Somebody help me walk through the timeline in Hamlet’s trip to England.
1) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been assigned the task of accompanying Hamlet to England.
2) R&G have in their possession a letter that says, “Dear King of England, please kill Hamlet.”
3) Neither Hamlet nor R&G know the contents of the letter.
4) Hamlet steals the letter, opens it, and learns what it says. So he alters it (writes a new letter?) suggesting that, instead, “the bearers should be put to death.”
5) The pirates attack, and Hamlet goes off with them (to later be released).
6) R&G, having lost Hamlet and never knowing what was in the letter in the first place, continue on to England and their ultimate demise.
So here’s my question. Hamlet didn’t know the pirates were coming, right? So then what was his plan with the altered letter? Did he plan to go on to England and stand in front of the king when the letter was read, only to laugh at the expression on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s faces as they are hauled off to the chopping block?
The reason I ask is that I’m left wondering why he so almost gleefully sent them off to die, and whether there were other options. When he rewrote the letter he assumed that he was basically a prisoner of Claudius’ mercenaries and that he would be brought all the way before the king of England. Therefore he needed to alter the letter to say something different. That makes sense. Couldn’t he have had them imprisoned? Or something else?
What do you think, does this act (and his subsequent dismissal of his guilt) show that Hamlet’s gone off the deep end at this point? Remember that his treatment of Polonius wasn’t much better, dragging his corpse through the castle. Is Hamlet just doing what it takes to survive? Or is he killing everyone in his way (except the person he’s supposed to kill)?