Hamlet Friends In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince Hamlet replaces the letter that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are carrying to England with a forgery of his own making, thus sending these two men to their deaths. He does this without giving it a second thought and never suffers from any guilt or remorse for his actions. Considering that these two men were friends from his youth, this would at first glance seem to reflect poorly on his character. However, one must consider carefully the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern before passing judgment on Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent for by the King and Queen to spy on Hamlet and learn why he “puts on this confusion” (III, i.2). While some are fooled by Hamlet’s act of insanity, the king is not.
He is convinced that it is an act and, being a sly man himself, he suspects that Hamlet is up to something. Having obtained the throne through deceit and murder, he believes Hamlet capable of the same. While King Claudius is evil, he is not a fool and he would never have sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they were such close friends of Hamlet. They are even told outright that they will be rewarded for their efforts (II, ii. 21-6).
The very fact that they undertake this task for the king is proof enough of their lack of love and loyalty toward Hamlet. Despite their actions, Prince Hamlet gives them ample opportunity to show their loyalty by admitting that they were sent for and why. By showing so much reluctance, they show themselves to be allied with the king. Hamlet asks them to “be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for or no.” But after this direct question, Rosencrantz still looks at Guildenstern and asks if they should tell the truth (II, ii. 303-5). There is no reason to believe that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have the conviction that Prince Hamlet is indeed insane. When they report back to the king, they refer to Hamlet’s actions as a “crafty madness” used to mislead them concerning “his true state” (III, i.
6-8). They openly discuss Hamlet’s actions and motives with the king, once again showing their true alliance. Later, when the king decides to send Hamlet to England guarded by these men, they affirm his actions and any future actions that may be carried out toward Hamlet. They know that Hamlet is fully aware of their alliance with the king and therefore their lives have value only as long as the king lives. “The cease of majesty dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw what’s near it with it” (III, iii, 16-8). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were present when Hamlet spoke to the head player about adding a few lines to the play “The Murder of Gonzago.” They did not actually hear what those lines were to be, but surely they could not help but realize that the king’s anger during the play was probably related to the changes Hamlet made.
When the king rose in anger and left, he was followed by everyone except Hamlet and Horatio. Hamlet, of course, was not concerned for the king, since he knew the cause of his anger. Horatio’s heart was turned toward Hamlet, so he also remained behind. Had Rosencrantz and Guildenstern been loyal to Hamlet, they would have remained behind also, but ambition sent them after the man who held the throne. When they do return, they pretend great love toward Hamlet, only to be rebuked as liars.
Hamlet is fully aware of their schemes to manipulate him and tells them they show little respect for him in their attempts to do so. “Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me” (III,ii. 371-2)! They think they can pluck the right strings and Hamlet will open his whole heart to them, but Hamlet is no insane fool. He reads them in ways that they are unable to read him. After Hamlet confronts his mother, the queen, he reveals to her that he is fully aware of the danger that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern represent to him. They are no longer childhood friends, but rather “adders fanged.” They are involved in a conspiracy to destroy Hamlet and he will see them “hoist with (their) own petar.” Not only does he intend to outsmart these meddling fools, but he will relish it as well.
“O, ’tis most sweet..” (III, iv. 225-32). Hamlet at one time was slow to avenge his father’s death for fear of being deceived. He wanted to make sure of King Claudius’ guilt before drawing his blood. However, once he was convinced of that guilt, he saw the guilt of those closest to the king as well. He shrugged off the accidental killing of Polonius as his due for meddling into affairs not of his concern and then lightly planned the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for the same offense.
When next Hamlet meets up with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he no longer shows them any courtesy, but instead mocks them just as he mocks the king. His contempt for them shows that he now views them as the enemy. He calls them sponges that are out to “soak up the king’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities.” Then he warns them what their end will be. When the king is through with them, he will squeeze them out again and they will once again be dry (IV, ii. 16-21).
Either Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are too foolish to understand this comparison or they are to foolish to heed Hamlet’s warning. Either way, they are indeed fools and they die a fool’s death in the end. They carry in the form of a letter, the king’s command to have Hamlet beheaded upon his arrival in England. Hamlet switches the letter with a forgery and seals it with a likeness of the king’s seal. The new letter orders the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, thus they handcarry their own death sentences to their executioners. A poetic justice is served to these unfaithful “friends.”.