Killing of Rosecratz and GIldenstern in HamletKillings of  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in terms of Hamlet's philosophic view, his goal of revenge, and today's morals.  Discuss whether his action...

Killing of Rosecratz and GIldenstern in Hamlet

Killings of  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in terms of Hamlet's philosophic view, his goal of revenge, and today's morals.  Discuss whether his action is justifiable and practical by each set of terms.

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malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

But once Hamlet learned the contents of the letter, how would he know whether or not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be trusted? He couldn't very well come out and say, "So, guys, I know that Claudius is sending me to England to be killed - are you in on it?" If he did that and if they were in on the plot with Claudius, he would have been killed right then and there.

Also keep in mind that he didn't know pirates were going to attack his ship, thus giving him a chance to escape from R&G. He read the letter and switched the contents the night before the ship was attacked, so as far as Hamlet knew, he was stuck with R&G until they reached England.

This is definitely a tough topic because I know that most of us would (and should) think that sending two clueless guys (if they were in fact clueless) to their deaths is a horrible thing to do. But we can't consider it from 21st-century armchair quarterback points of view. At this point in the story, Hamlet felt it was either kill or be killed, and he believed he was working toward a goal given to him by his dead father - he wasn't about to let two lackeys lead him to his beheading in England.

I don't agree with all of the decisions Hamlet made (his treatment of Ophelia was cruel and in many ways unnecessary). But this is one that I just can't see where he had any other choice, unless he stole a dinghy from the ship (assuming there was one) and took off on his own.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would expect that Hamlet's view of the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was simply that they were "casualties of war."  It was either him or them, and he felt strongly compelled to finish the job given to him by the ghost of his father - he needed to seek revenge on Claudius.  In addition, Hamlet knew that these guys were working for his enemy, Claudius - so why would he even hesitate to eliminate them?

With regards to today's morals, are they really that different than back then?  Okay, so if I knew that someone had killed my father, I would go to the police because I'm not the prince of Denmark and the murderer isn't a king.  But if I continue with the idea that they were casualties of war, wouldn't their deaths be justifiable?

This might be a good one for further discussion by other editors and interested parties! :)

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet is full of ambiguity. That is how Shakespeare crafted it. Hamlet’s choice was not a matter of kill or be killed, although in all honesty it may have come to that, but Hades made a very astute observation in saying that Hamlet acted too hastily. This is a recurrent theme in Hamlet, and it in part led to Hamlet’s downfall.

hades | Student

I disagree. Though this is the common line i have seen people take, i think that since R&G actually had no idea what a horrible person they were working for, and because they did not know what was contained in the letters they were carrying, and because they thought they were helping Hamlet because they were trying to find they source of his madness, i think that Hamlet should be repraoched for killings R&G.  As dispicable characters as they may be argued to be, they did not by any means deserve death.  Hamlet could have just as easily not switched the letters and escaped, but instead he chose, for the second time, to act quickly and irrationaly and take someone's (or in this case, two people's) life into his hands.

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