PLAYER (switching off his smile): Decides?  It  is written.  (He  turns
away.  GUIL  grabs him and spins him back  violently.) (Unflustered.) Now if
you're going to be subtle, we'll miss each  other in the dark. I'm referring
to oral tradition. So to speak.
     (GUIL releases him.)
     We're  tragedians,  you see.  We  follow directions-there  is no choice
involved. The bad end unhappily, the  good unluckily. That is  what  tragedy
means. (Calling.)
     Positions!
     (The TRAGEDIANS  have taken up  positions for  the  continuation of the
mime: which  in this case means a love scene, sexual and passionate, between
the QUEEN and the POISONER/KING.)
     PLAYER: Go!
     (The lovers begin. The PLAYER contributes a breathless  commentary  for
ROS and GUIL.)
     Having murdered his brother and wooed the widow-the poisoner mounts the
throne! Here we see him and his queen give rein to their  unbridled passion!
She little knowing that the man she holds in her arms--!
     ROS: Oh, I say-here-really! You can't do that!
     PLAYER: Why not?
     ROS: Well, really-I mean, people want to be entertained-they don't come
expecting sordid and gratuitous filth.
     PLAYER: You're wrong  - they do! Murder, seduction and incest - what do
you want -jokes?
     ROS: I want a good story, with a beginning, middle and end.
     PLAYER (to GUIL): And you?
     GUIL: I'd prefer art to mirror life, if it's all the same to you.
     PLAYER: It's all the same to me, sir. (To the grappling LOVERS.)
     All right, no need to indulge yourselves. (They get up-To GUIL.) I come
on  in a minute. Lucianus, nephew to  the king! (Turns his attention  to the
TRAGEDIANS.) Next!
     (They  disport themselves to accommodate the next piece of mime,  which
consists   of  the   PLAYER  himself   exhibiting   an   excitable   anguish
(choreographed, stylized) leading  to an  impassioned scene with  the  QUEEN
(cf. "The Closet Scene", Shakespeare Act III, Scene iv) and  a very stylized
reconstruction  of  a POLONIUS  figure being stabbed behind  the  arras (the
murdered KING to  stand in for POLONIUS) while the PLAYER himself  continues
his breathless commentary for the benefit of ROS and GUIL.)
     PLAYER:  Lucianus, nephew to  the  king ... usurped  by his  uncle  and
shattered  by  his mother's incestuous  marriage ...  loses  his  reason ...
throwing the court into turmoil and disarray as he alternates between bitter
melancholy and unrestricted lunacy ... staggering from the suicidal (a pose)
to the homicidal (here he  kills "POLONIUS"). ... he at  last  confronts his
mother and in a scene of provocative  ambiguity-(a somewhat oedipal embrace)
begs her to repent and recant--
     (He  springs  up,  still talking.)  The  King-(he  pushes  forward  the
POISONER/KING)  tormented by guilt-haunted  by fear-decides  to despatch his
nephew  to  England-and   entrusts   this   undertaking   to   two   smiling
accomplices-friends-courtiers-to two spies-
     (He has  swung  round to bring together  the POISONER/KING and the  two
cloaked TRAGEDIANS; the latter kneel and accept a scroll from the KING.)
     -giving them a letter to present to the English court--!
     And so they depart-on board ship--
     (The two SPIES position  themselves on either side of  the PLAYER,  and
the three of them sway gently in unison, the motion of  a boat; and then the
PLAYER detaches himself.)
     -and they arrive-
     (One SPY shades his eyes at the horizon.)
     -and  disembark-and present  themselves  before  the  English  king-(He
wheels round.)  The  English king--  (An exchange of  headgear  creates  the
ENGLISH KING from  the  remaining player-that is, the PLAYER who  played the
original murdered king.)
     But where  is the Prince?  Where indeed? The plot has thickened-a twist
of  fate and cunning has put into their hands  a  letter  that  seals  their
deaths!
     (The two  SPIES present  their  letter; the ENGLISH KING reads  it  and
orders  their  deaths. They  stand up  as the PLAYER whips off  their cloaks
preparatory to execution.)
     Traitors  hoist by  their own petard?-or  victims of the gods?-we shall
never know!
     (The whole mime has been fluid and continuous but now ROS moves forward
and brings it  to a  pause.  What brings  ROS forward is the fact that under
their  cloaks the two SPIES are wearing coats identical to those worn by ROS
and GUIL, whose coats are now covered by their cloaks. ROS approaches "his''
SPY doubtfully. He does not quite understand why the coats are familiar. ROS
stands close, touches the coat, thoughtfully....)
     ROS: Well, if it isn't--! No, wait a  minute, don't tell me-it's a long
time since-where was it? Ah, this is  taking  me back to-when was it? I know
you, don't I? I never forget a face-(he looks into the SPY'S face). not that
I know yours that is. For a  moment  I thought- no, I don't know you,  do I?
Yes, I'm afraid you're  quite  wrong. You must have mistaken me  for someone
else.
     (GUIL meanwhile has approached the other SPY, brow creased in thought.)
     PLAYER (to GUIL): Are you familiar with this play?
     GUIL: No.
     PLAYER: A slaughterhouse-eight corpses all told. It brings out the best
in us.
     GUIL   (tense,  progressively  rattled   during  the  whole   mime  and
commentary): You!-What do you know about death?
     PLAYER:  It's what the actors do  best. They have  to  exploit whatever
talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. They can die heroically,
comically, ironically, slowly, suddenly, disgustingly, charmingly, or from a
great  height. My own  talent  is more general. I  extract significance from
melodrama,   a  significance  which  it  does   not  in  fact  contain;  but
occasionally, from  out  of this  matter, there escapes a thin beam of light
that, seen at the right angle, can crack the shell of mortality.
     ROS: Is that all they can do-die?
     PLAYER: No, no-they kill beautifully. In fact  some  of them kill  even
better than they die. The rest die better than they kill. They're a team.
     ROS: Which ones are which?
     PLAYER: There's not much in it.
     GUIL (fear, derision): Actors!  The mechanics of cheap  melodrama! That
isn't death! (More quietly.) You scream  and choke  and  sink to your knees,
but it doesn't bring death home to anyone-it doesn't catch them unawares and
start the whisper in their skulls that says-"One day  you are going to die."
(He straightens  up.) You  die so many  times;  how  can you expect them  to
believe in your death?
     PLAYER: On  the contrary, it's the only kind  they do  believe. They're
conditioned  to  it.  I had an  actor once  who was  condemned  to hang  for
stealing  a sheep-or a lamb, I forget which-so I got permission to have  him
hanged in the middle of a play-had to change the plot a bit but I thought it
would be effective, you  know-and you wouldn't  believe  it, he just  wasn't
convincing! It was  impossible to suspend one's, disbelief-and what with the
audience jeering and throwing  peanuts, the whole thing  was  a disaster!-he
did nothing but cry all the time-right out of character-just stood there and
cried... Never again.
     (In good humour  he has already  turned back to the mime: the two SPIES
awaiting  execution  at the  hands of the  PLAYER.)  Audiences  know what to
expect,  and that is  all that  they  are prepared  to believe  in.  (To the
SPIES.)
     Show!
     (The SPIES die at some length, rather well.)
     (The  light has begun to  go,  and  it  fades as they die,  and as GUIL
speaks.)
