TheParallels between Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras
Hamlet,Laertes, and Fortinbras, have circumstantial parallels are core tothe central conflict that Shakespeare intends to portray in the play.They have similarities and differences that directly relate to thecentral themes of revenge and mortality. Bloody revenge is atradition, and the mortality of human beings is evident throughoutthe play. Every character has some foil to Hamlet. There is allindication that Shakespeare deliberately creates parallels betweenHamlet, and the other prominent character, Laertes, and Fortinbras,to create a deeper understanding of Hamlet to the audience.Shakespeare also explores the theme of mortality though parallels andin the three characters. The conflicts and relation are primarilyshaped by their experience of loss of their fathers to death. EvenHamlet also dies at the end of the play, a manifestation thatmortality is a significant theme in the play which is vitallyreiterated in rough his relations and conflict with Laertes. Hamlet’ssimilar and contrasting circumstances with Fortinbras and Laertesreinforce the themes of revenge in relation traditional compulsionsof filial duty common in Elizabethan culture as well the death as asole cause and consequence of human conflict.
Hamletis a contrast of both Fortinbras and Laertes. Hamlet’s character isdifferent from the two sons in the play. They have similarities incircumstances as well: they all lose fathers. Hamlet finds out in thebeginning of the play that Claudius is his father’s murdererthroughhis father’s ghost.Claudia killed Hamlet’s father to marry hismother, queen Gertrude. Fortinbras, the guards, and Horatio explainhow he lost his father during war by the old king also called Hamlet. Laertes’ father, Polonius, is killed by Hamlet who stubs him todeath. Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes react different to the demiseof their fathers. Hamlet spends a lot of his time contemplating andworrying about revenge and his mother’s marriage to Claudius, hisfather’s killer. He says,
“Hasteme to know’t, that I, with wings as swift as meditation or thethought of love, May sweep to my revenge.”(I.V. 29-31)
Basedon Hamlet’s quote, it is apparent that he is intends to have hisrevenge against Claudia right away. However, Hamlet does not doanything until his mother also dies. In fact, he stays incontemplation of revenging in the entire play. Fortinbras reacts byinvading Denmark, but his uncle, tells him to stop the invasion. Hisplan is to recover the land his father lost during war and possiblyas an act of revenge and honor to his father. This is anotherparallel to Hamlet because Denmark is ruled by his uncle. Fortinbrashalts his planned invasion of Denmark. So far there are threeparallels on Hamlet. Fortinbras father is killed by a king calledHamlet. Fortinbras plans to invade Denmark, which is ruled byHamlet’s uncle, and finally, Claudius, the killer of Hamlet’sfather marries his mother upon his father’s death. Laertes has amore active reaction than Hamlet and Fortinbras. He reacts by tryingto kill Hamlet at the grave of Ophelia bust is stopped by Claudiuswho intends to craft a sneakier plot that he believes will workbetter. Unlike Fortinbras and Hamlet, Laertes does not change thisplans to kill his enemy Hamlet, but only changes tact. He does notstay in a constant state of contemplation, but resolve to revenge assoon as possible. Laertes says,
“Tohell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace,to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. To this point I stand, Thatboth the worlds I give negligence, Let come what comes only I’llbe revenged. Most thoroughly for my father” (4.5. 140-145)
Laerteswords show that he is clouded by anger is not ready to contemplateabout the consequences of his act of revenge.
Shakespeareintends to juxtapose Hamlet, Fortinbras, and Laertes as havingdifferent traits in terms of decisiveness. Laertes is more resoluteand decisive, but Hamlet and Fortinbras are indecisive because theyboth change their plans upon being stopped by circumstances(Dobson18). The three characters also differ in the way they deal withpower. Laertes respects Claudius and his father early in the play. Upon his father’s death, Laertes is enraged and is willing to killwhoever killed him, including Claudius if it turns out he isinvolved. Laertes rage is evident in the way he speaks to Claudiusin the beginning of the play. Fortinbras also shows his respect forthe dead prince, Hamlet, and remarks that he would have made a goodking. Hamlet, on the other hand, does not respect Claudius throughoutthe play. Regardless of Claudius relationship to his mother, whichsubsequently qualifies him to be the crown, Hamlet still plans tokill him to revenge his father’s death.
Thecontrast Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras elicit a powerful sense ofmortality and the theme of revenge. Other minor themes such asmadness only support the main theme because it through Hamlet’smadness that the reader comes across his contemplation to commitsuicide at the grave of Ophelia. First, the three charactersemphasize on human weakness, the instability of human response totragedy, and subjection of humanity to circumstances in future. Thereactions to their fathers’ deaths constitute the vital aspect ofhuman failure that points to mortality. The theme of mortality beginsto unfold in Act I, when Hamlet describes how man’s whole charactermay be corrupted by a single blemish, which is might not his fault. Claudia also dwells on it to an extent that seems excessive of thesituation at hand. He takes all his time to persuade Laertes to killHamlet by a trick rather than outright crude murder as the former hadintended. Claudia tells Laertes that,
“Timequalifies everything, including love, including the purpose. As forlove-it has a “plurisy” in it and dies of its own too much. Asfor purpose- “That we would do, We should do when we would, forthis ‘would’ changes, And hath abatement and delays as many Asthere are tongues, are hands, are accidents And then this ‘should’is like a spendthrift’s sigh, That hurts by easing.”
