Hamlet

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Character Analysis

Friends of Hamlet's from Wittenberg who help Claudius and Gertrude try and figure out the source of Hamlet's melancholy. Hamlet sees that the two are, essentially, spying on him, and turns on them. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't the smartest fellows, but they do seem to mean well, and the announcement of their deaths at the end of the play helps to drive home the absurd and bloody lengths to which vengeance can extend once it is unleashed.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or refer to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery ... 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Page Number: 3.2.393-402
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet responds angrily to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here, believing correctly that they are agents from his mother. He rejects their support as manipulative and asserts his own autonomy.

To criticize his friends’ actions, Hamlet uses a series of images of instruments, each of which position Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as seeking to “play upon” Hamlet. “My stops” refers to the holes in a recorder or flute, also called a “fret,” while “pluck” calls up a stringed instrument such as a lute (which also has "frets"). By mixing a variety of different instruments, Hamlet points out that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s tactics are lacking in specificity. It does not matter which metaphor they select, or which type of instrument they imagine Hamlet to be. They may “fret” him—a pun on playing an instrument, but also provoking frustration or angst—but he refuses to produce the corresponding music.

Hamlet demonstrates with these images his understanding of the game being played by his friends: he resists manipulation by pointing out that their effects are foolhardy. And his references to art are striking, considering the way that theater has been used to make sense of human duplicity and manipulation. Shakespeare thus present the arts as a way for the characters to conceptualize human interaction—to theorize, grasp, and fight against the way we try to control each other.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude greet Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom they summoned to Elsinore to figure out why Hamlet is so melancholy.... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet greets his old friends warmly, and tells them that Denmark is... (full context)
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...visit him, but Hamlet angrily demands whether they were summoned by the King and Queen. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern admit they were. (full context)
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Hamlet cheers up a little when Rosencrantz mentions the arrival of a troupe of players (actors). Hamlet says his "uncle-father and aunt-mother"... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't figure out what's behind Hamlet's odd behavior, but tell Claudius and Gertrude... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and say that his mother wants to see him. Hamlet agrees to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Claudius says Hamlet is a danger, and orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to prepare to leave for England. They agree that if the King were... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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...dead. He thinks of how best to explain the murder to the public, and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet. (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find Hamlet. They ask where Polonius's body is. Hamlet responds in riddles and... (full context)
Act 4, scene 3
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Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with Hamlet. Claudius asks where Polonius is. Hamlet answers that Polonius is... (full context)
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Claudius sends Rosencrantz to get the body, then tells Hamlet that to protect him he will send him... (full context)
Act 4, scene 4
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The captain runs into Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and happily tells them the land about to be fought over is worthless.... (full context)
Act 4, scene 6
...attacked Hamlet's ship. Hamlet was taken prisoner and returned to Denmark for a ransom, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue on to England. Horatio is to send the sailors to Claudius, and... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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In Elsinore, Hamlet tells Horatio that he discovered that the letters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bore to England asked that Hamlet be executed. Hamlet switched the letter with... (full context)
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Hamlet says he has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who gave up their honor to curry favor with the king. But he... (full context)
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Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Fortinbras and the English ambassadors enter. Amazed at the carnage, the ambassadors announce that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. (full context)