     GUIL: No, no, no... you've got it all wrong... you can't act death. The
fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen - it's not gasps and blood
and falling about  - that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing
to reappear, that's all - now you  see him,  now you  don't that's  the only
thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back -
an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it
goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death.
     (The two SPIES lie still, barely visible.  The PLAYER comes forward and
throws the SPIES' cloaks over their bodies. ROS starts to clap, slowly.)
     BLACKOUT.
     (A second of silence, then much noise. Shouts ... "The King rises!" ...
"Give o'er the play!"... and cries for "Lights, lights, lights!")
     (When the light comes, after a few seconds, it comes as a sunrise.)
     (The stage is empty save for two cloaked FIGURES sprawled on the ground
in  the  approximate positions  last  held by  the dead SPIES.  As the light
grows,  they  are  seen to  be  ROS  and  GUIL,  and  to  be  resting  quite
comfortably.  ROS raises himself on his  elbows  and shades  his eyes  as he
stares into the auditorium. Finally:)
     ROS: That must be east, then. I think we can assume that.
     GUIL: I'm assuming nothing.
     ROS: No, it's all right. That's the sun. East.
     GUIL (looks up): Where?
     ROS: I watched it come up.
     GUIL: No...  it was  light all the time, you  see, and you  opened your
eyes  very, very slowly. If you'd  been facing back there you'd be  swearing
that was east.
     ROS (standing up): You're a mass of prejudice.
     GUIL: I've been taken in before.
     ROS (looks out over the audience): Rings a bell.
     GUIL: They're waiting to see what we're going to do.
     ROS: Good old east.
     GUIL:  As soon  as  we make a move  they'll come pouring  in from every
side, shouting obscure instructions, confusing  us with ridiculous  remarks,
messing us about from here to breakfast and getting our names wrong.
     (ROS starts to protest but he has hardly opened his mouth before:)
     CLAUDIUS (off-stage - with urgency): Ho, Guildenstern!
     (GUIL is still prone. Small pause.)
     ROS AND GUIL: You're wanted...
     (GUIL furiously leaps to his feet as CLAUDIUS and  GERTRUDE enter. They
are in some desperation.)
     CLAUDIUS: Friends both, go join  you  with  some further aid: Hamlet in
madness  hath  Polonius slain, and from his mother's  closet hath he dragged
him. Go seek him out;  speak fair and bring the body into the chapel. I pray
you haste in this.  (As  he and GERTRUDE  are  hurrying out.) Come Gertrude,
we'll  call up our wisest  friends and let  them  know both what  we mean to
do...
     (They've gone.)
     (ROS and GUIL remain quite still.)
     GUIL: Well....
     ROS: Quite....
     GUIL: Well, well.
     ROS: Quite; quite. (Nods with spurious confidence.) Seek him out.
     (Pause.) Etcetera.
     GUIL: Quite.
     ROS: Well. (Small pause.) Well, that's a step in the right direction.
     GUIL: You didn't like him?
     ROS: Who?
     GUIL: Good God, I hope more tears are shed for us! ...
     ROS: Well,  it's progress, isn't it? Something positive.  Seek him out.
(Looks round  without moving his  feet) Where does one begin... ? (Takes one
step towards the wings and halts.)
     GUIL: Well, that's a step in the right direction.
     ROS: You think so? He could be anywhere.
     GUIL: All right-you go that way, I'll go this way.
     ROS: Right.
     (They walk towards opposite wings. ROS halts.)
     No.
     (GUIL halts.)
     You go this way-I'll go that way.
     GUIL: All right.
     (They march towards each other, cross. ROS halts.)
     ROS: Wait a minute.
     (GUIL halts.)
     I think we should stick together. He might be violent.
     GUIL: Good point. I'll come with you.
     (GUIL marches across to ROS. They turn to leave. ROS halts.)
     ROS: No, I'll come with you...
     GUIL: Right.
     (They turn, march across to the opposite wing. ROS halts. GUIL halts.)
     ROS: I'll come with you, my way.
     GUIL: All right.
     (They turn again and march across. ROS halts. GUIL halts.)
     ROS: I've  just thought. If we both go, he could come here. That  would
be stupid, wouldn't it?
     GUIL: All right-I'll stay, you go.
     ROS: Right.
     (GUIL marches to midstage.)
     I say.
     (GUIL  wheels  and  carries on marching  back  towards ROS  who  starts
marching downstage. They cross. ROS halts.)
     I've just thought.
     (GUIL halts.)
     We ought to stick together; he might be violent.
     GUIL: Good point.
     (GUIL marches down to join ROS. They stand  still for a moment in their
original positions.)
     Well, at last we're getting somewhere.
     (Pause.)
     GUIL: Of course, he might not come.
     ROS (airily): Oh, he'll come.
     GUIL: We'd have some explaining to do.
     ROS: He'll come. (Airily wanders upstage.) Don't worry-take my word for
it-(looks out-is appalled.) He's coming!
     GUIL: What's he doing?
     ROS: Walking.
     GUIL: Alone?
     ROS: No.
     GUIL: Who's with him?
     ROS: The old man.
     GUIL: Walking?
     ROS: No.
     GUIL: Not walking?
     ROS: No.
     GUIL:  Ah.  That's an opening  if ever  there was one. (And is suddenly
galvanized into action.) Let him walk into the trap!
     ROS: What trap?
     GUIL: You stand there! Don't let him pass!
     (He positions ROS with his back to one wing, facing HAMLET's entrance.)
     (GUIL positions himself next to ROS, a few feet away, so that  they are
covering one side of the stage, facing the opposite side. GUIL unfastens his
belt. ROS does the same. They join the two belts, and hold them taut between
them. ROS's trousers slide slowly down.)
     (HAMLET enters opposite, slowly,  dragging  POLONIUS's  BODY. He enters
upstage,  makes  a  small  arc  and  leaves  by  the same  side, a few  feet
downstage.)
     (ROS  and  GUIL,  holding  the  belts   taut,  stare  at  him  in  some
bewilderment.)
     (HAMLET leaves, dragging the BODY. They relax the strain on the belts.)
     ROS: That was close.
     GUIL: There's a limit to what two people can do.
     (They undo the belts: ROS pulls up his trousers.)
     ROS  (worriedly-he walks  a few  paces towards  HAMLET's exit): He  was
dead.
     GUIL: Of course he's dead!
     ROS (turns to GUIL): Properly.
     GUIL (angrily): Death's death, isn't it?
     (ROS falls silent. Pause.)
     Perhaps he'll come back this way.
     (ROS starts to take off his belt.)
     No, no, no!-if we can't learn by experience, what else have we got?
     (ROS desists.)
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Give him a shout.
     GUIL: I thought we'd been into all that.
     ROS (shouts): Hamlet!
     GUIL: Don't be absurd.
     ROS (shouts): Lord Hamlet!
     (HAMLET enters. ROS is a little dismayed.)
     What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?
     HAMLET: Compounded it with dust, whereto 'tis kin.
     ROS: Tell  us where 'tis, that we may take it thence and bear it to the
chapel.
     HAMLET: Do not believe it.
     ROS: Believe what?
     HAMLET:  That I can keep your counsel and not mine own. Besides,  to be
demanded of a sponge, what replication should be made by the son of a king?
     ROS: Take you me for a sponge, my lord?
