Anti-Semitism?Do you believe there is anything anti-semitic in the naming of traitorous "friends" of Hamlet, Rosencratz and Guildenstern?

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malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In reply to #13:

I truly don't know about the etymology.  I tried to do some research, but most of the genealogy databases required subscription.  However, despite my lack of evidence, my gut tells me that like Shylock, the roots of the names would resonate:  Rose, Rosen, Gold (read: Guild), Stern, Stein are all common Jewish surnames.  I doubt these are recent trends. 

I really like your insight into "Guilt," especially since he is the one of the pair who appears to show apprehension and distaste for his orders.   

 

That quote is from the Chorus prior to Act II of "Henry V," when the stage is being set for the traitors in the pay of France are to be caught by Henry. It's one of my favorite, and definitely fits with Mr. Guildenstern! :)

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In Shakespeare's time, when someone called a man "gentle" wasn't that like saying he was a "gentleman" or nobility?

Yes, absolutely.  And the appellation was only extended to the elite and landed gentry.  I think it is fascinating the way Claudius holds this over Rosencratz and Guildenstern's heads; I address the reactions of both men at length in Lesson 11:  Spies Like Us."

http://blogs.enotes.com/literature-101/2008-01/hamlet-lesson-11-spies-like-us/

To all that have contributed to this thread, I'd really appreciate it if you'd read this posting and comment on the lesson, either here or on the comments page of the lesson itself.  Thanks! 

 

I just re-read your lesson (link above), and that is fascinating, Jamie! I didn't know (as I had never bothered to look it up) that "gentle" referred to the gentry, which, now that I think about it, sure seems obvious! There are so many words like that in Shakespeare - the meaning has changed between his time and ours - but a lot of the time we assume we know what he's saying because we automatically insert our modern definition for the word. Anyway...

Does that lesson, then, tie in to your question about the possibility for an anti-Semitical interpretation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?  I think, personally, I still have to go back to what Linda found in her research...that the names wouldn't have meant the same thing to Shakespeare as they do to us.

Very interesting, though, that both Claudius and Gertrude know how to hold something over people's heads...an offer of elevation in the world, simply for spying on Hamlet, who, of course, they should care so much about and be willing to do anything to help him!  "Gilt? Oh, guilt indeed!" :)

I truly don't know about the etymology.  I tried to do some research, but most of the genealogy databases required subscription.  However, despite my lack of evidence, my gut tells me that like Shylock, the roots of the names would resonate:  Rose, Rosen, Gold (read: Guild), Stern, Stein are all common Jewish surnames.  I doubt these are recent trends. 

I really like your insight into "Guilt," especially since he is the one of the pair who appears to show apprehension and distaste for his orders.   

 

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

In Shakespeare's time, when someone called a man "gentle" wasn't that like saying he was a "gentleman" or nobility?

Yes, absolutely.  And the appellation was only extended to the elite and landed gentry.  I think it is fascinating the way Claudius holds this over Rosencratz and Guildenstern's heads; I address the reactions of both men at length in Lesson 11:  Spies Like Us."

http://blogs.enotes.com/literature-101/2008-01/hamlet-lesson-11-spies-like-us/

To all that have contributed to this thread, I'd really appreciate it if you'd read this posting and comment on the lesson, either here or on the comments page of the lesson itself.  Thanks! 

 

I just re-read your lesson (link above), and that is fascinating, Jamie! I didn't know (as I had never bothered to look it up) that "gentle" referred to the gentry, which, now that I think about it, sure seems obvious! There are so many words like that in Shakespeare - the meaning has changed between his time and ours - but a lot of the time we assume we know what he's saying because we automatically insert our modern definition for the word. Anyway...

Does that lesson, then, tie in to your question about the possibility for an anti-Semitical interpretation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?  I think, personally, I still have to go back to what Linda found in her research...that the names wouldn't have meant the same thing to Shakespeare as they do to us.

Very interesting, though, that both Claudius and Gertrude know how to hold something over people's heads...an offer of elevation in the world, simply for spying on Hamlet, who, of course, they should care so much about and be willing to do anything to help him!  "Gilt? Oh, guilt indeed!" :)

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Again, I did not bring up this tangent to be stereotypical, I could list a thousand of traveling male pairs that do not to be presumed to be a symbolic or thematic relationship.

