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Discuss Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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sharief78 | Student, Undergraduate | Salutatorian

Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:39 PM via web

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Discuss Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:40 PM (Answer #1)

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's "friends" from college. They come to the castle, ostensibly to visit Hamlet, but really to spy for Claudius and Gertrude.

These characters, along with almost everyone else fail to heed Polonius' words—in a theme central to the story:

…to thine own self be true...

...Thou canst not then be false to any man. (I.iii.78, 80)

In the context of the time, Polonius (who is full of wonderful advice but never able to follow it himself) is telling his son to make sure he has his priorities straight. He is not telling him to be selfish, but more accurately...

Take care of yourself first...and that way you'll be in a position to take care of others.

Today, we might take this to mean that being true or honest with oneself will make it impossible to lie to another. Shakespeare takes this advice very seriously. In fact, those who do not follow this counsel end up dead. From either perspective, there is the need to be honest with oneself, and honest and supportive of others. Horatio may be the only one who understands this concept.

Gertrude allows herself to be wooed into an incestuous marriage, which causes Hamlet a great deal of distress. (Elizabethans believed that to marry a member of one's family—even if not related by blood—was incestuous.) She is "well-meaning and shallow." Had she thought of Hamlet first—of her love for Old Hamlet—she might not have married again, and might have survived.

Laertes wants revenge for his father's accidental death, and then for Ophelia's madness and death. Plotting to kill Hamlet serves Laertes' needs—and the King's, but it is divergent from his values and harmful to Hamlet.

It is the same with Polonius and Claudius. Both are men interested solely in themselves. Claudius murders his brother to steal his crown. He forfeits his honor, and loses his immortal soul in committing regicide. He also brings harm to Hamlet and Gertrude.

Polonius' advice to Laertes is not for his son's benefit, but because he likes to hear himself talk. He does all he can to "curry favor" with the King: he spies in order to ingratiate himself to the Claudius—with no real concern for Hamlet.

Sadly, Ophelia suffers the same fate. She allows herself to be used to Hamlet's detriment. Rather than taking him aside to inquire about what troubles him, she becomes a spy for the King. It may seem that she has little choice, but one wonders if she could have handled it differently, out of love for Hamlet.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the same. They profess concern, but simply want to serve the King to advance their own good fortune. Hamlet refuses, as a king's son, to answer to a sponge. He explains that Rosencrantz is a "sponge," soaking up any news (and rewards) he can get. 

Besides, to be demanded of a sponge, what replication should

be made by the son of a king? (IV.ii.13-14)

He warns both men that the King will use them until they can no longer be of service:

He keeps them, like an ape, in the corner

of his jaw; first mouth'd, to be last swallowed. When he

needs what you have glean'd, it is but squeezing you and,

sponge, you shall be dry again. (18-21)

In the end, Hamlet tells them nothing: having no trust in them. In betraying Hamlet, they are executed in his place because they were dishonest and self-serving—seeing to their own interests without thought of anyone else.

They characters are judged on their lack of integrity and concern for others.





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