     HAMLET: Ay, sir, that soaks up the king's countenance, his rewards, his
authorities. But such officers do the King best service in the end. He keeps
them, like  an  ape,  in the corner  of  his jaw,  first mouthed, to be last
swallowed. When he needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and,
sponge, you shall be dry again.
     ROS: I understand you not, my lord.
     HAMLET: I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.
     ROS: My lord, you must tell  us where the body is and go with us to the
King.
     HAMLET:  The body is with the King, but the  King is not with the body.
The King is a thing-
     GUIL: A thing, my lord -?
     HAMLET: Of nothing. Bring me to him.
     (HAMLET  moves  resolutely  towards  one  wing.  They  move  with  him,
shepherding.  Just  before  they reach the  exit,  HAMLET, apparently seeing
CLAUDIUS approaching from off  stage, bends low in  a  sweeping bow. ROS and
GUIL, cued by HAMLET,  also  bow deeply-a sweeping ceremonial bow with their
cloaks swept  round  them. HAMLET,  however, continues the movement  into an
about-turn and walks off in the opposite direction. ROS and GUIL, with their
heads low, do not notice. No one comes on. ROS  and GUIL  squint upwards and
find that they are bowing to nothing.
     CLAUDIUS enters behind  them. At his  first words they leap up and do a
double-take.)
     CLAUDIUS: How now? What hath befallen?
     ROS: Where the body is bestowed, my lord, we cannot get from him.
     CLAUDIUS: But where is he?
     ROS  (fractional  hesitation):  Without, my lord; guarded to know  your
pleasure.
     CLAUDIUS (moves): Bring him before us.
     (This hits ROS  between the eyes but only his eyes  show it.  Again his
hesitation  is  fractional. And  then  with  great deliberation he turns  to
GUIL.)
     ROS: Ho! Bring in the lord.
     (Again  there is  a fractional  moment  in which ROS is  smug, CUIL  is
trapped and betrayed. GUIL opens his mouth and closes it.)
     (The situation is saved;)
     (HAMLET, escorted, is  marched in just  as CLAUDIUS  leaves. HAMLET and
his ESCORT cross the stage and go out, following CLAUDIUS.)
     (Lighting changes to Exterior.)
     ROS (moves to go): All right, then?
     GUIL (does not move: thoughtfully): And yet it doesn't seem  enough; to
have breathed such significance. Can that be ail? And why  us?-anybody would
have done. And we have contributed nothing.
     ROS: It was a trying episode  while it lasted, but they've done with us
now.
     GUIL: Done what?
     ROS:  I  don't  pretend  to  have  understood. Frankly,  I'm  not  very
interested.  If they won't tell us, that's their affair. (He wanders upstage
towards  the  exit.) For my part, I'm  only glad that  that's the last we've
seen  of him-  (And he glances offstage and turns front,  his face betraying
the fact that HAMLET is there.)
     GUIL: I knew it wasn't the end....
     ROS (high): What else?!
     GUIL: We're taking him to England. What's he doing?
     (ROS goes upstage and returns.)
     ROS: Talking.
     GUIL: To himself?
     (ROS makes to go, GUIL cuts him off.)
     Is he alone?
     ROS: No, he's with a soldier,
     GUIL: Then he's not talking to himself, is he?
     ROS: Not by himself... Should we go?
     GUIL: Where?
     ROS: Anywhere.
     GUIL: Why?
     (ROS puts up his head listening.)
     ROS: There it is again. (In anguish.) All I ask is a change of ground!
     GUIL (coda): Give us this day our daily round...
     (HAMLET enters  behind them, talking with  a soldier in arms.  ROS  and
GUIL don't look round.)
     ROS: They'll have us hanging about till  we're dead.  At least. And the
weather will change. (Looks up.) The spring can't last for ever.
     HAMLET: Good sir, whose powers are these?
     SOLDIER: They are of Norway, sir.
     HAMLET: How purposed, sir, I pray you?
     SOLDIER: Against some part of Poland.
     HAMLET: Who commands them, sir?
     SOLDIER: The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras.
     ROS: We'll be cold. The summer won't last.
     GUIL: It's autumnal.
     ROS (examining the ground): No leaves.
     GUIL: Autumnal-nothing  to  do with  leaves. It is to do with a certain
brownness  at the edges of the  day... Brown is creeping  up  on us, take my
word for it... Russets and tangerine shades  of old  gold flushing the  very
outside  edge  of  the  senses...  deep  shining  ochres,  burnt  umber  and
parchments of baked earth-reflecting on itself and through itself, filtering
the light. At such  times, perhaps, coincidentally,  the  leaves might fall,
somewhere, by repute. Yesterday was blue, like smoke.
     ROS (head up, listening): I got it again then.
     (They listen-faintest sound of TRAGEDIANS' band.)
     HAMLET: I humbly thank you, sir.
     SOLDIER: God by you, sir. (Exit.)
     (ROS gets up quickly and goes to HAMLET.)
     ROS: Will it please you go, my lord?
     HAMLET: I'll be with you straight. Go you a little before.
     (HAMLET  turns  to  face upstage. ROS returns down. GUIL  faces  front,
doesn't turn.)
     GUIL: Is he there?
     ROS: Yes.
     GUIL: What's he doing?
     (ROS looks over his shoulder.)
     ROS: Talking.
     GUIL: To himself?
     ROS: Yes.
     (Pause. ROS makes to leave.)
     ROS: He said we can go. Cross my heart.
     GUIL: I  like to know where I am.  Even if I don't  know  where I am, I
like to know that. If we go there's no knowing.
     ROS: No knowing what?
     GUIL: If we'll ever come back.
     ROS: We don't want to come back.
     GUIL: That may very well be true, but do we want to go?
     ROS: We'll be free.
     GUIL: I don't know. It's the same sky.
     ROS: We've come this far.
     (He moves towards exit. GUIL follows him.)
     And besides, anything could happen yet.

     (They go.)


     BLACKOUT
     
     Act three
     Opens in pitch darkness.
     Soft sea sounds.
     After several seconds of nothing, a voice from the dark .

     GUIL: Are you there?
     ROS: Where?
     GUIL (bitterly): A flying start....
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Is that you?
     GUIL: Yes.
     ROS: How do you know?
     GUIL (explosion): Oh-for-God's-sake!
     ROS: We're not finished, then?
     GUIL: Well, we're here, aren't we?
     ROS: Are we? I can't see a thing.
     GUIL: You can still think, can't you?
     ROS: I think so.
     GUIL: You can still talk.
     ROS: What should I say?
     GUIL: Don't bother. You can feel, can't you?
     ROS: Ah! There's life in me yet!
     GUIL: What are you feeling?
     ROS: A leg. Yes, it feels like my leg.
     GUIL: How does it feel?
     ROS: Dead.
     GUIL: Dead?
     ROS (panic): I can't feel a thing!
     GUIL: Give it a pinch! (Immediately he yelps.)
     ROS: Sorry.
     GUIL: Well, that's cleared that up.
     (Longer pause: the sound builds a little and identifies itself-the sea.
Ship  timbers, wind  in  the rigging,  and then  shouts  of sailors  calling
obscure but inescapably  nautical instructions from all  directions, far and
near: A short list:
     Hard a larboard!
     Let go the stays!
     Reef down me hearties!
