In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the response of Norway's king to Claudius in Act Two, scene two?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, in Act Two, scene two, Claudius receives a report from Voltemand, who has traveled to speak to Norway's present and aging king about Young Fortinbras' aggression toward Denmark.

The Norwegian king's message informs Claudius that the aging monarch had no idea that his nephew, Fortinbras, had been causing Denmark any trouble. Old Norway notes that he believed that Fortinbras had been waging war against Poland.

But better look'd into, he truly found
It was against your Highness; whereat griev'd,
That so his sickness, age, and impotence
Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys,
Receives rebuke from Norway, and, in fine,
Makes vow before his uncle never more
To give the assay of arms against your Majesty. (68-75)

Upon further investigation, Old Norway discovered that his nephew had—in reality—been seeking vengeance against Denmark because of his father's death at the hands of Old Hamlet. (Old Fortinbras had challenged Old Hamlet in battle, and in losing, forfeited not only his life, but also his lands, I.i.93-102.) In truth, news about Norway's health and incapacitation were untrue, and when he learned about what his nephew had been up to, he had Fortinbras arrested. Fortinbras, obedient to the position of authority his uncle held over him, apologized for his actions and promised to put aside his attempt to avenge his father's death and take back the lands his father lost to Denmark in that battle.

Norway was so pleased that he rewarded his nephew with a large sum of money. Fortinbras was, at that moment, preparing to attack Poland, and Voltemand had brought a request from Norway's king for permission to cross Danish land for his attack.

It is interesting to note that Fortinbras is often seen as a foil for Hamlet. A foil is “a character that serves by contrast to highlight or emphasize opposing traits in another character.”

Both have lost fathers, both are loving and loyal sons, and each has watched his uncle take the vacated throne. However, the situations are entirely different in that Old Fortinbras did not die by questionable circumstances, as Old Hamlet did. (Old Hamlet was challenged to fight by Old Fortinbras, and everything that Old Fortinbras lost and Old Hamlet won was handled honorably by a written agreement.) Norway is able to ask his nephew to desist in his attempts to equal the score with Denmark; Fortinbras agrees to obey his uncle who came to the throne rightly. On the other hand, Hamlet is unable to do what his uncle has asked because Claudius murdered his father, and Hamlet's father has asked him to avenge Old Hamlet’s "foul and most unnatural murder" (I.v.29). By comparing these two princes, we can better understand how difficult Hamlet's position is, and how untenable Claudius' actions were to Hamlet.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The current prince of Norway is Fortinbras whose father was killed by Hamlet's father. The bedridden king of Norway is Fortinbras's uncle who sends Voltemand and Cornelius, ambassadors of Norway, to Denmark in order to stop concern of war. The uncle says through the ambassadors that he discovered that the prince of Norway was planning to attack Denmark, but he had him arrested. Then, the uncle  turned the prince Fortinbras's "aggression" away from Denmark and onto Polland. Then, the king of Norway asks that their armies be given passage through Denmark to reach Polland. They also send three thousand crowns as an annual tribute to Denmark which should smooth relations over a bit. Claudius says that he'll consider it and gracefully supplies the ambassadors room and shelter before a feast.