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The Real Rosencratz and GuildensternRosencratz and Guildenstern were actual historical...

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 11, 2008 at 1:32 PM via web

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The Real Rosencratz and Guildenstern

Rosencratz and Guildenstern were actual historical figures mentioned in a 1588 report sent to Queen Elizabeth from Elisnore.  We know there was a historical basis for the character of Hamlet, but why pull these particular names?  Speculation is welcome, but actual fact would be even better.  Were Rosencratz and Guildenstern acutal hangers-on?  Renaissance "Inside Edition" wants to know! 

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 11, 2008 at 1:42 PM (Answer #2)

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I'm searching. Here's what I found at the site www.hamletregained.com

The original name of "Rosencrantz" was Rossencrast, in the First Quarto of Hamlet, and Rosencraus, in the Second Quarto. The name Shakespeare used can be read to mean "red and cross," which is a verbal description of the Danish flag. The Danish flag is red with a (white) cross on it. It's the ideal name for an ordinary person of Denmark, a person under the Danish flag. The name gained its familiar form (although spelled "Rosencrance") in the First Folio, published after Shakespeare's death. The conventionalization of the name was probably done by the Folio editor.

"Guildenstern" means "golden star." The original name of "Guildenstern" was Gilderstone, in the First Quarto, and Guyldensterne, in the Second Quarto. The First Quarto form is especially interesting, since it can be read as "gold rock," i.e. fool's gold. The name works well for the character being a "fake" friend to Hamlet, not the real thing.


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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 11, 2008 at 2:04 PM (Answer #3)

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Here's more. In a book titled New Shakespeareana: A Twentieth Century Review of Shakespearean and Elizabethan Studies (found at books.google.com) is this:

Holger Rosencrantz was born on December 14, 1574, and died on October 28, 1642....He accompanied the Danish ambassador Christian Friis de Borreby on his official visit to England to be present at the coronation of James I. It is perhaps worth adding that a "Magnus Gilderstern," came to England in the train of Christian IV in 1606. (p. 141)

Holger and Magnus just don't have the same ring as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!

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