     Is that you, cox'n?
     Hel-llo! Is that you?
     Hard a port!
     Easy as she goes!
     Keep her steady on the lee!
     Haul away, lads!
     SNATCHES OF SEA SHANTY MAYBE
     Fly the jib!
     Tops'I up, me maties!)
     (When the point has been well made and more so.)
     ROS: We're on a boat. (Pause.) Dark, isn't it?
     GUIL: Not for night.
     ROS: No, not for night.
     GUIL: Dark for day.
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Oh yes, it's dark for day.
     GUIL: We must have gone north, of course.
     ROS: Off course?
     GUIL: Land of the midnight sun, that is.
     ROS: Of course.
     (Some sailor sounds.)
     (A lantern is lit upstage-in fact by HAMLET.)
     (The stage lightens disproportionately.)
     (Enough to see:
     ROS and GUIL sitting downstage.)
     (Vague shapes of rigging, etc., behind.)
     I think it's getting light.
     GUIL: Not for night.
     ROS: This far north.
     GUIL: Unless we're off course.
     ROS (small pause): Of course.
     (A better light-Lantern? Moon? ... Light.)
     (Revealing, among other things, three large  man-sized  casks  on deck,
upended,  with lids. Spaced but  in line. Behind  and above-a gaudy  striped
umbrella, on a pole stuck into the deck, tilted so that we do not see behind
it-one of those huge six-foot diameter jobs. Still dim upstage.)
     (ROS and GUIL still facing front.)
     ROS: Yes,  it's  lighter  than it was.  It'll be  night  soon. This far
north.  (Dolefully.) I suppose  we'll  have to  go  to  sleep. (He yawns and
stretches.)
     GUIL: Tired?
     ROS:  No.... I don't think I'd take to it. Sleep all night, can't see a
thing all day.... Those eskimos must have a quiet life.
     GUIL: Where?
     ROS: What?
     GUIL: I thought you - (Relapses.) I've lost all capacity for disbelief.
I'm not sure that I could even rise to a little gentle scepticism. (Pause.)
     ROS: Well, shall we stretch our legs?
     GUIL: I don't feel like stretching my legs.
     ROS: I'll stretch them for you, if you like.
     GUIL: No.
     ROS:  We  could stretch each other's. That way  we  wouldn't have to go
anywhere.
     GUIL (pause): No, somebody might come in.
     ROS: In where?
     GUIL: Out here.
     ROS: In out here?
     GUIL: On deck.
     (ROS considers the floor: slaps it.)
     ROS: Nice bit of planking, that.
     GUIL:  Yes,   I'm  very  fond  of  boats  myself.   I  like   the   way
they're-contained. You don't have to worry about which way to go, or whether
to go  at all-the question doesn't  arise, because  you're on a boat, aren't
you? Boats are safe areas in the game of tag ... the players will hold their
positions  until the music starts.... I think I'll spend most  of my life on
boats.
     ROS: Very healthy.
     (ROS inhales with expectation, exhales with boredom. GUIL stands up and
looks over the audience.)
     GUIL: One is free on a boat. For a time. Relatively.
     ROS: What's it like?
     GUIL: Rough.
     (ROS joins him. They look out over the audience.)
     ROS: I think I'm going to be sick.
     (GUIL licks a finger, holds it up experimentally.)
     GUIL: Other side, I think.
     (ROS goes upstage: Ideally a sort of upper deck joined to the downstage
lower deck by short steps. The umbrella being on the  upper deck. ROS pauses
by the umbrella and looks behind it.)
     (GUIL meanwhile has been resuming his  own theme - looking out over the
audience - )
     Free to move, speak, extemporise, and yet.  We have not been cut loose.
Our truancy is defined by one fixed star, and our drift represents  merely a
slight chance of angle to it: we may seize the moment, toss it  around while
the moment pass, a short dash here, an exploration there, but we are brought
round  full  circle to  face  again  the  single immutable fact  -  that we,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are taking Hamlet to England.
     (By which time,  ROS has returned, tiptoeing with  great  import, teeth
clenched for secrecy, get to GUIL, points surreptitiously behind him - and a
tight whisper:)
     ROS: I say - he's here!
     GUIL (unsurprised): What's he doing?
     ROS: Sleeping.
     GUIL: It's all right for him.
     ROS: What is?
     GUIL: He can sleep.
     ROS: It's all right for him.
     GUIL: He's got us now.
     ROS: He can sleep.
     GUIL: It's all done for him.
     ROS: He's got us.
     GUIL: And we've got nothing. (A cry.) All I ask is our common due!
     ROS: For those in peril of the sea...
     GUIL: Give us this day our daily cue.
     (Beat, pause. Sit. Long pause.)
     ROS (after shifting, looking around): What now?
     GUIL: What do you mean?
     ROS: Well, nothing is happening.
     GUIL: We're on a boat.
     ROS: I'm aware of that.
     GUIL (angrily): Then what do you expect?  (Unhappily.) We act on scraps
of  information... sifting  half-remembered  directions that we  can  hardly
separate from instinct.
     (ROS puts a hand into his purse, then both hands behind his  back, then
holds his fists out.)
     (GUIL taps one fist.)
     (ROS opens it to show a coin.)
     (He gives it to GUIL.)
     (He puts his hand back into his purse. Then both hands behind his back,
then holds his fists out.)
     (GUIL taps one fist.)
     (ROS opens it to show a coin. He gives it to GUIL.)
     (Repeat.)
     (Repeat.)
     (GUIL getting tense. Desperate to lose.)
     (Repeat.)
     (GUIL  taps  a  hand,  changes  his  mind,  taps  the  other,  and  ROS
inadvertently reveals that he has a coin in both fists.)
     GUIL: You had money in both hands.
     ROS (embarrassed): Yes.
     GUIL: Every time?
     ROS: Yes.
     GUIL: What's the point of that?
     ROS (pathetic): I wanted to make you happy.
     (Beat.)
     GUIL: How much did he give you?
     ROS: Who?
     GUIL: The king. He gave us some money.
     ROS: How much did he give you?
     GUIL: I asked you first.
     ROS: I got the same as you.
     GUIL: He wouldn't discriminate between us.
     ROS: How much did you get?
     GUIL: The same.
     ROS: How do you know?
     GUIL: You just told me - how do you know?
     ROS: He wouldn't discriminate between us.
     GUIL: Even if he could.
     ROS: Which he never could.
     GUIL: He couldn't even be sure of mixing us up.
     ROS: Without mixing us up.
     GUIL (turning on him furiously): Why don't you  say something original!
No  wonder  the  whole  thing is  so  stagnant! You  don't  take  me  up  on
anything-you just repeat it in a different order.
     ROS: I can't think of anything original. I'm only good in support.
     GUIL: I'm sick of making the running.
     ROS (humbly): It must be your dominant personality.  (Almost in tears.)
Oh, what's going to become of us!
     (And GUIL comforts him, all harshness gone.)
     GUIL: Don't cry... it's all right... there... there, I'll see we're all
right.
     ROS: But we've got nothing to go on, we're out on our own.
     GUIL: We're on our way to England - we're taking Hamlet there.
     ROS: What for?
     GUIL: What for? Where have you been?
     ROS: When? (Pause.) We won't know what to do when we get there.
     GUIL: We take him to the king.
