Did Hamlet go too far with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?When Hamlet found his own execution order on the ship to England, he could have simply ripped the thing up and thrown the pieces into the...

Did Hamlet go too far with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

When Hamlet found his own execution order on the ship to England, he could have simply ripped the thing up and thrown the pieces into the sea. Instead he forged execution orders for R&G. There's no proof in the text that they knew what was in the original order, and Hamlet didn't see fit to find out.

Do you think he went too far with them? He didn't have to send them to their deaths.

Asked on by missplum

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There have been some excellent answers to this excellent question. Hamlet does seem pretty cold-blooded. I would like to point out, however, that when he specified that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should be executed immediately he might have been thinking about his own security. They could have told the English authorities that Hamlet was completely insane, that he had murdered Polonius, and that King Claudius was afraid of him. They could have pleaded for their lives and accused Hamlet of forging the document they had just handed over. If they delivered a document calling for Hamlet's execution, that would be plausible; but if they delivered a document calling for their own execution, that might make the English pause to consider. Rosencrntz and Guildenstern could perhaps have made a strong enough case, especially since they are two against one, to persuade the English to hold off while they sent to Denmark for clarification. That would seem to explain why Hamlet wanted them silenced without shriving time allowed. The English might wonder why, if Claudius wanted these two men executed, he would have entrusted them with the document rather than Hamlet. Hamlet expected to be standing right there with them, and there could have been a whole lot of questionings, accusations, and explanations.

accessteacher's profile pic

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

Posted on

I personally think this is an excellent example of how Hamlet can be considered a bad individual who does go too far. At the end of the day, poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were just doing their job and obeying Claudius. The revenge that Hamlet takes out on them seems to be disproportionate to their crime. This shows Hamlet's evil side in my opinion.

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In a word, yes.  I have always been very disturbed by the treatment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They apparently have no knowledge that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet.  So far as they know, they are simply serving the rightful king of Denmark.  They do know that Hamlet has killed Polonius. They apparently do not know that Claudius is sending them and Hamlet to England with orders that Hamlet shoulod be killed.  The orders are sealed, and Hamlet breaks the seal. He then writes his own letter to the English king, describing it later to Horatio as

An earnest conjuration from the King [i.e., Claudius]
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish,
As peace should still her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma 'tween their amities,
And many such-like as's of great charge,
That, on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further, more or less,
He should the bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving time allow'd. [emphasis added]

"Not shriving time allow'd": as the eNotes "translation" paraphrases this phrase, "Not even allowing time for confession and penance."

This is, to say the least, disturbing behavior, and Horatio seems shocked by it.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Hamlet feels betrayed. He's been feeling betrayed a lot at that point. He distrusts the two for playing on their supposed childhood friendship and pretending to be on his sided, all while stabbing him in the back. Did he have to kill them? Maybe. What would have happened if they had gotten back?
pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Hamlet is really in a bind here.  He doesn't know who's on his side and who's against him.  In a sense, he's fighting for his life.  It's hard to blame a guy for taking actions that seem really extreme in that sort of a circumstance.

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

He didn't have to, but at the point at which he did, he also didn't know pirates where going to show up the next day and provide him a means of returning to Denmark unscathed. At the point he changes the letter he is doing what he thinks he must in order to ensure nothing bad happens to him in England. Clearly he is suspicious of Claudius's motives or he wouldn't have gone looking in the first place, and he knows he would have all the more reason not to trust anything that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would have to say for themselves. If they DO know, they are terrible people; if they DON"T know, they are senseless fools blindly following the King's commands. Either way is bad news for Hamlet. He does what he has to do.

geenamae's profile pic

geenamae | Student | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Poor Hamlet, poor R/G. Hamlet has to be feeling extremely overwhelmed. Up to this point he has had to deal with all sort of shocking occurences and now to know that his King has given orders for his death, it must seem a very claustrophobic world to Hamlet. He is just lashing out at those nearest and those  whom he feels very betrayed by. Wether they betrayed him or not it is simply unfortunate for them that they were singled out by the king to be the betrayers of Hamlet.

coryengle's profile pic

coryengle | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

Consider the passage in Act 3, Scene ii wherein Hamlet is instructing the players on how to act ("do not saw the air too much with your hand..." etc.). The point of this is that he is illustrating the value of temperance ("it o'ersteps... nature...  it out-Herods Herod. Pray you avoid it"). If we read this as a "choral speech" with a symbollic, underlying meaning, we can surmise that Hamlet is actually projecting his own inability to balance his actions in the play.


Now consider that this passage falls almost directly in the middle of the play.


Now consider Hamlet's lethargy in the play's beginning, juxtaposed with his overacting in the second half.

Thus, if we should try to make a value judgment on Hamlet's treatment of R/G at the end of the play, we can possibly say that yes, he overstepped his bounds. This supported by its context, in which he overacts to a great extent during the play's second half (stabbing Polonius, etc.).


Or maybe I'm just not making any sense.

missplum's profile pic

missplum | College Teacher | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted on

In a word, yes.  I have always been very disturbed by the treatment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They apparently have no knowledge that Claudius murdered Old Hamlet.  So far as they know, they are simply serving the rightful king of Denmark.  They do know that Hamlet has killed Polonius. They apparently do not know that Claudius is sending them and Hamlet to England with orders that Hamlet shoulod be killed.  The orders are sealed, and Hamlet breaks the seal. He then writes his own letter to the English king, describing it later to Horatio as

An earnest conjuration from the King [i.e., Claudius]
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish,
As peace should still her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma 'tween their amities,
And many such-like as's of great charge,
That, on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further, more or less,
He should the bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving time allow'd. [emphasis added]

"Not shriving time allow'd": as the eNotes "translation" paraphrases this phrase, "Not even allowing time for confession and penance."

This is, to say the least, disturbing behavior, and Horatio seems shocked by it.

Thank you for reminding me with that quote. Hamlet describes the death warrant with his eternal flippancy and relish.

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