Hamlet

by: William Shakespeare

Five Key Questions

Summary Five Key Questions

4) Who is Fortinbras?

Fortinbras is the nephew of the King of Norway. Although we hear his name mentioned in the play’s first and second acts, Fortinbras doesn’t appear onstage until the final moments of the play. Early on we learn that Fortinbras’s father, the previous King of Norway, was killed by King Hamlet in battle some years before the events of the play. But instead of inheriting the throne, the kingdom went to Fortinbras’s uncle. Thus, Fortinbras and Hamlet are in similar situations—that is, both are sons of murdered kings, whose thrones have been usurped by their uncles. However, Fortinbras’s response to his situation is very different from Hamlet’s. In order to avenge his father’s death, Fortinbras invades Denmark and ends up taking the Danish crown for himself, thereby living up to his name, which means “strong-armed.” Fortinbras demonstrates how the son of a murdered king is supposed to behave. Whereas Hamlet finds his situation unbearable and resorts to ineffectual and melancholy contemplation, Fortinbras is a man of action who effectively takes advantage of his situation. In this regard Fortinbras resembles Laertes, another worthy son who takes action on his murdered father’s behalf.