Claudia’swords show how he struggled to persuade Laertes and yet he was sodetermined to kill Hamlet. While the reader sees that humancircumstances in the play actually lead to death, the profoundconsciousness of loss due to the death of a loved one is evident. InAct I, Hamlet’s father also expresses something of a kind before heis killed by Claudius.
Itis interesting that death serves as the tool to avert revenge throughdeath. For instance, Hamlet, in the final scene, decides to exchangeforgiveness with Laertes, who commits suicide due pressure from hisfather’s death and Hamlet’s madness. By this time, Hamlet hasalready lost his great assignment to revenge the death his father asinstructed by his ghost(Davies54). While, Laertes is poised to kill Hamlet, it is death, throughsuicide, prevents him from killing the latter. The theme of revengeis also evident and it plays out in tandem with the theme of death. Shakespeare portrays that spirit of revenge among three characters aspervasive, but they are incapable of executing it due to differentcircumstances. Death causes the spirit revenge and also stops allthe three characters from revenging. Hamlet changes his mind torevenge upon his mother’s death while Laertes does not revenge bykilling Hamlet because he commits suicide way before he does. Thedesire to revenge is so strong that Shakespeare portrays it assomething that can turn into a disease that shatters their moralballast and drives each of them beyond the bounds of rationality.
Mortalityand revenge are tied to the characters. This explains why theprominent way to revenge that Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras planagainst their enemies is death. Nonetheless, the moral question ofoutright murder as a form of revenge is clear. Hamlet, Laertes, andFortinbras, do not achieve their quest for revenge. The fact thatthey are stopped in way or another through circumstances portrays aclear conflict between the theme of revenge and the ethics of theElizabethan era that had a significant impact on the moral standingpeople in the society(Innes17). The ethic of the revenge existed in the Elizabethan societynotwithstanding the fact the society did not approve it as such. Thus, the contemplation of Hamlet to revenge against Claudia, thefact that Fortinbras accepts to halt his plan to attack Denmark, andthe immediate Laertes’ change of mind not to kill Hamlet in coldblood brings in the significance blood revenge as a moral issue inthe Elizabethan society.
Thereis an interesting connection between the theme of death and thetraditional aspects of filial duty in Elizabethan culture in theplay. For unknown reasons, Shakespeare inflicts death to the fathersof the three characters. They all try to revenge and they putconsider it a duty to avenge against the killers. Considering thatFortinbras and Laertes assist the reader to understand Hamlet’scharacter traits, it is worth mentioning that the latter is a symbolof morality. Like Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes idealize theirfathers, but Hamlet later begins to question the morality of theadhering to the demands of his father’s ghost. Their commitment tofilial duty differs at this point because Fortinbras and Laertes donot question their resolve and their conscience, but by an externalinfluence from an uncle and Claudia respectively. Laertes andFortinbras subscribe to the pagan code of blood revenge and they havethe support of Claudia’s court hence, they gradually move towardssatisfying their vengeance. Hamlet’s contemplation are theistic inChristian termswhile Fortinbras and Laertes exhibit an unchristianstance towards the ideas of children being morally required to avengeon behalf of their parents. In one way or another Shakespeareintended to show the triumph of the Christian faith of overtraditional secularism(Sadowski102). Hamlet’s exchange of forgiveness with Laertes after hissuccessful voyage to and from Denmark is surest sign of the triumphof Christianity of over bloody revenge that is apparently the bestway to fulfill his filial duty. By forgiving he was accepting theChristian call for forgiveness in place of his father’s demand torevenge.
Inconclusion, Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras have many similaritiesand differences that advance central themes such as revenge andmortality. Hamlet is the killer of Laertes’ father, while Hamlet’suncle, a ruler in Denmark is responsible for the death of Fortinbras’father. They all lose fathers and they plot to avenge against thekillers because it is their traditional filial duty. The differencelies in their decisiveness to execute their plans. Laertes andFortinbras are more resolute and they immediately go for theirenemies until they are stopped by an authority over them. Hamlet isdifferent. Instead of immediately targeting Claudia, the falls intoendless contemplation as is evident through his soliloquy. The reasonfor Hamlet’s endless justification is his continued realizationthat revenging in cold blood is ethically undesirable, possibly dueto his Christian faith. Fortinbras and Laertes are unquestioning oftheir filial duty to avenge because they have pagan perspective,which prevents them from having any contemplation about theconsequences of their action in spiritual terms. In the end, it isChristianity that triumphs through Hamlet’s forgiveness to Laertesand the latter’s suicide, which prevented him from carrying out hisrevenge. Indeed, the parallels between the three characterssignificantly advance the plot by enhancing revenge and mortality asthe central themes in the play.
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Dobson,Michael. TheOxford Companion to Shakespeare.Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002. Print.
Innes,Michael. Hamlet,Revenge!: A Story in Four Parts.North Yorkshire: House of Stratus, 1937. Print.
Shakespeare,William. Hamlet.Hauppauge,N.Y: Barron`s, 2002. Print.
Sadowski,Piotr. Dynamismof Character in Shakespeare`s Mature Tragedies.Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003. Print.