What do you learn about Hamlet by comparing him to Horatio, Fortinbras, and Laertes?

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Hamlet is much slower to action than are the other three - Horatio, Laertes, and Fortinbras.  Hamlet thinks about actions and consequences and in doing so, is not quick to action.  In Act 3, sc. 1, in his famous "To be or not to be" speech, he questions what motivates people, and himself in particular.  He knows he promised his father he would seek revenge against Claudius, but he hasn't done it.  At the end of Act 2, he's decided that he needs to test the story the ghost told him to see if it was true, an action that says Hamlet is uncertain.  In contrast, we see Laertes in Act 4, sc. 5, rush into Elsinore with vengeance in his eye because he's found out about his father's death.  He wants to challenge Claudius for not doing anything to Hamlet.  He is quick to respond to his father's death.  In the scene right before that - Act 4, sc. 4, Hamlet is amazed at what Fortinbras is doing.  He doesn't agree necessarily with Fortinbras' method, but he admires the fact that at least Fortinbras is doing something as opposed to just thinking about it.  Because of his respect for Fortinbras, Hamlet ends that scene with the vow that he will concentrate now on revenge rather than on other things.  Horatio is the one who is more like Hamlet than the other two characters, but he is still more sure acting.  When Hamlet dies in Act 5, sc. 2, Horatio grabs the wine glass and says he wants to follow Hamlet to death.  Hamlet begs him to stay alive so that he can set the record straight about the events that occurred and what set the chain of events in motion.  Horatio doesn't dwell on the thought of suicide, the morals of it, etc. as Hamlet did back in Act 3, sc. 1.  So mostly what is learned about Hamlet from a comparison to the other three characters is that Hamlet is a thinker.  He ponders his actions from many angles before he acts.  He probably over-thinks, in fact.  All of his thinking and analyzing made him slow and caused more deaths.

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