Discussion Topic

The morality and justification of the fates of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius in Hamlet

Summary:

In Hamlet, the fates of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius raise questions of morality and justification. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are manipulated and executed, reflecting the ruthlessness of political intrigue. Polonius's death, a result of his own meddling and spying, suggests a moral complexity, as his actions partially justify his fate. Overall, their deaths underscore themes of betrayal, manipulation, and the harsh consequences of political machinations.

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In Hamlet, did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate? What does this suggest about Hamlet's character?

Another important point here is that Hamlet's willingness to send his "friends" to their death shows that Hamlet is, in fact, capable of action.  He is doing what is necessary here.  Upon hearing what Hamlet did, Horatio says "Why, what a king is this!"  He is congratulating Hamlet on acting in a kingly fashion by taking out those who are not loyal to his throne.  While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may not know the full extent of what they were getting into, they clearly know that they put their allegiance with the king and not their friend, and we as readers kind of cheer on, like Horatio, the man who has had so much trouble acting in the first 4 acts of the play.

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In Hamlet, did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate? What does this suggest about Hamlet's character?

For the audience, it is hard to feel that they deserved their fate:  they were just two guys, taking orders from a King, trying to help their pal.

However, for Hamlet, who had felt deeply betrayed by all who were close to him (his mother, Opehlia and Polonius, and finally his two close friends), their deceit was just another in the line-up, and most importantly, a final testament to his uncle's guilt.  Through their letter, he finally has rock-solid proof, and can now act instead of moping and groaning about the circumstances.  So their death, to him, was most likely just one step in a series of necessary ones in order to accomplish his mission:  avenge his father. 

This suggests a singleness of purpose, how deeply he felt betrayed, and Hamlet's fatal determination to right the wrongs that had occurred, no matter who died. 

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In Hamlet, did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate? What does this suggest about Hamlet's character?

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are involved in the covert actions that swirl around Hamlet.  Although they were once friends of Hamlet, they are now more concerned about "kissing up" to the the king to maintain/improve their standing in the court and are willing to carry his instructions to England to dispatch Hamlet.  There is delicious irony in their arriving with notes they think will take care of Hamlet, only to be taken to their own deaths.

Do they deserve this fate?  I don't know if they deserve it, but I certainly do not feel much sympathy for them.  After all, they were willing to assist in Hamlet's death....

I think Hamlet's lack of remorse tells us how deeply depressed he is and how "all things do conspire against [him]."

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In Hamlet, did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate? What does this suggest about Hamlet's character?

There is a certain poetic justice in that they were dealt with in the same way that they intended to deal with Hamlet. There is the strong-running theme of "He who sets a snare will fall in it."

Furthermore, in setting up Hamlet to be killed, they were betraying a friend. There was no loyalty to the state here but pure self-interest. Hamlet turned the tables on them in self-defense. He did it without second thoughts - to save his own skin.

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In Hamlet, are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius villains? Did they deserve their deaths?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern certainly did not deserve their deaths. We can imagine how they must have felt when they arrived in England and presented the documents which Hamlet had forged. However, Hamlet was obviously in a precarious position, as he understood after he read the original letter aboard the ship carrying him to England. He had to specify

That on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further more or less,
He should those bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving-time allowed.

Hamlet knew that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, if given the opportunity, could tell a lot about him which would probably get them a postponement of their execcution until a messenger could be sent to King Claudius for confirmation of the instructions contained in the forgery.  They would say that Hamlet was insane, that he had murdered Polonius, that his own mother had proclaimed him mad, that Claudius had sent him out of the country because he feared for his own life, and that the letter they were presenting must be a forgery and ought to be closely examined. In the meantime Hamlet would have been kept in confinement.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not villains but a couple of toadies who are spying on their friend Hamlet because they hope to get rewarded by the King. They did not know the contents of the letter they were carrying to England, but they were nonetheless escorting Hamlet to his execution. They did not deserve to die, but as Hamlet says:

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.

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In Hamlet, are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius villains? Did they deserve their deaths?

Although I agree that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are lacking in some moral fortitude, I do not think they are evil. You have to consider the political situation in a monarchy. It does not excuse what they did, but the fact that they were acting in the interest of the king. Whether or not you feel that the king deserved the throne, such questions were not for them to ask.
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In Hamlet, are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius villains? Did they deserve their deaths?