     ROS: Will he be there?
     GUIL: No - the king of England.
     ROS: He's expecting us?
     GUIL: No.
     ROS: He won't know what we're playing at. What are we going to say?
     GUIL: We've got a letter. You remember the letter.
     ROS: Do I?
     GUIL: Everything is explained in the letter. We count on that.
     ROS: Is that it, then?
     GUIL: What?
     ROS: We take Hamlet to the English king, we hand over the letter - what
then?
     GUIL: There may be something in the letter to keep us going a bit.
     ROS: And if not?
     GUIL: Then that's it-we're finished.
     ROS: At a loose end?
     GUIL: Yes.
     (Pause.)
     ROS: Are there likely to  be  loose ends? (Pause.)  Who is  the English
King?
     GUIL: That depends on when we get there.
     ROS: What do you think it says?
     GUIL:  Oh...  greetings.  Expressions  of loyalty. Asking  of  favours,
calling  in  of  debts.  Obscure  promises  balanced  by  vague  threats....
Diplomacy. Regards to the family.
     ROS: And about Hamlet?
     GUIL: Oh yes.
     ROS: And us-the full background?
     GUIL: I should say so.
     (Pause.)
     ROS: So we've got a letter which explains everything.
     GUIL: You've got it.
     (ROS takes that literally. He starts to pat his pockets, etc.)
     What's the matter?
     ROS: The letter.
     GUIL: Have you got it?
     ROS (rising fear): Have I? (Searches  frantically.) Where would I  have
put it?
     GUIL: You can't have lost it.
     ROS: I must have!
     GUIL: That's odd-I thought he gave it to me.
     (ROS looks at him hopefully.)
     ROS: Perhaps he did.
     GUIL: But you seemed so sure it was you who hadn't got it.
     ROS (high): It was me who hadn't got it!
     GUIL: But if he gave it to me there's no reason why you should have had
it in the first place, in which case I don't see what all the fuss  is about
you not having it.
     ROS (pause): I admit it's confusing.
     GUIL: This is all getting rather undisciplined... The boat,  the night,
the  sense of isolation  and uncertainty... all these induce a  loosening of
the  concentration. We must not lose control. Tighten up.  Now.  Either  you
have lost  the letter or  you didn't have it  to lose in the first place, in
which case the king never gave it to you, in which case he gave it to me, in
which  case I would  have  put it  into my inside  top pocket  in which case
(calmly  producing  the letter)... it  will be... here. (They smile  at each
other.) We mustn't drop off like that again.
     (Pause. ROS takes the letter gently from him.)
     ROS: Now that we have found it, why were we looking for it?
     GUIL (thinks): We thought it was lost.
     ROS: Something else?
     GUIL: No.
     (Deflation.)
     ROS: Now we've lost the tension.
     GUIL: What tension?
     ROS: What was the last thing I said before we wandered off?
     GUIL: When was that?
     ROS (helplessly): I can't remember.
     GUIL (leaping up): What a shambles! We're just not getting anywhere.
     ROS (mournfully): Not even England. I don't believe in it anyway.
     GUIL: What?
     ROS: England.
     GUIL: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?
     ROS:  I mean I don't believe it! (Calmer.) I  have no image.  I  try to
picture us  arriving, a little  harbour perhaps... roads...  inhabitants  to
point the way... horses on the road... riding for a  day or  a fortnight and
then  a palace and  the English  king,... That  would be the logical kind of
thing... But my mind remains a blank. No. We're slipping off the map.
     GUIL: Yes... yes... (Rallying.)  But you don't believe anything till it
happens. And it has all happened. Hasn't it?
     ROS:  We drift down time, clutching at straws.  But what good's a brick
to a drowning man?
     GUIL: Don't give up, we can't be long now.
     ROS:  We might as  well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a
boat?
     GUIL: No,  no, no... Death is... not. Death isn't. You take my meaning.
Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not-be on a boat.
     ROS: I've frequently not been on boats.
     GUIL: No, no, no - what you've been is not on boats.
     ROS: I wish  I was  dead. (Considers the drop.)  I could jump over  the
side. That would put a spoke in their wheel.
     GUIL: Unless they're counting on it.
     ROS: I shall remain on board. That'll put a spoke in their wheel.
     (The futility of  it,  fury.)  All right! We don't  question, we  don't
doubt. We perform. But a line  must be drawn somewhere, and  I would like to
put it  on record that I have no confidence  in  England. Thank you. (Thinks
about this.) And even if it's true, it'll just be another shambles.
     GUIL: I don't see why.
     ROS  (furious): He won't  know what we're  talking about -  What are we
going to say?
     GUIL: We say - Your majesty, we have arrived.
     ROS (kingly): And who are you?
     GUIL: We are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
     ROS (barks): Never heard of you!
     GUIL: Well, we're nobody special -
     ROS (regal and nasty): What's your game?
     GUIL: We've got our instructions -
     ROS: First I've heard of it -
     GUIL (angrily): Let me finish - (Humble.) We've come from Denmark,
     ROS: What do you want?
     GUIL: Nothing-we're delivering Hamlet -
     ROS: Who's he?
     GUIL (irritated): You've heard of him--
     ROS: Oh, I've heard of him all right and I want nothing to do with it.
     GUIL: But -
     ROS: You march in here without so much as a by your leave and expect me
to take every lunatic you try to pass off with a lot of unsubstantiated -
     GUIL: We've got a letter -
     (ROS snatches it and tears it open.)
     ROS (efficiently): I see... I see... well, this seems  to  support your
story such as it is - it is  an exact command from the king of Denmark,  for
several  different  reasons,  importing Denmark's health  and England's too,
that on  the  reading of this letter, without delay, I should have  Hamlet's
head cut off -!
     (GUIL snatches the letter. ROS,  doubletaking,  snatches  it back, GUIL
snatches it halfback. They read it together, and separate.)
     (Pause.)
     (They are well downstage looking front.)
     ROS: The sun's going down. It will be dark soon.
     GUIL: Do you think so?
     ROS: I was just making conversation. (Pause.) We're his friends.
     GUIL: How do you know?
     ROS: From our young days brought up with him.
     GUIL: You've only got their word for it.
     ROS: But that's what we depend on.
     GUIL: Well,  yes, and then  again  no. (Airily.) Let us  keep things in
proportion. Assume, if you like, that they're going to kill him. Well, he is
a man, he is  mortal, death comes to us all, etcetera,  and  consequently he
would  have died anyway, sooner or later. Or to look  at it from  the social
point of view-he's  just one man among  many,  the loss would be well within
reason  and convenience. And then again, what is so terrible about death? As
Socrates so philosophically put it, since we don't know what death is, it is
illogical  to fear it. It might be... very nice. Certainly it  is  a release
from the burden  of life, and, for the godly,  a haven  and a  reward. Or to
look at it another way - we are  little men,  we don't know the ins and outs
of the matter,  there  are  wheels within  wheels, etcetera  - it  would  be
presumptuous  of us to interfere with the designs of fate or even of  kings.
All in  all, I think  we'd be well advised to  leave well alone. Tie  up the
letter - there -  neatly -  like that -  They won't notice the  broken seal,
assuming you were in character.
     ROS: But what's the point?
     GUIL: Don't apply logic.
     ROS: He's done nothing to us.
     GUIL: Or justice.
