In Shakespeare's Hamlet, how is Hamlet's second major interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (in Act 3, Scene 2) different from his first encounter with them (in Act 2, Scene 2)?

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kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In his first encounter he seems to be willing to overlook the fact that they were sent for as he humors them to some extent.  He is wary of their entrance and makes that clear but he welcomes them to Elsinore and appears to take at least some pleasure in their company.

In their second interaction, he sees them entirely as agents from the king and wonders why they would try to play him as they would a pipe.  His enormous disdain for not only their intelligence but also for them as lackeys of the king is set out for everyone to see.  He plays them perhaps as they would have liked to play him and is absolutely brutal with them compared to his earlier somewhat accepting attitude.

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favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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In his first interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet is somewhat open and honest with them.  When they admit that they were sent for by the king and queen, Hamlet explains why.  He says that he's been quite unhappy lately, that the earth seems "sterile" and the heavens seem "foul and pestilent" to him (2.2.322, 2.2.326).  He is baffled and disturbed by the fact that a man can be so like "a god" and, at the same time, simply like "dust" (2.2.330, 2.2.332).  Even more importantly, Hamlet references his "uncle-father and aunt-mother" and says that they are incorrect in their estimation of him and his senses (2.2.399).  The way he refers to them gives big hints as to why he's feeling so melancholy.  Then he admits, "I am but mad north-north-west.  When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw" (2.2.402-403).  In other words, he tells them that his stepfather and mother are wrong for believing him to be crazy (and the terms with which he refers to them allow his friends to ascertain that the marriage is a major cause of Hamlet's upset); he says that he's only "mad" every so often but that he's got his wits about him for the vast majority of the time. 

Later, in the next interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet acts full-on crazy.  He claims that he cannot "Make [them] a wholesome answer [to their questions].  [His] wit's diseased" (3.2.349-350).  He is rude to them and keeps up the same "mad" act with them now that he does regularly with Polonius and Claudius.

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