Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are fictional characters from William Shakespeare's tragedy "Hamlet". They are also major characters in Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" and W. S. Gilbert's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern".


In "Hamlet", Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt to place themselves in the confidence of the title character, their childhood friend. In reality, however, they are serving as informants for the corrupt King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, who usurped the throne and constantly attempts to check his nephew. When Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius recruits Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England. Claudius sends a letter that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to deliver to the King of England with instructions to kill Hamlet. Along the journey, Hamlet finds and rewrites the letter instructing instead Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed. When their ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet makes his way to the pirate ship and goes back to Denmark, leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to go to their deaths in England.

Gilbert's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern"

Gilbert's play is a comedy in which Rosencrantz plots with his friend Guildenstern to get rid of Hamlet, so that Rosencrantz can marry his beloved, Ophelia. They discover that Claudius has written a play. The king's literary work is so embarrassingly bad that Claudius has decreed that anyone who mentions it must be executed. They obtain the manuscript and convince Hamlet to perform it. When he does, Claudius decrees that he must die, but is eventually persuaded to banish him to England. Rosencrantz and Ophelia can now be together.

toppard's "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead"

As the protagonists of Stoppard's play and film, they are confused by the events of "Hamlet" and seem unaware of their role in the larger drama. The play is primarily a comedy, but they often stumble upon deep philosophical truths through their nonsensical ramblings. In the movie, Rosencrantz invents the hamburger, and rediscovers gravity and volume displacement, among other things. The characters depart from their epiphanies as quickly as they come to them.

At times, one appears to be more enlightened than the other; however this light is traded off throughout the course of the drama. Stoppard also littered his play with jokes referring to the common thespian tendency to swap Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the midst of the play, because the characters are basically identical. He does this by making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unsure of who is who, as well as having the other players (Claudius, Hamlet, Gertrude) refer to them frequently by the wrong names. Because of "Dead"'s similarity to "Waiting for Godot", Rosencrantz is sometimes compared with Estragon (one of the tramps who was "waiting" for Godot), who shares his dim perception of reality, while Guildenstern parallels Vladimir, who shares his analytical perception.

Background of names

These names were present in the late 16th century and early 17th century in the court and nobility of Denmark-Norway, and Shakespeare placed them several centuries into the past, into Hamlet's time. King Frederick I of Denmark had decreed that all nobles shall have surnames, and most of them had then taken theirs from the charges in their coats of arms. Noble families Rosenkrantz (armorial charge: garland of roses / rosary) and Gyldenstierne (armorial charge: golden star) were originally Jutland noble families, and belong to the oldest noble families of Denmark, the "uradel".Fact|date=June 2008 Several members of the two families were courtiers and officers of the Dano-Norwegian king in Shakespeare's lifetime. Those names were thus familiar as "Danish" ones to Englishmen having some contact with Denmark-Norway. Because in Shakespeare's era there existed a number of gentlemen named Gyldenstierne and a number of gentlemen named Rosenkrantz, it cannot be said whether he desired to refer to any real persons, or just to make an implication to contemporary Denmark. The most famous Gyldenstierne ever was probably Christina Gyllenstierna, wife and widow of Sten Sture the Younger, Sweden's regent.

On the other hand, "rosary" and "golden star" may also be references to the Virgin Mary, given that Shakespeare may have drawn on Catholic imagery and references. [Herbert Thurston, “The Religion of Shakespeare,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII, Robert Appleton Company, 1912, available online at; Beauregard, David N., Catholic Theology in Shakespeare's Plays, University of Delaware Press, 2007; Enos, Carol Curt, Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion, Dorrance Pub Co, 2000; Rees, James, Was Shakespeare A Roman Catholic? Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006.]

Cultural references

*"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" is also the name of a play by W. S. Gilbert first published in "Fun magazine" in 1874 and first performed at the Vaudeville Theatre in London in 1891.
* In the CBS and CTV TV show, "Due South", two troublesome FBI agents are referred to as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by one of the characters.
* A character named Guildenstern in the Onimusha games as a mad genma/demon scientist. Rosencrantz from the same series appears as a giant Genma fly scientist.
* Both names are also used as characters in video-games such as "Vagrant Story", where Guildenstern is the primary villain.
*"Rosencrantz Guildenstern" is the name of a fictional theatre critic mentioned by Shakespearean actor Edwin Blackgaard in an episode of Adventures in Odyssey.
* In The Simpsons episode Tales from the Public Domain, the characters Carl and Lenny have their names altered to Rosencarl and Guildenlenny as part of a "Hamlet" pastiche.
* The characters Rosenberg and Goldstein in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle are a reference to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This was done with the intent to create an alternate film with these characters that takes place in the same time period much like the way that the play "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" takes place in the same time period as "Hamlet"Fact|date=December 2007.
* In the 1981 movie Cutter's Way, starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard, Heard's character (Alex Cutter) introduces (to Bridges' character) two people he meets in a bar as "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern".
* The Spin Doctors song "How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)" begins with the lines "I'm quite contented to take my Chances / against the Guildensterns and Rosencrantzes".
* In She-Hulk comics Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the names of two goldfish owned by the main character Jennifer Walters. First mentioned in She-Hulk #9, both die in She-Hulk #11 whenTitania destroys Jennifer Walters's apartment.
* Rosencrantz and Guildenstern serve as the inspiration for the Tag and Bink comic series set in the Star Wars universe.
* In the video game The Curse of Monkey Island, Slappy Cromwell, a character that re-wrote Shakespeare (as Speare), reveals one of his lines in Act IV Scene 8 to be 'Join me Rosencrantz! I am your FATHER!'. In itself this also references Star Wars.
* The characters of Royce and Aldo in the "Doctor Who" serial "Warriors' Gate" are based on Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. [] []
* In Princess Diaries 2, Mia's friend Lilly refers to the maids as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
* Specialty food store Trader Joe's sells a form of Poppycock (popcorn and nuts) called "Rosencrunch and Guildenpop"
* In "Ibbeltje", the Dutch children's book/radioplay (1961) by [ Annie M.G. Schmidt] , the family's two cats are called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.


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