How does Claudius manipulate Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the play?

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern first enter Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Act 2. Claudius has tasked them, as Hamlet’s childhood friends, with finding out why he is acting so strangely. Claudius initially manipulates them into reporting back to him by pretending he is worried about Hamlet. Playing the sympathetic father figure, one who is worried about his son/nephew’s well being, is enough to get Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on their friend.

It is clear from Act 1 that Horatio is Hamlet’s closest friend. Surely Claudius would not have been able to manipulate him in the way he toys with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The random appearance of friends he has not seen for a long time tips Hamlet off about their purpose. Hamlet acts strangely for them, and they have nothing to report back to Claudius. They try again, and Hamlet calls them “sponges” and warns them he will not be played like an instrument. They don’t seem to understand that by doing the king’s bidding, they are betraying their childhood friendship. In Act 4, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are told to find out where Hamlet has hidden Polonius’s body. Again, Hamlet toys with them, and they fail to secure the answer themselves.

Finally, Claudius’s manipulation takes its cruelest form as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern escort Hamlet to England by boat. They have an official letter from Claudius to deliver with Hamlet, and they seem to believe that Hamlet is being taken to England for his own benefit. Knowing more than they do, Hamlet opens the letter and changes Claudius’s order of execution so that his childhood friends are executed upon their arrival instead of him.

The reader is prepared for Hamlet’s revenge against Claudius at the end of the play. Perhaps, though, the reader is less prepared for Hamlet’s callous arrangement for the execution of his childhood friends. By the end of the play, after suffering his father’s loss, his mother’s hasty remarriage and the death of his love, Ophelia, it seems Hamlet has little tolerance for friends who have failed in their loyalty to him. While they did not know exactly what Claudius was planning, they did not hesitate to do his work for him out of a blind duty to the king, one that outweighed their previous friendship with Hamlet.

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In addition to hiring Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to help him with Hamlet's depression, Claudius perhaps has planted the seed that Hamlet's melancholy has resulted from the fact that his ambition to inherit the throne has been thwarted by Claudius and Gertrude's marriage.  Notice in Act 2 how often Rosencrantz and Guildenstern use the word "ambition" in their questioning of Hamlet.  It seems here that  Claudius has commissioned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern not only to find out what is wrong with Hamlet, but also to determine if Hamlet had past ambitions for the throne, and if he is still harboring those same ambitions. Claudius obviously views Hamlet as a true threat, and he is using the two spies in an attempt to find out Hamlet's motivation.

 Later, Claudius uses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England where Claudius plans for him to be executed.  Of course, this plan does not work, but we are not sure of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's knowledge of this plan.  Perhaps they are innocent of the orders they are carrying.  Perhaps not.  Hamlet likens them to "sponges" or "knee-crooking" knaves--sychophants that will do whatever they are told to promote their standing with the king. 

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The short answer would be:  very easily.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not the brightest guys around, but Claudius calls them to Denmark ostensibly because he is worried about Hamlet and he is hoping that they will be able to help him figure out what is wrong and presumably fix it.

As they arrive, Hamlet sees through their entrance as they cannot but admit that they were sent for, they did not in fact come of their own accord.

Claudius continues to use them by stirring up their sense of duty to royalty as well as that to their friend Hamlet and the idea that he is sick or somehow out of kilter and that together with Claudius if they try hard enough they will be able to help him escape his melancholy, etc.

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