Comparing Hamlet with Fortinbras

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Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It tells the story of a young prince, Hamlet, who in a meeting with his father’s ghost uncovers that his uncle murdered his father to become King. The play follows Hamlet as he decides what to do with this knowledge, until he finally avenges his father, but sadly is killed in the process. Interesting comparisons can be made between the main character, Hamlet and, one of the more minor characters, Fortinbras. In this essay I am going to consider what such comparisons reveal about both characters and the play as a whole.

There can be many similarities made between Hamlet and Fortinbras and also some important differences, the most obvious being the length of the role of Hamlet compared to the length of the role of Fortinbras. Whilst the role of Hamlet is Shakespeare’s second longest role out of all his plays, following that of Iago in “Othello,” Fortinbras speaks for a mere twenty-seven lines in two scenes and is mentioned in 3 others. Hamlet and Fortinbras are both princes, Hamlet of Denmark and Fortinbras of Norway.

Both have fathers who have recently died, Fortinbras’, father was killed in a fair duel with Hamlet’s father, over their countries. A poisonous snake supposedly killed Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, but this is just a deception, created by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius who, in reality, murdered King Hamlet. Claudius then married King Hamlet’s widow, Queen Gertrude and became the new king of Denmark. Meanwhile, in Norway, Fortinbras’ uncle also became king. This shows significant correlation between Hamlet and Fortinbras; both princes were overlooked as the positions of kings by-passed them.

A difference between the families of Hamlet and Fortinbras is the importance of the role of Hamlet’s mother. We don’t know or hear anything of Fortinbras’ mother, but Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude is without doubt one of the major characters and so plays a part in influencing Hamlet. Maybe this extra female influence is one of the reasons why Hamlet thinks more about his actions, whereas Fortinbras, who for all we know may have little or no female influence, just does things without thinking about them, and also behaves quite violently – both stereotypical male traits.

You get the sense that Gertrude and Hamlet were much closer before King Hamlet died, because after the death the swift marriage between Gertrude and Claudius drove a wedge between mother and son. At the beginning of the play Hamlet does not know that his father was murdered, but he disapproves of the marriage between his mother and uncle, so soon after the death of his father, so already he does not particularly like or respect his uncle, Claudius. When Hamlet hears a ghost of his father has been spotted he wants to see it for himself.

The ghost tells him that it was murdered, poisoned by Claudius. However, although Hamlet is angry he decides not to act upon the words of a ghost and so determines to check out the ghost’s reliability. He devises a plan in which he pretends to be mad in attempt to find out all he can about his uncle’s deceitfulness. This plan is fairly unsuccessful so when a group of actors arrives at Elsinore Hamlet formulates a new plan. He writes the script to a play, which mirrors the true story of his father’s murder and then requests that the actors perform it.

Hamlet intends to discover the truth by watching his uncle’s face as the play unfolds before him. The ghost was proved to be trustworthy. Now that Hamlet knows for sure that his uncle murdered his father he can act upon his knowledge and seek revenge. Both Hamlet and Fortinbras are at some point seeking revenge, and interestingly both for the deaths of their fathers. Hamlet has a better case for revenge, because his father was murdered by his uncle, whereas Fortinbras’ father was killed fairly, in a duel, against the late King Hamlet, therefore Fortinbras wants revenge on Denmark.

Hamlet pursues his revenge sensibly, at first, by testing the words of the ghost with a play. Fortinbras, however, pursues his revenge by raising an army in secrecy to attack Denmark; this is quite an extreme reaction to the situation. Whilst at first Hamlet attempts to resolve his issues peacefully, showing himself as a thoughtful character, who prefers not to resort to violent methods. Fortinbras tries to avenge the death of his father using violent methods, portraying himself as a character that prefers to take action immediately rather than think things through logically.

The main difference between Hamlet and Fortinbras is that Hamlet likes to think and plan his actions, and when he does take action it is to gather information rather than to take revenge, he could be described as a little too hesitant. However, Fortinbras likes to take immediate action, perhaps rushing into situations without thinking through the consequences, he could be described as a little too rash. This is how Horatio describes him: “No, sir, young Fortinbras, Of inapproved mettle hot an full,”

This portrays Fortinbras as an impulsive, outgoing type who hasn’t yet been approved of as future king. An interesting similarity between Hamlet and Fortinbras is that both finally achieved the revenge they craved, Hamlet avenged his father; by killing his uncle and Fortinbras becomes king of Denmark, the country that his father died trying to win. Another important difference is that of their occupations. Whilst Hamlet reads books, learning and thinking about things in a scholarly fashion, Fortinbras is out there in the centre of the action fighting wars.

When Hamlet does fight – at the end with Laertes it is for sport rather than because he believes in any particular cause. Fortinbras on the other hand fights seriously, leading an army to gain land for Norway. This matter leads to another contrast in their lifestyles. Both princes have various conflicts with their uncles. Hamlet clashes with his uncle, Claudius, because he was responsible for the murder of Hamlet’s father. Fortinbras however, quarrels with his uncle about the army, which Fortinbras raised secretly, without the king’s permission, to attack Denmark.

