Throughout the play Hamlet, there are many symbols, characters, themes and motifs which have very significant roles. Within the context of characters, those with the greatest impact are more often the major characters than the less significant. However, in the case of one pair of characters, it is rather the opposite. The use of the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet is for more than just comic relief. They are a representation of the betrayal and dishonesty that runs deep within the play.
Within their very first appearances in the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave a memorable imprint upon the readers’ mind. They are rather blurred characters, with seemingly little personality and relatively little distinction between them. They are also “very isolated and self-serving figure[s]” (Friendship-Introduction). They finish one another’s sentences and even when being spoken to by Gertrude and Claudius, they are referred to almost as one person (Ham. 2. 2. 35-36). The reason for this is because they are not meant to represent an actual character, or in this case, a set of characters. They are meant as a symbol, a metaphor for the betrayal and dishonesty that occurs throughout the play. We see this instantly, as we find in their very first appearance that their sole purpose of coming to Denmark was to spy on their friend (Ham 2.2.10-18). Although Hamlet views them initially as old friends, the reader is able to view them as a distant and fake, portrayed together to lend to the concept that they are an idea rather than individual characters or merely the comic relief in the play.
The biggest evidence showing the embodiment of betrayal and dishonesty within Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is when Hamlet accuses them of playing him like a flute. When Hamlet continually asks his friends to play the flute, it is not because he wants to mock them or because he wants to tell them that they’re liars, but it is more an expression of how easily the concept of dishonesty comes into peoples lives. In saying that playing the flute is “as easy as lying” (Ham. 3. 2. 87), the reader sees best the ease with which this dishonesty comes.
Also aiding in the expression of this concept of betrayal is the incident when Hamlet likens Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to a sponge. In this moment he expresses how they have soaked up the king’s commands and unflinchingly served their own purposes by doing such. What is most striking about this incident though, is the foreshadowing that it gives in regards to the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (i.e. the betrayal in the play). When Hamlet states that “sponge, you shall be dry again” (Ham. 4. 2. 20-21) he is both foreshadowing the conclusion of the betrayal in the play and reinforcing the role that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have in characterizing this. ...