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Discuss the presence of Fortinbras in Act IV scene 4 of Hamlet. What does he seem to...

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googlex3 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted August 25, 2009 at 5:23 AM via web

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Discuss the presence of Fortinbras in Act IV scene 4 of Hamlet. What does he seem to represent to Hamlet?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:46 PM (Answer #1)

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Act IV scene 4 is crucial in building up a picture of Hamlet as he is forced to leave to go to England having killed Plonius and offended Claudius. As he leaves, he meets the Norwegian army that is going to fight over some "scrap" of Polish territory. Hamlet compares the willingness of soldiers in this army to go and die for something that must mean so little to them and to act on an issue that has so little personal connection to them. Fortinbras, who is fighting over this land, is an example of somebody who is willing to act and respond when he has reason. This of course is the direct opposite of Hamlet, who has significant reason for action but who has failed to act because of his procrastination. Note what Hamlet says in his soliloquy at the end of this scene about this comparison:

How stand I then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep—while, to my shame, I see
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?
Fortinbras and the presence of his soldiers therefore stand as a sharp rebuke to Hamlet about his inaction and how he has failed to do anything about something that is so intimately connected with his identity and his family. The soldiers, and Fortinbras, are willing to risk their lives for "a fantasy and trick of fame," whereas Hamlet is not even willing to risk his life for the significant things he has suffered. Fortinbras becomes a symbol of action and responsibility whereas Hamlet sees himself as a symbol of inaction and lack of responsibility. His final words represent an effort to try and goad himself into action, as he asks that his thoughts may only be "bloody" from this point onward.


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jagtig | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:22 AM (Answer #2)

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This scene provides the audience with an excellent allegory, as well as builds the theme which was first explored in Act I, Scene I, concerning the ongoing conflict with the Poles.

Hamlet's father smote, and presumably vanquished the Polish King, the Polack, Hamlet killed Polonius, a name which quite obviously means "the Pole," and now Fortinbras heads for Poland quite intent on making his name against the Catholic opponent in the East.

As this was the time of the Reformation, the Protestant "rebellion" against Roman Catholocism, the English audience might be up to this battle, and welcome allusions to the undoing of the Polish King and his forces. However, Catholicism remained strong, though underground, in England, and to the present the Anglican Church mirrors many of its beliefs and practices.

In this scene, Fortinbras is given to represent glory by Hamlet, even though his effort is at first made to seem vainglorious, and the sacrifice of troops the symptom of a social maladay. 

Truly to speak, and with no addition,

We go to gain a little patch of ground

That hath in it no profit but the name.

To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;

Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole

A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee. - IV,iv,17


Witness this army of such mass and charge

Led by a delicate and tender prince,

Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'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 honour's at the stake. How stand I then,

That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let all sleep? - IV,iv,47

The contrast is a bit confusing, but this could be an exposure of Hamlet's mentality, his illness, as well.


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