Whilst Hamlet kills his uncle, Fortinbras, who up to this point has seemed a fairly violent character resolves issues with his uncle, and comes out the better for it, with permission to attack some region of Poland. Both princes have their own secrets. Hamlet carries the knowledge of his murdered father and Fortinbras bears the secret of his army. Although Hamlet and Fortinbras never actually meet you can tell that they respect one another, for instance, at the end of the play Fortinbras says: “Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;

For he was likely, had he been put on, To have proved most royally. ” This proves that Fortinbras believes Hamlet would have made a good king, and so carries a certain admiration for him. Hamlet feels the same way or he would not have put forwards Fortinbras’ name as the next king of Denmark. “Hamlet: But I do prophesy th’ election lights On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice;” I expect part of the reason that Hamlet does this is because he feels some sympathy towards Fortinbras, he himself knowing what it is like to have the position of king evade you.

As I have previously mentioned, Hamlet has the added influence of his mother, where Fortinbras perhaps does not, but Hamlet also has other influences, for instance, that of the ghost. If the ghost of Hamlet’s father had not come back then Hamlet would never have been any the wiser about the death of his father, therefore the ghost plays a major role in the story. In fact, from the beginning Horatio is the only one who notes the significance of the ghost’s presence, he says: “This bodes some strange eruption of our state. ” Which means that the ghost is an omen of worse to come.

Near the beginning of the play Hamlet pretends to be mad, as a way of gathering information, but it could be suggested that Fortinbras is mad. He puts together an army, to attack Denmark for personal, rather than political reasons, then, when he is found out he marches an entire army to Poland to fight for a small area of Poland that nobody particularly cares about, as a captain of the army says: “We go to gain a little patch of ground that hath in it no profit but the name. ” This quote shows that the land is worthless, and you could say that anyone who wishes to possess it is mad.

It also shows the way in which Fortinbras creates situations – wars and such like, whereas Hamlet prefers to defend what he’s got, by trying to protect his mother from Claudius who he knows is capable of murder. I have already mentioned that Hamlet is more of a thinker, and Fortinbras more of a doer. Throughout most of the play Hamlet is peaceful and thoughtful, and Fortinbras vice versa. However, by the end Hamlet is the one who uses violent methods; he murders his uncle in a fit of rage whereas Fortinbras talks through his issues with the king of Norway and peacefully accepts the role of King in Denmark.

This dramatic change in the characters personalities could be described as role reversal, Hamlet started off peaceful and ended up resorting to violence. This change could be pinpointed in the line: “O, from this time forth My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! ” This is when Hamlet decides to be more like Fortinbras, describing Fortinbras as: “Led by a delicate and tender prince, Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,” Fortinbras began by resorting to violence and ended up quite peacefully taking over the throne of Denmark.

He even says with some humility: “For me, with sorrow, I embrace my fortune. ” This shows how his character has evolved and matured. It could be said that Fortinbras was more successful, overall, than Hamlet because his character progressed emotionally and he learnt to control himself, whereas Hamlet’s character did the opposite and regressed emotionally and became insecure and violent. Another factor in making Fortinbras the generally more successful of the two characters is that he lives and becomes king, whereas Hamlet dies just as he could have been king.

At the end of the play Hamlet dies at the point at which he could have made a good king, he had successfully achieved his revenge and would have been ready to move on. I think that Fortinbras would also make a good king at that point, he seems to have learnt to think, speak and judge effectively, so it could be said that he is also ready to move on. I think that there are several reasons why Fortinbras succeeds in becoming king and Hamlet not only fails, but dies as well.

The first being that Hamlet chooses to act alone, secretly carrying the knowledge of his murdered father. Fortinbras on the other hand has the support of an entire army to carry out his wishes; this shows that he is popular with at least some people, whereas Hamlet is believed to be mad. Another reason why Fortinbras is more successful is that he always takes action – admittedly sometimes a little too hastily, but he is efficient and has solutions to problems and even if his escapades are fuelled by madness, atleast he has the resources to carry them out.

Hamlet however, tends to think too much, and is slow in taking action, and despite the composition of many plans he ends up claiming revenge on his uncle through an act of spontaneity. But I think that the main reason why Fortinbras is more successful is because at the end of the play his character is more ready to aspire to the role of king, he is calm and peaceful, despite the scenes of chaos before him: “Take up the bodies. – such a sight as this Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss. ”

This shows that despite the sight of death and destruction Fortinbras is keeping his head and acting with respect. In contrast, one of the last things we see of Hamlet is when he murders his uncle, which I suppose is understandable under the circumstances, but is a bit of an inappropriate action for a man who is about to assume the role of king. At first glance you may not notice any explicit similarities between Hamlet and Fortinbras, but as we can see, with a closer look there are several conclusions we can draw.

For one, I think that the death of both princes’ fathers gives them common ground, but leads to the very different ways in which they each go about handling their grief. Also, a factor which is bound to affect their actions is that they have both been overlooked as future kings. I believe that Shakespeare must have intentionally made the character of Fortinbras partially reflect that of Hamlet, but their very different personalities and ways in which they develop throughout the story gives each character enough personal traits to make them appear individual.

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