I did say that I really don't buy into this thought. I had a professor than discussed the relationship of their names. She simply supposed that there may be a link from these two to all the other non-normative relationships in the play.

I do see that the is a predilection towards critics to "find" in European Lit an embedded Jew or in American Lit a Christ figure, or a potent sunset image. But the assumption that Huck and Jim, Gene and Finny or George and Lenny are gay is easily dismissible.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As long as we're going "stereotypical" and "prejudicial" I'm going to say that I don't think Shakespeare meant for R and G to be Jewish tricksters.  Just as I know that all Aisians aren't math whizzes and not all white people have rhythm issues, I will risk saying that I have never met anyone I knew was Jewish who was as dumb as these two characters. Jewish people are usually very shrewd and intelligent.  If Shakespeare was trying to be stereotypical, he missed the mark there.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

In Shakespeare's time, when someone called a man "gentle" wasn't that like saying he was a "gentleman" or nobility?

Yes, absolutely.  And the appellation was only extended to the elite and landed gentry.  I think it is fascinating the way Claudius holds this over Rosencratz and Guildenstern's heads; I address the reactions of both men at length in Lesson 11:  Spies Like Us."

http://blogs.enotes.com/literature-101/2008-01/hamlet-lesson-11-spies-like-us/

To all that have contributed to this thread, I'd really appreciate it if you'd read this posting and comment on the lesson, either here or on the comments page of the lesson itself.  Thanks! 

 

linda-allen's profile pic

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

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In Shakespeare's time, when someone called a man "gentle" wasn't that like saying he was a "gentleman" or nobility?

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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i don't automatically go to a gay thing on this. I don't read Of Mice and Men this way, i don't really even read Hamlet this way. I think there is something about the pairing of these two that is still left to unpack, though. There is a theme of stilted generation here.

There are more than Tweedledum and Dee and there is a reason for them being two characters instead of one.

I believe the Branuagh version does also have the Queen mistaking which is which.

The most striking part of they play is in the anti-climactic annnouncement of their death. If Hamlet's existential plight is our focus, R+G have an ignonimious, needless death. There has to be a contrast to this.

I read them more as pawn than judas. Perhaps their death was one of the hubris-driven, over the top moments for our hero.

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clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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In reply to #6, I read it the same way you do- Gertrude is simply including both in the bit of praise since they are both really equally agreeing to do their bidding so I don't think you're off base at all, although I am sure that no one who matters in the play can really tell them apart- they pretty much share are one in the same person.

I reply to Part 2 of #6, I think that we automatically go toward the "gay" thing with men who are "traveling companions" because close and open companionship like that is generally something women do. Women are generally more emotional than men and more open with their friendships and affections, where men are generally viewed as much less emotional with their male friends. These are just generalities and certainly I'm not trying to speak for men everywhere, but I think that's why assumptions are made.

In reply to the post, the Jewishness of R & G never really crossed my mind and I think it's interesting to bat around as I reread some of the passages. R & G are good representatives of how the Jews were seen during that time period, but I don't know if that was the intention either, although Shakespeare rarely wrote without very distinct purposes in every line so maybe he meant it to some extent.

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Um...before I get into the gay question, can I ask everyone this?

Is it true, based entirely on Shakespeare's text, that people really do get R&G mixed up, or is that an interpretation used primarily because of the great Tom Stoppard play, "R&G Are Dead"?  Because when I read the text, it seems to me that Gertrude is merely being kind (or flattering) to Rosencrantz when she switches the names - Claudius calls Guildenstern "gentle" in his line, then she turns them around and calls Rosencrantz "gentle" in her line. I don't read that as she is correcting Claudius - I just see her including both in the praise and flattery. Am I way off base here?

I love all of the word meanings and definitions that Jeff used in posing his viewpoint of R&G, and I'm definitely NOT saying it's not possible. But I guess I just hate the fact that two men can't be viewed as simply friends, traveling companions, whatever, without the assumption that they're gay. It seems like in our culture of openness and "coming out," now any man who hangs out with another man is assumed to be gay, unless he's out there scoring with chicks, right and left.

Jeff, please don't think I'm saying anything bad about your post - I love posing these questions and opening things up for debate. This is more of my frustration with society. I can go to the mall with a girlfriend, have coffee, give her a hug, and people don't automatically think I'm gay. Why do we do that to men?