     ROS: It's awful.
     GUIL: But it could  have been  worse. I was  beginning to think it was.
(And his relief comes out in a laugh.)
     (Behind them  HAMLET appears  from behind the  umbrella.  The light has
been going. Slightly. HAMLET is going to the lantern.)t
     ROS: The position as I see it, then. We,  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
from our  young days  brought up with him, awakened by a man standing on his
saddle, are summoned, and arrive, and are instructed to glean what  afflicts
him and draw him on to pleasures, such as a play, which unfortunately, as it
turns out, is abandoned in some confusion  owing to certain  nuances outside
our appreciation  -  which,  among  other causes, results  in,  among  other
effects, a  high, not to say, homicidal, excitement  in Hamlet, whom we,  in
consequence, are escorting, for his own good, to England. Good. We're on top
of it now.
     (HAMLET blows out the lantern. The stage goes pitch black.)
     (The Black resolves itself to moonlight, by which HAMLET approaches the
sleeping ROS  and  GUIL.  He  extracts the letter  and  takes  it behind his
umbrella; the tight of his lantern shines through the fabric, HAMLET emerges
again with a letter, and replaces it, and retires, blowing out his lantern.)
     (Morning comes.)
     (ROS watches it coming-from the auditorium. Behind him is  a gay sight.
Beneath the re-tilted umbrella, reclining  in a deckchair, wrapped in a rug,
reading a book, possibly smoking, sits Hamlet.)
     (ROS watches the morning come, and brighten to high noon.)
     ROS: I'm assuming nothing. (He  stands up. GUIL wakes.) The position as
I see it, then.  That's  west unless we're  off course,  in which  case it's
night; the king gave me the  same as you, the  king gave you the same as me:
the king never gave me the letter, the king gave  you  the letter,  we don't
know what's in the  letter; we take Hamlet to the English king, it depending
on when we get  there who  he is,  and we hand over the letter, which may or
may not have something in  it to keep us going, and if  not, we are finished
and at  a loose end, if  they have  loose ends. We could  have done worse. I
don't think we missed any chance...  Not that we're  getting much help.  (He
sits  down  again.  They  lie down  - prone.) If  we stopped  breathing we'd
vanish.
     (The muffled  sound of a  recorder.  They sit up  with disproportionate
interest.) Here we go.
     Yes, but what?
     (They listen to the music.)
     GUIL  (excitedly):  Out of the void, finally, a sound; while  on a boat
(admittedly)  outside  the  action  (admittedly)  the  perfect  and absolute
silence of the wet lazy slap of water against water and the rolling creak of
timber-breaks; giving rise at  once to  the speculation or the assumption or
the hope that  something is  about to happen;  a pipe is heard.  One  of the
sailors has pursed  his  lips  against  a woodwind,  his fingers  and  thumb
governing,  shall we say, the  ventages, whereupon, giving it breath, let us
say,  with  his  mouth,  it, the pipe, discourses, as the  saying goes, most
eloquent  music.  A  thing like that, it could change the  course of events.
(Pause.) Go and see what it is.
     ROS: It's someone playing on a pipe.
     GUIL: Go and find him.
     ROS: And then what?
     GUIL: I don't know - request a tune.
     ROS: What for?
     GUIL: Quick-before we lose our momentum.
     ROS: Why!-something is happening. It had quite escaped my attention!
     (He listens:  Makes a stab at  an exit. Listens more carefully: Changes
direction:)
     (GUIL takes no notice.)
     (ROS wanders about trying to decide where the music comes from. Finally
he tracks it  down - unwillingly - to the middle barrel. There is no getting
away from  it. He turns to GUIL  who takes no notice. ROS, during this whole
business, never quite breaks into articulate speech. His face and  his hands
indicate his incredulity. He stands  gazing  at the middle barrel. The  pipe
plays on within. He kicks the  barrel. The pipe stops. He leaps back towards
GUIL. The pipe  starts up  again. He  approaches the  barrel cautiously.  He
lifts  the lid. The  music is louder.  He slams down the  lid. The  music is
softer. He goes back towards GUIL.  But a drum  starts, muffled. He freezes.
He  turns. Considers the left-hand barrel.  The drumming goes on within,  in
time to the  flute.  He  walks  back to GUIL. He  opens his mouth  to speak.
Doesn't make it. A lute  is heard. He spins round  at the third barrel. More
instruments join  in. Until  it is quite  inescapable that  inside the three
barrels, distributed, playing  together a familiar tune which has been heard
three times before, are the TRAGEDIANS.)
     (They play on.)
     (ROS sits beside GUIL. They stare ahead.)
     (The tune comes to an end.)
     (Pause.)
     ROS: I  thought  I  heard  a band. (In anguish.)  Plausibility is all I
presume!
     GUIL (coda): Call us this day our daily tune....
     (The  lid of the  middle barrel  flies  open and the PLAYER's head pops
out.)
     PLAYER: Aha! All in the same boat, then! (He climbs out. He  goes round
banging on the barrels.)
     Everybody out!
     (Impossibly,  the  TRAGEDIANS  climb  out of  the  barrels. With  their
instruments, but not their cart. A few bundles. Except ALFRED. The PLAYER is
cheerful.)
     (To ROS.) Where are we?
     ROS: Travelling.
     PLAYER: Of course, we haven't got there yet.
     ROS: Are we all right for England?
     PLAYER: You look all right to me. I don't think they're very particular
in England. Al-I-fred!
     (ALFRED emerges from the PLAYER's barrel.)
     GUIL: What are you doing here?
     PLAYER: Travelling. (To TRAGEDIANS.) Right-blend into the background!
     (The TRAGEDIANS  are  in costume (from  the mime): A  King  with crown,
ALFRED as Queen, Poisoner and the two Cloaked figures.)
     (They blend.)
     (To GUIL.) Pleased to see us? (Pause.) You've come out of it very well,
so far.
     GUIL: And you?
     PLAYER: In disfavour. Our play offended the king.
     GUIL: Yes.
     PLAYER: Well, he's a second husband himself. Tactless, really.
     ROS: It was quite a good play nevertheless.
     PLAYER: We never really got going-it was getting quite interesting when
they stopped it.
     (Looks up at HAMLET.)
     That's the way to travel...
     GUIL: What were you doing in there?
     PLAYER: Hiding. (Indicating costumes.) We had to run for it just  as we
were.
     ROS: Stowaways.
     PLAYER:  Naturally-we didn't get paid, owing  to  circumstances ever so
slightly beyond  our control, and  all the money we had  we lost  betting on
certainties. Life is a gamble, at terrible odds-if it was a bet you wouldn't
take it. Did you know that any number doubled is even?
     ROS: Is it?
     PLAYER: We learn something every day, to our cost. But we troupers just
go on and on. Do you know what happens to old actors?
     ROS: What?
     PLAYER: Nothing. They're still acting. Surprised, then?
     GUIL: What?
     PLAYER: Surprised to see us?
     GUIL: I knew it wasn't the end.
     PLAYER: With practically everyone on his feet. What do you  make of it,
so far?
     GUIL: We haven't got much to go on.
     PLAYER: You speak to him?
     ROS: It's possible.
     GUIL: But it wouldn't make any difference.
     ROS: But it's possible.
     GUIL: Pointless.
     ROS: It's allowed.
