Fortinbras, the nephew of the King of Norway, a prince,
"delicate and tender," but spirited and ambitious, forms a contrast to both Hamlet and Horatio. He is a man of action, and is never happy unless engaged in "some enterprise that hath a
stomach in it." Being, as Horatio says, "Of unimproved metal
hot and full," he engages in martial enterprises merely for the
sake of fighting. He furnishes Hamlet an example which he is
quick to admire, but powerless to follow. "Examples gross as
earth, exhort me," says Hamlet,
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. -- IV. iv. 46.
He is obedient to his uncle, the King of Norway, who, appreciating his spirit of adventure, pardons his indiscretion and furnishes him with assistance that he may satisfy his craving for
action. As he is single-minded and keeps the end to be attained
ever in view, he is successful.
He returns victorious from his expedition against Poland, an
expedition "That hath in it no profit but the name," and receives
Hamlet's dying voice for his election to the sovereignty of Denmark. The sound of war is music to him, scenes of death a "feast." "Such a sight as this,", he says, referring to the scene
of carnage with which the play concludes, "Becomes the field,
but here shows much amiss." He grieves over the series of
disasters that has made his own fortunes, and pays a soldier's
tribute to Hamlet,
Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally. -- V. ii. 413.
"With none of the rare qualities of the Danish Prince, he
excels him in plain grasp of ordinary fact. Shakespeare knows
that the success of these men who are limited, definite, positive,
will do no dishonor to the failure of the rarer natures to whom
the problem of living is more embarrassing, and for whom the
tests of the world are stricter and more delicate." -- Dowden.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Eds. F. A. Purcell and L. M. Somers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1916. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/fortinbras.html >.
Points to Ponder ... Is Fortinbras similar to Hotspur in 1 Henry IV? The first glimpse into Hotspur's concept of honour comes in the form of praise from the king himself, declaring Hotspur to be "the theme of honour's tongue." Indeed, Hotspur is committed to honour. The pursuit of this grand ideal consumes all his energy and shapes his every thought. Read on...