Rosencrantz ("rosary") and Gyldenstjerne/Gyllenstierna ("golden star") were names of Danish (and Swedish) noble families of the 16th century; records of the Danish royal coronation of 1596 show that one tenth of the aristocrats participating bore one or the other name. James Voelkel suggests that the characters were named after Frederick Rosenkrantz and Knud Gyldenstierne (cousins of Tycho Brahe), who had visited England in 1592.
The majority of characters in Hamlet have unlocalized classical names, in contrast to the "particularly Danish" ones of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The names were common in the court of Frederick II and Christian IV, and also at the University of Wittenberg, an institution where Hamlet is mentioned as having studied (he refers to them as "my two schoolfellows").
In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern first appear in Act II, Scene 2, where they attempt to place themselves in the confidence of Prince Hamlet, their childhood friend. The smooth and courtly language they employ immediately establishes... Read More