Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Hamlet's childhood friends

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also important characters in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet have known each other since their childhood. They were brought up together and have kept in touch ever since (Act 2; Scene 2). Hamlet's mother Gertrude even believes that her son considers the two his best friends: "Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of you; And sure I am two men there are not living To whom he more adheres." (2.2.19-21). Hamlet indeed seems to hold his two friends in high esteem at the beginning of the drama. At their first meeting in the play, he still refers to them as his "good friends" (2.2.236).

Nevertheless, in the very first scene in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear, considerable doubts are raised about their loyalty to Hamlet: Arriving in Elsinore, the two young students are quickly caught up in the intriguing events at court. They willingly and submissively agree to spy on Hamlet in King Claudius' service (Act 2; Scene 2). In the same scene, it is also revealed that they can be corrupted easily, when Gertrude promises to reward them: “Your visitation shall receive such thanks As fits a king's remembrance.” (2.1.25-26). They do not seem to have any moral qualms about this. Power and the courtly hierarchy are apparently clearly more important to them than friendship.

Since King Claudius occupies a higher rank than Prince Hamlet, they expect significantly higher rewards and thanks from him than from Hamlet. Guildenstern's expression: "But we both obey, And here give up ourselves, in the full bent To lay our service freely at your feet, To be commanded." (2.2.31-34), shows the submissiveness of the two in the face of Claudius’ authority as king.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are so obedient to the king and queen that they transfer to them the right to freely dispose of them: "Both your majesties Might, by the sovereign power you have of us, Put your dread pleasures more into command Than to entreaty." (2.2.27-30). Without hesitation, they take over the execution of their new task and seek out Hamlet to discover the cause of his madness.

The spies

In the e...

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