     GUIL:  Allowed, yes. We  are not restricted.  No  boundaries  have been
defined,  no  inhibitions  imposed. We  have,  for  the  while, secured,  or
blundered into, our  release, for the  while.  Spontaneity and whim are  the
order of the  day. Other wheels are turning but they are not our concern. We
can breathe. We can  relax.  We can do what we like and say what  we like to
whomever we like, without restriction.
     ROS: Within limits, of course.
     GUIL: Certainly within limits.
     (HAMLET comes down to  footlights and regards the audience.  The others
watch but don't  speak. HAMLET clears his  throat noisily and spits into the
audience. A split  second later he  claps  his  hand  to  his  eye and wipes
himself. He goes back upstage.)
     ROS:  A  compulsion  towards philosophical introspection  is  his chief
characteristic,  if  I may put it like that. It  does not mean he is mad. It
does mean he isn't. Very often, it does  not mean anything at all. Which may
or may not be a kind of madness.
     GUIL:  It  really  boils  down  to  symptoms. Pregnant  replies, mystic
allusions, mistaken identities, arguing  his father is his mother, that sort
of thing; intimations of suicide, forgoing of exercise, loss of mirth, hints
of  claustrophobia  not  to say  delusions  of imprisonment;  invocations of
camels,  chameleons,  capons, whales,  weasels,  hawks,  handsaws - riddles,
quibbles   and   evasions;   amnesia,   paranoia,    myopia;   day-dreaming,
hallucinations;  stabbing  his  elders,  abusing  his parents, insulting his
lover, and  appearing hatless in public  - knock-kneed, droop-stockinged and
sighing like  a  love-sick schoolboy,  which at  his age is coming on a  bit
strong.
     ROS: And talking to himself.
     GUIL: And talking to himself.
     (ROS and GUIL move apart together.)
     Well, where has that got us?
     ROS: He's the Player.
     GUIL: His play offended the king-
     ROS: -offended the king-
     GUIL: -who orders his arrest-
     ROS: -orders his arrest-
     GUIL: -so he escapes to England-
     ROS: On the boat to which he meets-
     GUIL: Guildenstern and Rosencrantz taking Hamlet-
     ROS: -who also offended the king-
     GUIL: -and killed Polonius-
     ROS: -offended the king in a variety of ways-
     GUIL: -to England. (Pause.) That seems to be it.
     (ROS jumps up.)
     ROS: Incidents! All we  get is incidents!  Dear God,  is it too much to
expect a little sustained action?!
     (And on the word, the PIRATES attack. That is to say:
     Noise and shouts and rushing about. "Pirates".)
     (Everyone  visible  goes  frantic. HAMLET  draws his  sword  and rushes
downstage. GUIL,  ROS  and PLAYER draw swords  and  rush upstage, collision.
HAMLET turns his back up.  They turn  back  down. Collision.  By  which time
there is general panic right upstage. All four charge upstage with ROS, GUIL
and PLAYER shouting:
     At last!
     To arms!
     Pirates!
     Up there!
     Down there!
     To my sword's length!
     Action!
     (All four reach  the top, see something they don't like, waver, run for
their lives downstage:)
     (HAMLET, in the lead, leaps into the left barrel. PLAYER leaps into the
right barrel. ROS and GUIL leap into the middle barrel. All closing the lids
after them.)
     (The  lights dim to nothing while the  sound of fighting continues. The
sound fades to nothing. The lights come up.)
     (The middle barrel (ROS's and GUIL's) is missing.)
     (The lid of the right-hand  barrel is  raised cautiously, the  heads of
ROS and GUIL appear.)
     (The lid of the  other barrel (HAMLET's) is  raised.  The head  of  the
PLAYER appears.)
     (All catch sight of each other and slam down lids.)
     (Pause.)
     (Lids raised cautiously.)
     ROS (relief): They've gone.  (He  starts to climb out.) That was close.
I've never thought quicker.
     (They  are all three  out of barrels.  GUIL is wary and nervous. ROS is
light-headed. The PLAYER is phlegmatic. They note the missing barrel.)
     (ROS look round.)
     ROS: Where's -?
     (The PLAYER takes off his hat in mourning.)
     PLAYER: Once more, alone-on our own resources.
     GUIL (worried): What do you mean? Where is he?
     PLAYER: Gone.
     GUIL: Gone where?
     PLAYER: Yes, we were dead lucky there. If that's the word I'm after.
     ROS (not a pick up): Dead?
     PLAYER: Lucky.
     ROS (he means): Is he dead?
     PLAYER: Who knows?
     GUIL (rattled): He's not coming back?
     PLAYER: Hardly.
     ROS: He's dead then. He's dead as far as we're concerned.
     PLAYER: Or we are as far as he  is. (He goes and sits  on the floor  to
one side.) Not too bad, is it?
     GUIL  (rattled):  But he can't -  We're  supposed  to be - We've  got a
letter-We're going to England with a letter for the king -
     PLAYER:  Yes,  that  much  seems  certain. I  congratulate  you on  the
unambiguity of your situation.
     GUIL:  But  you  don't  understand  -  it  contains  -  we've  had  our
instructions - The whole thing's pointless without him.
     PLAYER:  Pirates could  happen to  anyone.  Just  deliver  the  letter.
They'll send ambassadors from England to explain...
     GUIL (worked up): Can't see - the pirates left  us  home and high - dry
and home -drome- (furiously). The pirates left us high and dry!
     PLAYER (comforting): There...
     GUIL (near tears): Nothing will be resolved without him...
     PLAYER: There... !
     GUIL: We need Hamlet for our release!
     PLAYER: There!
     GUIL: What are we supposed to do?
     PLAYER: This.
     (He turns away, lies down if he likes. ROS and GUIL apart.)
     ROS: Saved again.
     GUIL: Saved for what?
     (ROS sighs.)
     ROS:  The sun's going  down. (Pause.)  It'll be night soon. (Pause.) If
that's west. (Pause.) Unless we've -
     GUIL  (shouts): Shut up! I'm sick of it!  Do  you think conversation is
going to help us now?
     ROS (hurt, desperately ingratiating): I - I  bet you all the money I've
got the year of my birth doubled is an odd number.
     GUIL (moan): No-o.
     ROS: Your birth!
     (GUIL smashes him down.)
     GUIL  (broken):  We've travelled too far,  and  our momentum has  taken
over; we move idly towards eternity, without possibility of reprieve or hope
of explanation.
     ROS: Be happy-If you're not even happy what's so  good about surviving?
(He picks himself up.) We'll be all right. I suppose we just go on.
     GUIL: Go where?
     ROS: To England.
     GUIL: England! That's a dead end. I never believed in it anyway.
     ROS: All we've got to do is make our report and that'll be that.
     Surely.
     GUIL: I don't believe it - A shore, a harbour, say - and we get off and
we stop someone and say -  Where's  the king?- And he says, oh,  you  follow
that road there  and take the first left and -( furiously). I don't  believe
any of it!
     ROS: It doesn't sound very plausible.
     GUIL: And even if we came face to face, what do we say?
     ROS: We say - We've arrived!
     GUIL (kingly): And who are you?
     ROS: We are Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.
     GUIL: Which is which?
