In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the importance of characters Laertes and Fortinbras have been an issue that’s discussed and analyzed by many literary critics. Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras are parallel characters in the play. Laertes and Fortinbras are often use by Shakespeare to compare the actions and emotions of Hamlet throughout the play. “They are also important in Hamlet as they are imperative to the plot of the play and the final resolution” (Nardo, 88). Shakespeare placed these three men: Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras into similar circumstances, which is, to avenge for their fathers’ deaths.
The main difference between the three is the way that each of them comes to grief of their fathers’ deaths and the way they planned their vengeance. “Laertes is a mirror to Hamlet. Shakespeare has made them similar in many aspects to provide a greater base for comparison when avenging their respective fathers’ deaths” (Nardo, 90). Both Hamlet and Laertes love Ophelia in different ways. Hamlet wishes Ophelia to become his wife, Laertes loves Ophelia as a sister. Hamlet is a scholar at Wittenberg; Laertes is also a scholar at France. Both were brought up under this royal family of Denmark.
And both are admired for their swordsmenship. But most important of all, both of them loved and respected their fathers greatly, and showed great devotion when plotting to avenge their fathers’ deaths. Hamlet’s response to the grief of his father is very different from Laertes. Laertes responded immediately to the death. He showed his anger to others, he didn’t hide it inside. He is also suspicious, it’s evident in his speech to Claudius, he asked, “How came he dead? I’ll not be juggled with. / To hell, allegiance” (Act 4, 5: 130)! Hamlet however s very private with his grief.
He mourned long and hard for the death of Old King Hamlet, even two months after his father’s death, after his mother’s wedding to Claudius. He is still observed by Claudius and Gertrude to be wearing . . . Suits of solemn black” (Act 1, 2 : 78). Claudius and Gertrude noticed and commented on his unhappiness, however, Hamlet hides his feelings so well, it was not until his first soliloquy that we as audiences learned the depth of his suffering. We see the same contrast between Laertes and Hamlet again when they avenge their fathers’ deaths.
Laertes again is fast to action, he wants immediate revenge for Polonius. His immediate actions are based in anger and emotions, and therefore, rash. Also because of his immediate want for revenge, Laertes is easily drawn into the manipulation of Claudius. Claudius manipulates him into becoming an ally to kill Hamlet. Laertes is confident with his abilities, he says . . . my revenge will come; only I’ll be revenged / Most throughly for my father” (Act 4 5:135). Contrasting to Laertes’ quick response, Hamlet procrastinates.
Although, Hamlet wants to gain honor by venging his father’s death, he is doubting and undecided of his abilities to do what he promised to the Old King’s Ghost. For two months Hamlet procrastinates, he agonizes over what he has to do, and how he’s going to avenge the murder of his father. While Laertes acts on impulse. However, despite the impulsive actions of Laertes in challenging of a duel with Hamlet, Laertes is without the cruelty and spitefulness of Hamlet. Hamlet not only wants to avenge his father’s death, he wants Claudius to be eternally punished, just like the Old King Hamlet is tortured in hell.
Therefore, Hamlet does not kill Claudius in the scene where Claudius is praying, when there is a chance Claudius might had a chance to confess all his sins. Laertes wants revenge, but he’s not concerned with Punishment, he is concerned with physical and the present. Hamlet however, cares about Claudius’ afterlife. Hamlet and Laertes the two extremes of the act of revenge: Hamlet thinks reason before action. Laertes acts on impulsion and without reasoning. Revenge was the driving force behind both characters’ actions and it led to their eventual down fall. Fortinbras is the son of Old Fortinbras,
King of Norway, killed during the battle with King Hamlet. Through a “Seal’d compact” (Act 1, 1:89), the lands of Old Fortinbras were forfeited to Denmark. Fortinbras, being the son of the Old King, vows to avenge his father’s death and reclaim the lands that were lost. Fortinbras shares similarities and differences with Hamlet, “Fortinbras is a scholar, a soldier, the man of procrastination and the man of reason and action” (Nardo, 101). From the way Fortinbras quickly gathers his army and his intent to attack Poland, we can see that indeed he is an energetic vigorous leader with clear ambitions Nardo, 105).
He is definitely a solider. Hamlet however, is referred to as a soldier not only by Fortinbras but also by Ophelia. But Hamlet seemed to me is much more a scholar than a soldier. Hamlet has been at the University of Wittenberg, . . . and by training, such a man learns to analyze problems, and his responses are never automatic because his decisions come after contemplation rather than from impulse. Though Hamlet may be slow to make a decision, that decision will be based on reason (Nardo, 64). The last scene of the play demonstrates the true character of Fortinbras.
As he arrives at Castle Elsinore, he quickly analyses the situation he finds then acts upon it. His action to avenge his fathers death was therefore, carefully analyzed and executed as he planned. Fortinbras ability to act upon reason and not emotion is one of the most significant differences he has with Hamlet. As I mentioned before, Hamlet and Laertes represent the extremes of action. Fortinbras therefore, is the midpoint of the two extremes; his ability to reason and the act upon the reason has resulted in his possession of both lands and throne he set out to avenge.