When Hamlet remarks that there is something "rotten in Denmark," his is no overstatement.  The Danish court is corrupt; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were boyhood friends of Hamlet's, yet for so little they are willing to become involved in his demise.  Polonius is a self-serving hypocrite who is eager to exploit his own daughter to further his position at the Danish court.  Are they villainous?  Yes.

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In Hamlet, are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius villains? Did they deserve their deaths?

I don't really think that these people can truly be villains.  Yes, they do serve a king who didn't really deserve the throne.  But in those times, kings came to the throne through violence all the time.  The idea that a person would only serve the legitimate king would have been thought foolish.  Moreover, it's not as if Rosencranz and Guildenstern, especially, knew that Claudius had murdered his way to the throne.  They are unwitting dupes who are doing their duty as they see it.  They are not villains.

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In Hamlet, are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius villains? Did they deserve their deaths?

You have asked a fascinating question that will no doubt continue to be debated hotly down the ages. Critics who point towards the fact that Hamlet was himself a villain cite the deaths of Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as proof of this view. Of course, Tom Stoppard famously gave Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a voice in his play, Rosencranantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which depicts the two courtiers as reluctant servants of the Machiavellian king, Claudius, and victims of the villain, Hamlet. I think such a view is possible by looking at the play. It is clear that Polonius is presented as a boring, pedantic official who is only trying to be loyal to his liege at the end of the day. Whilst he does try and trick Hamlet and eavesdrop upon him, it can be argued that these stratagems are only created and carried out for the benefit of the crown and to find out what is wrong with Hamlet.

Equally with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they are just doing the job that their King asked them to do. Let us just remind ourselves of what Claudius asks of them:

I entreat you both,

That being of so young days brought up with him:

And sith so neighbour'd to his youth, and humour,

That you vouchsafe your rest here in our Court

Some little time: so by your companies

To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather

So much as from occasions you may glean,

[Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus]

That open'd lies within our remedy.

Yes, it is possible to argue that they betray Hamlet, but let us remember the realities of court life. If your King orders you to do something, to directly defy that order is tantamount to treason. Equally, it is possible to suggest that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern believe there is nothing wrong with the request of Claudius. After all, it is phrased as if it were for Hamlet's benefit rather than anything else. Therefore, overall, I belive that it is very hard to view these three characters as villains. If anything, as much as I sympathise with Hamlet, his actions in terms of killing Polonius in haste thinking it was Claudius and then arranging for the unnecessary deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, his former friends, should force us to ask some hard questions about Hamlet's own status in the play.

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Did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate in Hamlet? Why or why not?

In act 2, scene 2, Hamlet greets his newly arrived friends from college this way:

My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Gildenstern?
Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do you both?

However, the pair of friends are not coming just to support their old friend; they have actually arrived at the request of Claudius and are serving as his pawns:

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Gildenstern.
Moreover that we much did long to see you,
The need we have to use you did provoke our hasty sending. (2.2.1–3)

I entreat you both
That, being of so young days brought up with him
And since so neighbored to his youth and 'havior,
That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court
Some little time so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures and to gather,
So much as from occasion you man glean,
Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him . . . (2.2.10–17)

The two then spend their time at court spying on their friend Hamlet, trying to help Claudius in his schemes.

Claudius instructs the two to accompany Hamlet to England, and he gives them a letter to deliver to the king with instructions to kill Hamlet. It seems that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are pretty clueless about the contents of the letter; they are merely following out more of Claudius's orders, following the directions of their king.

When Hamlet finds the letter, he doesn't hesitate in his decision: His former friends should die. This is interesting, as he certainly does hesitate in the decision to kill Claudius, the man he is certain has killed his own father. The betrayal Hamlet feels spurs him to immediate action, and he feels no regret: "They are no near my conscience . . . " (5.2.64)

Based on all this, did they deserve death? It's hard to condemn a pair of friends who are acting in loyalty to their king (which doesn't translate well into our own society) and who are clearly pretty immature characters, often acting as one character instead of separate individuals. They clearly betrayed their friend and deserved some form of punishment, but as it is likely that they didn't know the contents of the letter, it's hard to condemn them for a choice they may not have made if full disclosure had been available. Would they have followed the king's orders if they had known they were sending Hamlet to his death? Maybe, and maybe not. So while their betrayal is difficult to accept, it doesn't justify their deaths, as loyalty to their king and country (as despicable as the king is, in this case) is an admired character trait for this society at this time.

