When Fortinbras arrives at the end of Act 5 was he attacking Denmark? What was his purpose in Act 5?I want to make a point in an essay that when the kings in control of the state loose focus of...

When Fortinbras arrives at the end of Act 5 was he attacking Denmark?

What was his purpose in Act 5?

I want to make a point in an essay that when the kings in control of the state loose focus of public affairs and and focus on their own personal ones the state suffers. I was going to say that When Claudius focuses on Hamlet and his state of mind he fails to notice Fortinbras sneaking in to Denmark to launch a surprise attck, despite his uncle's best efforts to reign him in. But now i'm entirley sure why fortinbras turned up at the end of the play!

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Hamlet Act V, I do think Fortinbras means to take Denmark.  I have seen it staged as a real cannon with real troops: an invasion.  Among these is Branagh's film version Hamlet, in which the Norwegian soldiers crash through windows as they enter the castle and Marcellus is stabbed by bayonet outside the castle gate.

Earlier, Fortinbras had wanted to take Denmark, and his uncle (influenced by Claudius) warned him against it.  So, Fortinbras went after Poland instead, as a concession.  But, isn't Poland a red herring all along?  Yes, he gets the lands back from Poland, but that does not end his quest for revenge.  He wants his cake and to eat it too: the lands give him no personal satisfaction.  And, as you know, revenge is all about emotional satisfaction.

Isn't Fortinbras' real goal Denmark all along?  He clearly wants personal revenge, but now that Claudius has done that for him by killing King Hamlet, he's out for political revenge (against the entire country).

Fortinbras is a combination of Laertes and Hamlet when it comes to revenge.  He had been hell-bent on emotional revenge (like Laertes) against Denmark, but luckily he is forced to back away from his hot-headed plan.  In Act V he proceeds like Hamlet toward revenge, much more deliberately and indirectly.

His excuse for fighting in Poland could be a red herring to pass through Denmark, his real goal.  The irony is, of course, that he gets no personal satisfaction from revenge, like Hamlet.  Fortinbras realizes that all are losers when it comes to revenge: it leads only to tragedy, personally and politically.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I do not think that that works -- I don't think that Fortinbras is in Denmark for any sort of aggressive purpose.  If you look at that part of the scene, it says that he is coming back from Poland, where he had been fighting.  He is just on his way back home through Denmark (presumably going to get on a ship in Denmark to get home to Norway).

When he fires cannon, it's not real.  He is just firing a salute to the English ambassadors.  So I do not think that you should try to say that Fortinbras is coming to try to take Denmark.  Of course, he ends up getting to be king of Denmark anyway, but that's not why he's there.

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