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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OK, here is where I go on my furthest limb. Well, that is a lie, I have further ones. I have one playful thought about this. I don't pound my fist in defending it.

The sexual relationships throughout the play have a common theme to them. They are.... treading lightly here... non normative and at least will not produce legitimate progeny. There are themes of incest (C+G), aborted romance (O+H), Celibacy (P), and homosexuality (R+G).

You have two travelling close friends with correlating names. They are constantly being confused for one another, as if it is a guessing game to figure out which of the two is ... well ... there is constant confusion over whom to call "Gentle" is there not? "We thank you gentle Rosencratz... eerrr Guildenstern..." etc.

Obviously one would have to be a bit more Rosen in his crantz. As well as see  the other's "stern" as gilded"

two definitions of gilded 

 1.

to give a bright, pleasing, or specious aspect to. 2.Archaic. to make red, as with blood.

... stern being the butt end of a ship

 There I said it. It isn't Timon and Pumba, but it is kind of fun to kick around.

Of course the straight forward definition of Rosencrantz would be a graveside floral arrangement for a maiden made of roses.

Rosen- crantz

"Yet here she is allowed her virgin crants, Her maiden strewments" said at Ophelia's funeral.

linda-allen's profile pic

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

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I'm a teacher now, but for twenty years I was a copyeditor/production editor at a major publishing house. All copyeditors contract a horrible disease: not being able to let a question go unanswered. Because we have to check facts all the time, it drives us crazy until we finally track down an answer!

So, this question intrigued me so much I had to do some searching. I found a Q&A forum at www.shaksper.net where someone had asked a similar question. Here are some of the answers:

The Jews most likely to be familiar to Shakespeare and his audience were Sephardic, from Spain and Portugal, and have names such as "Lopez."
It's not likely that "Rosencrantz" and "Guildenstern" would have "sounded Jewish" in London around 1600.

No, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (in Danish: Rosencranz (rosary) and Gyldenstjerne (golden star)) are probably not intended to be Jewish names. They are in fact well known names of two
prominent Danish noble families, whose influence on the council of the realm in Denmark was considerable during both the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance (and, indeed, later). Shakespeare would have known of the names and their Danish connotations through members of these families
coming to England as ambassadors during the reign of Elizabeth.

 

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

That is a fascinating question and one that had never even crossed my mind...in all the times I've read this play! I never even blinked at their names, perhaps because I always picture Tim Roth and Gary Oldman in Renaissance garb! :)

I think, as with Shylock, we can look at this two ways. One is that Shakespeare's writing and the attitudes within his writing are reflective of the times in which he wrote. People in Elizabethan England simply did not like Jews. One can harp on the evils of Christians at the time if they like, but it doesn't change the fact that people simply did not like or trust the Jews. So giving a couple of unlikable characters Jewish names would have made sense to the audiences of the time.

The other way to look at this is the fact that Shakespeare did not give Claudius a Jewish name, and he's the most evil jerk in the play. Nor did he give Polonius a Jewish name, who is far less appealing than either Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Rather, he chose two characters who are almost pathetic in that they go to their deaths, having no clue that the king they supported was truly evil.

R&G and Shylock have their bad points, but are also pitiful and sad in their own ways. Perhaps Shakespeare was trying to say something about the treatment of Jews, even 400 years ago. Or perhaps I just adore Shakespeare too much to be objective! :)

Great topic, Jamie!!

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crashmanner | eNotes Newbie

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It troubles me to think of the ignorance in some of the responses, even more so as it comes from users with tags that identify themselves as educators. In the the late 18th and early 19th century the emerging bureaucratic state apparatuses of central Europe sought to catalog their subjects. As a result they ordered Jews to adopt surnames. Prior to this, Ashkenazi jews used patronymics and matronymics which changed with each generation. Shakespeare chose Rosencrantz (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenkrantz_(noble_family) ) and Guildenstern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyldenstierne_(noble_family) ) as names for his character because they are well known Scandinavian noble houses (and thus implicitly Christian), the kind that would have association with the Danish royal family. Shakespeare could not have possibly been anti-semitic in choosing these names, because Jews didn't even have last names at the time of his writing.

Beyond this, it's wrong to assume even now that surnames with Rose or Guild in them are necessarily Jewish. 

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