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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Meaning, Quotes & Summary

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  • 0:02 Who Are Rosencrantz &…
  • 1:01 Significance of…
  • 2:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters who play an important role in William Shakespeare's popular play 'Hamlet.' Learn more about the significance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Who Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

After the death of his father, Prince Hamlet begins behaving in unusual ways, which causes concern for his mother and uncle. In an effort to find out what was troubling Hamlet, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet's closest friends, with haste to use them for 'the supply and profit of (their) hope' in Act II, Scene 2. Instead of serving as friends of Hamlet's, they end up being traitors who agree to take Hamlet to his death.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to function as one character in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, because they are always presented together and function as a unit. At times it seems that others see them as a single person rather than two distinct men, and they are described as 'half men.' When speaking of Hamlet's behavior, they finish each other's statements. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters of major importance. They serve as the go-between between Hamlet and King Claudius on several occasions.

Significance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do whatever Claudius asks of them. They even try to discover what Hamlet did with Polonius' body for the King. Rosencrantz asks Hamlet, 'What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?' (Act 4, Scene 2, line 5). They are not able to get Hamlet to give them any of the information they seek.

Hamlet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in an image by Eugene Delacroix
Scene From Hamlet by Eugene Delacroix

When they report back to the King, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report that Hamlet 'does confess he feels himself distracted, but from what cause he will by no means speak' (Act III, Scene 1 lines 5-6). They, like others, have not been able to discover what bothers Hamlet.

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