If it is not already abundantly clear, the perspectives of Hamlet and Fortinbras are quite different. As has been shown, Hamlet is much more of a thinker, needing to think through every aspect of an issue before he is able to act. He also seems to require far more justification in order to be willing to carry out an act. For example, it is extremely likely that Hamlet would not have reacted similarly to the way Fortinbras acted in the example last provided.
Instead of immediately seeking to honor the man he immediately is able to sympathize with, it is likely that Hamlet would have asked an abundance of questions about what had happened before he would be willing to act at all. Fortinbras, on the other hand, needs much less in the way of justifications. He seems to be entirely satisfied with picking whatever the most honorable option is, and cares far less than Hamlet about all of the details. All that is necessary for Fortinbras is that an action is the morally correct action to take.
Looking at the example used to help outline Hamlet’s views, Fortinbras likely would have acted differently than Hamlet did. It is very likely that Fortinbras would have killed Claudius were he in Hamlet’s situation and he found Claudius alone praying. Fortinbras would know that simply killing Claudius and getting it over with would end his obligations, restore his mother’s image, and likely give him the throne of Denmark. Being Fortinbras’s dedication to honor what it is, it is unlikely he would have wanted to send Claudius to hell, as Hamlet did, as such a devious intention is far from honorable.
Hamlet and Fortinbras have wildly different views on justification, and these contrasting views greatly affect their behavior in many ways, which has been shown. Now that the contrasts of the two men’s perspectives have been explained and the significance of the contrasts outlined, it is valuable to view the example given in the play of an issue that one gets to see the perspective of both men. This example appears in Act IV scene iv and allows one to get to concretely see the contrasting perspectives of both men one a specific issue.
The scene in Act IV in which Hamlet sees Norway fighting Poland serves as an excellent example of a time in which Hamlet and Fortinbras’ views differ. In this scene Hamlet sees men fighting over a patch of land and is informed that it is Norway, led by Fortinbras, fighting Poland. He asks the Norwegian captain in his company what sort of land is being fought over and the captain responds “We go to gain a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name. ” (Shakespeare 4. . 18-19) This simply means that the land itself is virtually worthless from a resource standpoint, and is only valuable in the sense that it is Polish territory. This then means that the two factions are fighting over the land purely for the sake of national pride, and not at all for the sake of actual practical benefit for their respective nations. It becomes clear that Hamlet can scarcely understand this, as there is no real justification for the fighting and death in his eyes.
He even goes so far as to say “Why then the Polack never will defend it. ” (Shakespeare 4. 4. 23) Before being told quite otherwise, Hamlet is convinced that the Polish would not defend such a worthless land. This in itself should reinforce Hamlet’s views on the justification needed for an action, but he does not stop there with his disbelief. Hamlet then goes on to assert that it is the tendency of nations at peace to create worthless struggles from nothing that often result in the unjustified deaths of many men. (Shakespeare 4. 4. 7-29) With this, Hamlet reduces the struggle he is witnessing in his own mind to the exact sort of conflict just outlined, a bloody struggle over nothing. Hamlet himself creates a look into Fortinbras’s views of this conflict in comparing them to his own. In the soliloquy after witnessing what he did of the battle in Poland, Hamlet compares himself to Fortinbras. This is the only time in the play that Hamlet does this, but it shed’s a good deal of light on Fortinbras’ views, as well as the differences between the two characters.
After learning that the land being fought over is absolutely useless, Hamlet tries to reason why Fortinbras would be running headlong toward, as he says: The imminent death of twenty thousand men, That for a fantasy and trick of fame Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough and continent To hide the slain (Shakespeare 4. 4. 60-65) The question is why Fortinbras would lead twenty thousand men to their deaths over a plot of land that is not even large enough to bury the corpses of the soldiers. Hamlet answers this question himself in the same soliloquy.
He states that Fortinbras would find conflict in anything, even if it has no value in itself “When honor’s at the stake” (Shakespeare 4. 4. 56). Once again it comes back to that one dominating concept for Fortinbras. All Fortinbras needs to justify an action is for it to be the most honorable thing to do. This example may be the very most convincing of this idea, as it is very well explained that the land that he is fighting for is absolutely worthless, and thus there is virtually zero potential that there are any other justifications for Fortinbras taking the action he does.
Now that the perspectives of the two men have been thoroughly outlined and contrasted, the significance of Fortinbras’s perspective should be outlined. All of this is significant because it proves that Fortinbras is a very deep, and thus important character in Hamlet. In searching for information about Fortinbras as a character, there is very little that can be found and what can be found often just brushes him aside.
Rudiger Imhof states in “Fortinbras Ante Portas: The Role and Significance of Fortinbras in Hamlet”, another great article that attempts to explore Fortinbras’ significance, that “The majority of critics have been more moderate in their suggestions and are, by and large, agreed inasmuch as they attribute to him the dramatic purpose of acting as a parallel and foil to Hamlet. ” (Imhof 11) Most who write critical articles about Hamlet are perfectly satisfied to leave Fortinbras’ role at this. The neglect of Fortinbras has even gone so far as to effect productions and printings of the play in many cases.
As once again stated by Imhof “The stage history of the play has seen, surprisingly, many productions that … have chosen to omit Fortinbras’s last-minute entrance at the end of the play, or, what is more, have even cut his brief appearance and couple of lines about his Polish campaign” (Imhof 8). As has here been proven, this is entirely unjust. While Fortinbras’s perspective on justification is, as has been proven here, certainly a counterpoint to the perspective Hamlet, Fortinbras is more than just a simple foil for Hamlet. Fortinbras represents an entire way of thinking that stands opposed to that of Hamlet, and he represents it well.
As this paper has proven, Fortinbras has a strong and well developed perspective, one that is, in fact, so well developed that it confounds Hamlet at certain points in the play as well as even making him question his own beliefs upon seeing the battle in Poland that occurs over the plot of land in Poland. With all of this, and despite his severely limited amount of stage time, Fortinbras proves to be a significant character in Hamlet. He is thus undeserving of the simple stamp of “foil” (Imhof 8), and even less deserving of the cuts from entire versions of Hamlet that his scenes have received.
In Hamlet, Fortinbras is meant to represent the views in regard to justification that are opposite of those of Hamlet. As this paper has proven, Fortinbras has his own well developed views on justification that drive his actions. These views stand virtually at the polar opposite end of the spectrum from those of Hamlet, and thus provide a valuable counterpoint to the dominating perspective one is exposed to in the play. Through multiple examples from the play, these competing perspectives have been developed, and both of their values proven.
Fortinbras’s significance to the play has also presented using his perspective as the centerpoint, leading to an important conclusion. This conclusion is that Fortinbras is an extremely valuable character, despite the neglect he was widely received in critical works of Hamlet, and is deserving of far more attention that he currently receives in the academic community. It is the responsibility of the academic community to ensure that every character in works as significant as Hamlet are thoroughly explored, and to this point, Fortinbras has been widely neglected, despite his clearly apparent value.