William Shakespeare?S Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence.
Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects ation, theme, or the development of other characters.
In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Hamlet and Fortinbras have many similarities in situation, position of power, and ambitions. Shakespeare uses Fortinbras to contrast and highlight Hamlet, as well as influence Hamlets decisions.
In Hamlet the character of Fortinbras, a young Norwegian prince, has been used as a foil for the main character Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Hamlet and Fortinbras have lost their fathers to untimely deaths. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, killed Hamlet’s father and Old King Hamlet killed Fortinbras’ father. Both Hamlet and Fortinbras have vowed to take revenge on the death of their fathers. However, they go about doing this in complete opposite manners than each other.
After learning of his father’s death Hamlet promises to take revenge, upon Claudius. Even after Hamlet has no doubts that Claudius is the murderer, he hesitates to kill him. Fortinbras, on the other hand, takes action even before the play begins. As the play opens, we learn that Denmark is in a state of alert. Horatio informs us that:
…sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes.
(ACT 1. SC 1. LN 107-110)
Fortinbras plans to take action against Denmark for the killing of his father and for the return of lands previously owned by Norway, These differences between Hamlet’s and Fortinbras’ action are further mentioned in Hamlet’s last soliloquy.
Before the soliloquy begins, one of Fortinbras’s Captains informs Hamlet that Norway is preparing to fight Poland over a “little patch of land”, and that twenty thousand men are willing to fight for this worthless piece of land just for honor’s sake. This begins Hamlet’s last soliloquy. In it Hamlet reflects upon Fortinbras’ determination to go against the Polish army for the honor over a trifling matter while he has delayed for so long to avenge the murder of his father.
The soliloquy begins with Hamlet’s thoughts on how time is running by and he still hasn’t done anything. He says:
“How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.”
(Hamlet IV.iv. 32-35)
In these lines Hamlet thinks about all the time he has wasted in not taking action. He sees how everything around him is taking shape, all except his own actions. He goes on to say “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unus’d “(36-39) Here Hamlet is saying that every man has reason, and that reason should be put to good use. He also expresses the thought that he has “……cause and will and strength and means to do’t” (45-46) but still waits and thinks of taking action instead of taking action.
Next Hamlet goes on to describes Fortinbras. He asks the audience to:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puf’d
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When houour’s at the stake.” (47-56)
These lines describe Fortinbras. The audience learns that Fortinbras a young, driven, and ambitious prince who is willing to risk everything for what he must do and achieve, even if it’s for an “egg-shell”. Hamlet then finishes his soliloquy with a comparison to his situation and action to that of Fortinbras and the army of twenty thousand men.
After learning of Fortinbras’ plan against Poland, Hamlet becomes disgusted with his inability to avenge his father’s murder. He wonders how he has just “let all sleep” even after the killing of his father and the moral death of his mother. He is even more ashamed when he thinks of the twenty-thousand men who are willing to go to their deaths for a valueless piece of land that’s not even big enough for their graves. This was enough to set his mind once and for all. At the end he decides that from that moment on, all he will think about is his revenge against anyone that has done injustice towards him. He says “O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing more ” (65-66)
In this soliloquy Hamlet’s personality is, for the last time in the play, clear to the reader. He is shown against another Prince who is the exact opposite of him in the same situation. By this the reader learns more about Hamlet’s characteristics and the way he thinks. Also, here Hamlet has finally made a decision on what to do. He has made up his mind to have only bloody thoughts instead of ones that are well thought out. Fortinbras’ pursuit of his goal has given Hamlet the example on how to act if an opportunity presents itself. Hamlet is so determined to do something he does not wish to think about the consequences anymore.
Although Fortinbras is not present for much of the play he has a large influence on Hamlets decisions. Shakespeare utilizes the similarities and differences of the two young princes in the play Hamlet