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The Role Of Fortinbras In Shakespeare's Hamlet

1293 words - 5 pages

Steeped within his own pool of madness, the prince of Denmark seeks to avenge the premature death of his father. Claudius must die, die, die! Nothing else matters: not love, or death, or preservation of state, or the means to which the task is accomplished. To right what is wrong is the only focus that matters. Hamlet, blind by his own emotional transitions, is not aware until it is too late that his counterpart to the north also plots and prepares. Being one of the first writers to develop dynamic and intricate characters that leave the readers to question and interpret the characters’ actions for themselves, Shakespeare understood better than anybody else "what a piece of work is a man!" (2.2.305). In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare expresses this idea of the complexity of man through his casting of Prince Hamlet. By understanding the meaning behind the role and function of Fortinbras, it provides further innuendo into Hamlet’s character. Though similar in their predispositions, one is defined by a growing sense of certainty and resolve as the other is plagued by insanity and indecisiveness, and while Fortinbras is destined to succeed, Hamlet navigates toward his own fateful downfall.

Fortinbras functions as a foil to Hamlet throughout the play. His situation parallels Hamlet’s disposition as they enter the plot of the play. Both are princes of their own countries, their fathers have been murdered, and both are on the verge of succeeding as the next heir to the throne. The only obstacles that prevent them from the throne are their uncles, the favored successors after their fathers. While Hamlet seeks revenge against his own uncle for murdering his father in cold blood, Fortinbras’ father is murdered by the hands of Hamlet’s father, the former king of Denmark. Herein lays the major difference between Hamlet’s predisposition and Fortinbras’ predisposition. Hamlet’s motivation throughout the play is to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death, so every action he makes works to accomplish that goal. On the other hand, Fortinbras’ motivation toward action does not lie exclusively for the sake of revenge. Fortinbras, like Hamlet or any other proud prince, feels a certain obligation to exact revenge on his father’s killer. However, whatever he decides to do it would not entirely be accepted as revenge because King Hamlet is already dead when the play starts. Although it is unclear if Fortinbras desires to kill Hamlet in the name of his father, killing Hamlet would not be the same as killing his father, the true murderer. Rather than act as if responding to a vendetta, Fortinbras is motivated to restore honor to his father by reclaiming the parcel land in Norway that is seized after King Hamlet kills King Fortinbras.

At his first appearance, young Fortinbras is shown to be inferior to Hamlet; being "of unimproved metal, hot and full" (1.1.96) Fortinbras is initially shown as a sharp contrast to the "sweet and commendable"...

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