Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Betrayal of Hamlet

Hamlet with Rosencrantz and GuildensternIn spite of their childhood friendship with Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are rapidly drawn into Elsinore's web of intrigue and spying. They have no scruples in spying on Hamlet for Claudius even though Gertrude tells them that: 

‘he hath much talk'd of you
And sure I am, two men there is not living
To who he more adheres.'
Hamlet rapidly comes to see them for what they are, and by Act III scene ii he scornfully shows his contempt:
‘You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops …
‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?'

Hamlet's revenge

When he discovers they are taking him to his death, he is content to use these plans against them:

‘Why man, they did make love to this employment.
They are not near my conscience, their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow.'
Yet even with these two young men whom Hamlet finds so unpleasant, Shakespeare leaves us with a question:
  • Did they know what was in the letter to the King of England?
  • or, through their willingness to flatter and serve Claudius, were they further victims of his villainy?

Yet again, Shakespeare leaves his audience to decide.

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