Almost the entirety of Act III takes place onboard a boat to England, and Stoppard uses the boat to reflect the experience of living in a universe that is beyond our control. Guildenstern initially responds quite positively to being on the boat, noting that it is pleasurable to give up responsibility and allow oneself to simply be carried along through life. This resignation to life’s randomness is freeing, Guildenstern believes, because it means that we no longer have to worry about whether we are making the right decisions—we can just relax and see where life takes us. The play suggests that this is a naïve and dangerous attitude, however, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s refusal to take any action for themselves will end up getting them killed. Guildenstern realizes that getting on the boat was a mistake, since giving up their freedom meant that they lost all control over their lives. Simply giving in to the randomness of the world, as well as believing that giving in leads to freedom, are self-destructive gestures. These gestures make us like men on a boat they cannot steer, unable to do anything about our experiences.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead does not attempt to answer any of the questions it’s raising about time (much less the questions about identity or existence or any of the many other issues the play grapples with), though it does a great job of bringing them onto the stage. Is life totally random, or have we just not seen enough of the play to understand the hidden order? Are we infinite in our ability to experience a present moment, or have we just not reached our end yet? The play uses theatre in multiple ways—as a medium, as a topic of discussion of the characters, as a backdrop/plot—to explore these questions, though at the end the audience is left with as few answers as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The play even ends in a blur, with the play “ [fading] out, overtaken by dark and music ” (126) in the middle of Horatio’s line about speaking to the yet unknowing world. Stoppard is not aiming to bring resolution, he’s aiming to put these feelings and odd contortions of life onto the stage, where these artificial renditions can hit home harder than reality. As the player explains at one point,