     ROS: Well, I'm - You're -
     GUIL: What's it all about? -
     ROS: Well, we were bringing Hamlet - but then some pirates -
     GUIL: I don't begin to understand. Who are  all these people, what's it
got to do with me? You turn up out of the blue with some cock and bull story
-
     ROS (with letter): We have a letter -
     GUIL (snatches it,  opens  it):  A letter  - yes -  that's true. That's
something...  a   letter...  (reads).  "As  England  is  Denmark's  faithful
tributary... as love between them like the palm might flourish,  etcetera...
that on  the knowing  of this contents, without  delay  of any kind,  should
those bearers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, put to sudden death-"
     (He double takes.  ROS snatches the letter.  GUIL snatches it back. ROS
snatches it halfback. They read it again and look up.)
     (The PLAYER gets to his feet and walks over to his barrel  and kicks it
and shouts into it.)
     PLAYER: They've gone-It's all over!
     (One by one the players emerge, impossibly, from the barrel, and form a
casually menacing  circle  round ROS and  GUIL who  are  still  appalled and
mesmerised.)
     GUIL (quietly): Where we went wrong was getting on a boat. We can move,
of  course, change direction,  rattle about, but  our movement  is contained
within a  larger one  that  carries us along as  inexorably as the wind  and
current...
     ROS:  They  had it in for  us, didn't  they? Right from the  beginning.
Who'd have thought that we were so important?
     GUIL:  But  why? Was it all  for this?  Who are we that so much  should
converge on our little deaths? (In anguish to the PLAYER.) Who are we?
     PLAYER: You are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That's enough.
     GUIL: No - it is not  enough. To be told  so  little - to such an end -
and still, finally, to be denied an explanation...
     PLAYER: In our experience, most things end in death.
     GUIL (fear, vengeance, scorn): Your experience?-Actors!
     (He snatches a dagger from the PLAYER's belt and holds the point at the
PLAYER's throat: the PLAYER backs and GUIL advances, speaking more quietly.)
     I'm talking  about death-and you've  never experienced  that.  And  you
cannot act it. You  die a thousand casual deaths-with none of that intensity
which squeezes out life... and no  blood runs cold anywhere. Because even as
you die you know that you will come back in a different hat. But no one gets
up  after  death-there  is  no  applause-there  is  only  silence  and  some
second-hand clothes, and that's - death -
     (And he pushes  the blade in  up  to the  hilt. The PLAYER stands  with
huge, terrible eyes, clutches at the wound as the blade withdraws: he  makes
small weeping sounds and falls to his knees, and then right down:)
     (While he is dying, GUIL, nervous, high, almost hysterical,  wheels  on
the TRAGEDIANS-)
     If we have a destiny,  then so had he - and if  this is ours, then that
was his - and if there are no explanations for  us, then  let there  be none
for him -
     (The TRAGEDIANS watch the PLAYER  die:  they watch  with some interest.
The  PLAYER  finally  lies  still.  A  short  moment  of  silence.  Then the
tragedians start  to applaud with genuine  admiration. The PLAYER stands up,
brushing himself down.)
     PLAYER  (modestly): Oh, come, come, gentlemen -  no flattery  - it  was
merely competent-
     (The  tragedians are  stilt congratulating  him. The PLAYER  approaches
GUIL, who stands rooted, holding the dagger.)
     What did you think? (Pause.) You see, it is the kind they do believe in
- it's what is expected.
     (He holds his hand out  for  the dagger. GUIL slowly puts the  point of
the dagger on to  the  PLAYER's hand, and pushes  ... the  blade slides back
into the handle. The PLAYER smiles, reclaims the dagger.)
     For a moment you thought I'd - cheated.
     (ROS relieves his own tension with loud nervy laughter.)
     ROS: Oh, very good!  Very good! Took me in completely  - didn't he take
you in completely-(claps his hands.) Encore! Encore!
     PLAYER (activated,  arms spread, the professional): Deaths for all ages
and  occasions!  Deaths  by suspension,  convulsion, consumption,  incision,
execution, asphyxiation and malnutrition-! Climatic carnage, by  poison  and
by steel-! Double deaths by duel-! Show!
     (ALFRED, still in his queen's costume, dies by poison: the PLAYER, with
rapier, kills the "KING" and duels with a fourth  TRAGEDIAN,  inflicting and
receiving a wound: the two  remaining tragedians, the two "SPIES" dressed in
the same coats as ROS and GUIL, are stabbed, as before.)
     (And the  light  is  fading  over  the  deaths which  take  place right
upstage.)
     (Dying  amid the dying-tragically; romantically.) So there's an end  to
that-it's commonplace: light goes with life, and in the winter of your years
the dark comes early...
     GUIL (tired,  drained, but stilt an edge of impatience; over the mime):
No... no... not for us, not like  that. Dying is not romantic,  and death is
not a  game which will  soon be  over... Death is not anything ... death  is
not... It's the absence  of presence,  nothing more ... the  endless time of
never coming back ... a gap you  can't see, and when the wind blows  through
it, it makes no sound...
     (The  light has  gone upstage. Only GUIL and ROS are visible  as ROS's;
clapping falters to silence.)
     (Small pause.)
     ROS: That's it, then, is it?
     (No answer, he looks out front.)
     The  sun's  going  down. Or  the earth's coming up,  as the fashionable
theory has it.
     (Small pause.) Not that it makes any difference.
     (Pause.)
     What was it all about? When did it begin?
     (Pause, no answer.)
     Couldn't we just stay put? I mean no one is going  to come on and  drag
us off.... They Ml just have to wait. We're still young ... fit... we've got
years...
     (Pause. No answer.)
     (A cry.) We've nothing wrong! We didn't harm anyone. Did we?
     GUIL: I can't remember.
     (ROS pulls himself together.)
     ROS:  All  right, then. I  don't care. I've had enough. To tell you the
truth, I'm relieved.
     (And he disappears from view.)
     (GUIL does not notice.)
     GUIL: Our  names  shouted  in  a certain  dawn  ...  a  message  ...  a
summons... there must have been  a moment,  at the beginning, where we could
have said-no. But somehow we missed it.
     (He looks round and sees he is alone.)
     Rosen--?
     Guil--?
     (He gathers himself.)
     Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see me, now you -
     (And disappears.)
     (Immediately the whole stage is lit up, revealing, upstage, arranged in
the approximate positions last  held by the dead  TRAGEDIANS, the tableau of
court and corpses which is the last scene of "Hamlet".)
     (That  is: The KING, QUEEN, LAERTES  and HAMLET all dead. HORATIO holds
HAMLET. FORTINBRAS is there.)
     (So are two AMBASSADORS from England.)
     AMBASSADORS: The signal is dismal;
     and our affairs from England come too late.
     The ears are senseless that should give us hearing to
     tell him his commandment is fulfilled, that
     Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.
     Where should we have our thanks?
     HORATIO: Not from his  mouth, had it the ability of  life to thank you:
He never  gave commandment  for their  death. But  since, so jump upon  this
bloody question, you from the  Polack wars, and you  from England,  are here
arrived, give order that these bodies high on a stage be placed to the view;
and let me  speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about: so
shall  you  hear  of  carnal,  bloody  and  unnatural  acts,  of  accidental
judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
and, in this upshot,  purposes mistook  fallen on the inventors' heads:  all
this can I truly deliver.
     (But during  the above speech  the play  fades, overtaken  by  dark and
music.)

     THE END


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