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The Norway Subplot in Hamlet

There are three plots in Shakespeare's Hamlet: the main revenge plot and two subplots involving the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia, and the looming war with Norway. The following is a guide to the significant events in the Norway subplot.
Characters Involved in the Norway Subplot


Key Events in the Norway Subplot

1. Horatio sees the ghost of Hamlet's father and describes him as wearing the same armour as "When he the ambitious Norway combated" (1.1.60). This passage (1.1.58-63) introduces the Norway subplot.

2. After the Ghost vanishes, Horatio explains that King Hamlet (Prince Hamlet's father) had slain King Fortinbras of Norway in combat and reclaimed land for Denmark. He adds that young Fortinbras "Of unimproved mettle hot and full" (1.1.96) is massing an army to win back the land that King Hamlet had taken. Horatio mistakenly assumes that King Hamlet's ghost is an ominous portent of the looming war (1.1.109).

3. King Claudius addresses the threat from Prince Fortinbras, and he reveals that Fortinbras is seeking his revenge on Denmark without the knowledge of the sitting king of Norway, Fortinbras' uncle:

Norway, uncle of young Fortinbras,
Who, impotent and bed-rid, scarcely hears
Of this his nephew's purpose. (1.2.28-30)

Claudius decides to send Cornelius and Voltimand with a letter to the king of Norway, requesting he restrain his hot-blooded young nephew.

4. Cornelius and Voltimand return from their trip (2.2.59) and report that the king had been aware of Fortinbras' gathering of troops, but he thought the attack would be on Poland. When he discovered Fortinbras' sights were on Denmark he became livid and ordered Fortinbras to desist immediately. Voltimand adds that Fortinbras made a vow before his uncle "never more/To give the assay of arms" (2.2.71) against Claudius. Fortinbras will redirect his conflict to Poland.

5. Hamlet, on his way to exile in England, meets a captain in Fortinbras' army. He learns that Fortinbras and his army are marching to Poland to regain "a little patch of ground/That hath no profit in it but the name" (4.4.19). Hamlet is fascinated by Fortinbras' willingness to die over something so insignificant, and the encounter prompts Hamlet's final soliloquy: How all occasions do inform against me (4.4.35-69).

6. Hamlet and Laertes fight and mortally wound each other. Just before Hamlet dies, Osric announces that Fortinbras has returned from Poland. Hamlet, now ruler of Denmark due to Claudius' death earlier in the scene, decrees that valiant young Prince Fortinbras will be his royal heir and asks Horatio to inform Fortinbras of all that has led Hamlet to his lamentable end:

On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice;
So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited. The rest is silence. (5.2.346-8)

Fortinbras takes charge and both the subplot and the play are concluded with Fortinbras' speech:

Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage,
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal: and, for his passage,
The soldiers’ music and the rite of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot. (5.2.385-393)

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. The Norway Subplot of Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. <" > .


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