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In Hamlet, why did Hamlet not regret the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

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alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:50 AM via web

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In Hamlet, why did Hamlet not regret the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 25, 2013 at 9:58 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the charges that is frequently levelled against Hamlet is that he sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two characters who were themselves pawns in the hands of Claudius, to their deaths unfairly. This is an impression that has been heightened following the publication of Tom Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which draws this liminal, minor characters into the centre of the audience's focus and presents them as being yet two more victims of Hamlet's maddened revenge. However, in Act V scene 2, it is clear that Hamlet feels no regret for his actions at all in sending them to their deaths in such a duplicitous fashion. Note what he says to Horatio:

Why, man, they did make love to this employment,

They are not near my conscience. Their defeat

Does by their own insinuation grow.

’Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes

Between the pass and fell incensed points

Of mighty opposites.

Hamlet says, basically, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got what they deserved. Because they "made love" to the job of tricking Hamlet and working against him, they do not even cause him any pangs in terms of his conscience. He goes on to argue that they were characters of "baser nature" or two minor, insignificant individuals, who got caught in the crossfire between Hamlet and Claudius. Hamlet certainly feels aggrieved that these two figures, who he had thought were friends, would work against him and for Claudius, but even then it is hard not to think that Hamlet's attitude in this speech is slightly callous as he completely dismisses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and ignores his own role in their deaths, which, arguably, were not necessary.

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