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Did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate in Hamlet? Why or why not?

I would argue that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not deserve to die. Yes, they chose to work for Claudius, and yes, they were escorting Hamlet to his own death, but one must consider that they are pawns in Claudius's game. Although they are Hamlet's friends, they are subjects to the king and really have little choice but to do as they are told. Nor do they even know the contents of the letter they carry.

Moreover, Hamlet has, in fact, led them to believe that he is dangerous and unstable. His murder of Polonius confirms his instability, and as subjects, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have to act in what they believe is the best interest of their country. They are completely unaware of Claudius's plan to have Hamlet executed and rather believe that he is going to England to "recover his wits."

So why would Shakespeare have Hamlet send his friends to their deaths when he could have just as easily written a better fate for them in the changeling letter? Good question. I submit that this act is to help set up Hamlet as a foil to Laertes or possibly Claudius—or both. When Claudius and Laertes plot Hamlet's "accidental" death, it is Claudius who convinces Laertes to murder him outside the church (much like the murder of King Hamlet, who died "with all [his] imperfections on [his] head" and was therefore sent to hell).

Yet when Leartes's time comes to poison Hamlet with the envenomed blade, he says it is almost against his conscience, that he feels guilt, even though Hamlet has done him a great wrong. On the other hand, when Hamlet writes the letter ordering the deaths of his friends, he does it without hesitation and seems almost proud of his craftiness when recounting the events to Horatio. He goes so far as to say that their deaths are not on his conscience, to which Horatio exclaims, "Why, what a king is this!" While some might argue that Horatio is pondering the propriety of Claudius, I assert that he is questioning the malicious act of Hamlet, who, knowingly and without remorse, sent two innocent pawns to their deaths, "no shriving time allowed." That's right, no praying or confession allowed. Hamlet sent his friends to hell on purpose, just as Claudius had done to his father and was plotting to do to him.

So, when juxtaposed with Laertes (a noble gentleman) and Claudius (a murderous, "remorseless, kindless villian"), Hamlet seems a bit more like the latter. I think Horatio sees this parallel and, for a brief moment, wonders what kind of ruthless king Hamlet might make. This rather makes one wonder what Fortinbras means when his says that Hamlet would have acted "most royally" had he been king. Perhaps Shakespeare might have intended some hidden dig at the mercenary nature of monarchs—outside of England, of course.

So, it would seem that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die not because they deserve it, but rather to make a point about the potential for evil even in the best of men.

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Did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate in Hamlet? Why or why not?

I believe that they did deserve their deaths. They were supposed to be Hamlet's friends, but were helping the King and Queen spy on Hamlet. Though they characters aren't developed that thoroughly, they seem quite willing to work against Hamlet in order to gain favor with the King and Queen. Even if they didn't know that they were taking Hamlet to his death, they were aware that they were betraying their close friend.

On the other the hand, one could also argue that they didn't deserve their deaths on the basis that they were following orders from the king. They do share their concerns about Hamlet's health, and so it could be argued that they were attempting to act in his best interest.

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Did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve their fate in Hamlet? Why or why not?

Hamlet seems especially cold and indifferent about sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern off to their deaths. They did not really desereve to die, since they had no knowledge of the contents of the letters they were carrying to England and had done nothing to Hamlet except to try to find out why he had been behaving so strangely. They were not the only ones. Others included Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia.

Hamlet forges a letter and substitutes it for one asking the English to behead him. Instead he asks the English to behead the two messengers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Was that necessary? Yes, because he felt he had to silence them immediately; otherwise they could have told the English authorities that King Claudius wanted Hamlet removed from Denmark, that Hamlet was insane, that he had just murdered Polonius, the King's chief advisor, and that the Danish king considered Hamlet a threat to his own life (which he was). This probably would have been sufficient to make the English detain all three men until they had a chance to communicate with Claudius. They might have sent Hamlet's forged letter to Denmark and asked if that expressed Claudius' true wishes.

Hamlet's life was in danger. He had to dispose of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. At the time of writing the letter he didn't know that his ship would be attacked by pirates and that he personally would never get to England although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would continue the journey and get their heads cut off.

Hamlet is still in danger, as Horatio reminids him.

It must be shortly known to him from England

What is the issue of the business there.

Hamlet replies:

It will be short. The interim is mine.

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