The fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Hamlet and the pirates

Hamlet's letter to Horatio
Horatio, when thou shalt have overlooked this, give these fellows some means to the king: they have letters for him. Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valour, and in the grapple I boarded them: on the instant they got clear of our ship; so I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy: but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them. Let the king have the letters I have sent; and repair thou to me with as much speed as thou wouldst fly death. I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb; yet are they much too light for the bore of the matter. These good fellows will bring thee where I am. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hold their course for England: of them I have much to tell thee. Farewell.
'He that thou knowest thine,

But if there had been no pirate ship,
here is what might have happened

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pose as friends to Hamlet but he no longer trusts them. Where their loyalty now lies can be gathered from Rosencrantz when he justifies why they do the king's bidding.
The single and peculiar life is bound
With all the strength and armour of the mind
To keep itself from noyance; but much more
That spirit upon whose weal depends and rests
The lives of many. The cesse of majesty
Dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw
What's near it with it. It is a massy wheel,
Fix'd on the summit of the highest mount,
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
Are mortis'd and adjoin'd; which when it falls,
Each small annexment, petty consequence,
Attends the boist'rous ruin. Never alone
Did the king sigh, but with a general groan.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (R&G) set out to accompany Hamlet to England where he is to be assassinated as ordered in a letter from King Claudius' which they will deliver. They know nothing of the letter's content, they are merely postmen. Hamlet does not trust them and steals the 'murder' letter. He forges a duplicate but swaps their names for his, and returns it. What else can he do? Destroying the letter won't work. Obviously a letter must exist.

If it had not been for the freak, unforeseeable, pirate attack Hamlet would have gone on to England and been able to save R&G regardless of what he wrote in the forgery.

Together, Hamlet and R&G would have met the English king. The first thing Hamlet would say is that Claudius had named him son of heir to the Danish throne. R&G would concur. Hamlet would say that the Danish ambassadors will be delivering the same news.

R&G would then present the king with Claudius's commission (actually Hamlet's forgery). After reading the letters the king would announce that the letter demands the death of R&G. R&G on hearing this would appeal to Hamlet for his aid.

Hamlet will tell the English king there has been a mistake. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," Hamlet would say. He would declare the letter is a forgery and although it has the Danish seal, the seal was known to have been stolen. After considering these points, it is inconceivable the English king would not discuss the matter further with Hamlet. Hamlet would says he accepts full responsibility and the letter be ignored. Hamlet need only say "I don't want them executed," and they won't be executed. England as a tributary of Denmark will kowtow to Hamlet and not act contrary to what he says.

Hamlet could say he is a friend of England and when he becomes the Danish king would no longer hold England as a vassal state but wish it become an ally. He might say he would consider marrying the English king's daughter or niece. But he will not degrade his goodwill mission by sacrificing the blood of his old school friends. R&G would breathe a sigh of relief and be safe and thank Hamlet.

If Hamlet were then to speak to R&G privately and lie to them and say the commission was genuine but he had deliberately lied to the English king to save their lives, R&G would immediately switch their allegiance from Claudius to Hamlet, and be eternally grateful and loyal to him. They would steer well clear of Claudius if and when they returned to Denmark.

Unfortunately for R&G the pirate attack intervened and thus precluded Hamlet's intervention to stop the executions demanded in the letter.

R&G carried on to deliver the letter which lead to their deaths. Here the irony had a special twist. Surely, they would have torn their hair in thinking that Rosencrantz's speech justifying the king's divine right had turned sour. Though Hamlet wrote the letter that actually brought about their deaths, it only happened because they were carrying Claudius's order for Hamlet's death. Therefore, the real cause of their deaths was getting trapped in the sequence of events Claudius initiated to hide his murder of King Hamlet.