The Shakespearean play, Hamlet, is a story of revenge and the way the characters in the play respond to grief and the demands of loyalty. The importance of Fortinbras and Laertes in the play is an issue much discussed, analysed and critiqued. Fortinbras and Laertes are parallel characters to Hamlet, and they provide pivotal points on which 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. Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras are three young men who are placed in similar circumstances, that is, to avenge their father's deaths. The way the each comes to terms with their grief and how they rise to the call of vengeance is one
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Laertes wants revenge, he is not concerned with punishment. Laertes is concerned with the physical and the present, "That both the worlds I give to negligence,"(Act4, 5:134) he declares. Hamlet however, philosophises about the afterlife, and whether "...in that sleep of death what dreams may come."(Act 3, 1:66)
Hamlet and Laertes represent the two extremities of the act of revenge: perpetual contemplation over circumstances leading to procrastination; and acting on impulsion and without reasoning. Revenge was the driving force behind these character's actions and this led to their eventual downfall.
Fortinbras is the son of Old Fortinbras, King of Norway, slain during battle by King Hamlet. Through a "seal'd compact,"(Act 1, 1:89) the lands of Old Fortinbras are forfeited to Denmark. As a mark of honour as was the style, Fortinbras vows to avenge his father's death and reclaim the territory lost. Fortinbras tends not to be active in the play, more often, he is spoken of. Fortinbras is the converse of character to Hamlet: the scholar and the soldier, the man of procrastination and the man of reason and action.
When Fortinbras' forces pass through Denmark, Hamlet chances to speak with one of the soldiers of the Norwegian army. Hamlet compares himself to Fortinbras, "...How stand I then?"(Act 4, 4: 56) and reproaches himself