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TOPIC: Fortinbras's arrival

Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1824

Is it odd that young Fort suddenly shows up just as Hamlet is dying? I am using the suggestion to read the text and a couple of commentaries. The Cliffnotes version is very vague in dealing with the Norwegian army showing up on the doorstep of Elsinore. When you look at that in conjunction with what Voltemand reported, it sounds like young Fort is using the whole thing a ruse to get his army close enough to attack Elsinore.

Am I way off or pretty close?
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1825

Well, as with everything else in Shakespeare, it's a matter of interpretation. You can choose to believe that Fortinbras came to conquer Denmark, *or* you can choose to believe that he came to help Hamlet oust Claudius. Because, after all, Fortinbras is Hamlet's mirror image; he is the one who consistently fulfills the very ambition that Hamlet fails at. Note the description of the Norwegian court early in the play; on close inspection it's a complete reflection of the goings-on at the Danish court. Fortinbras conquers Poland; Hamlet kills Polonius (Polonius means Poland in Latin). The difference between Hamlet and Fortinbras is that Fortinbras never hesitates. Never doubts. He accomplishes his great, providential goal, and is as such in stark contrast with Hamlet, who tragically fouls it up. So, when Hamlet in the end gives Fortinbras his dying voice, it should, I think, be clear that Hamlet and Fortinbras were two of a kind, both having the same goal of liberating their countries (and the surrounding countries; the world, essentially) from bad rulers. So in my view, Fortinbras arrives as an enemy of Claudius but as an ally of Hamlet. Fortinbras' purpose was to restore Hamlet's rightful place on the Danish throne, and he brought his army because he expected having to fight Claudius first.
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1826

That makes sense, but didn't Fortinbras hate Hamlet due to King Hamlet killing Fortinbras's father?
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1828

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Oh course, there is always the point that it is a playscript and in the theatre no one asks the question - they just accept it (as they accept so many other things) and consequently no 'reason' exists.

After such a blood-letting Shakespeare has to tie up the loose ends - Fortinbras will do nicely, thank you very much.
I wonder if Shaksper (or, more importantly, his groundlings) even knew enough of the Geography of the region to realise Fortinbrass moving through Denmark might even be an issue? Is it in fact an issue?
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1831

It really depends on history. If Norway and Sweden were united at the time, then Fort would have been better off travelling down through Sweden to ferry across straight to Poland. Just something else to wrap our brains around if Shakespeare's writing didn't already have enough.
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1832

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You are looking for an explanation that isn't needed - Shakespeare doesn't give any evidence why - if it had been important, he would have done so.
It might have done so in the ur-Hamlet - the earlier, pre-Shakespeare text of Hamlet - and he just copied the ending (yep, he does that sort of thing).
The interesting possibilities spinnable around so many questions raised by close-readers of the text are un-necessary to the play - If it had been important, the information would have been there.

Re-History - ermmm, Shakespeare didn't take too much notice of facts - all irrelevant to his main purpose of entertaining the audience (or should I say spectators?).
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1839

BamaFlum wrote:
That makes sense, but didn't Fortinbras hate Hamlet due to King Hamlet killing Fortinbras's father?

I don't think so. Old Fortinbras and Old Hamlet had a covenant on equal terms. When Old Hamlet won, "a moiety" of Norway was rightfully his. Young Fortinbras only raises an army after Claudius has taken over the Danish throne, because Fortinbras does not consider Claudius a rightful king.

But, it is true, this point is very easy to interpret in different ways - just another example of Shakespeare pulling our chains! :-)
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1841

BamaFlum wrote:
It really depends on history. If Norway and Sweden were united at the time, then Fort would have been better off travelling down through Sweden to ferry across straight to Poland.

I happen to be both Danish and a historian, so let me tell you about the history. :-) The story of Hamlet is taken from the work of 12th century scribe Saxo, who had been charged by his king with writing a history of Denmark (in Latin, to show civilized Europe that Denmark was a civilized place, with a glorious history, as well). However, at the time, the kingdom of Denmark was only a couple of centuries old, so Saxo penned a bunch of tales composed from various Germanic legends and culled from the half-forgotten and poorly documented history of the previous one-thousand years. Most of these tales have little or no support from actual historical records or archeological evidence. Some of them are allegories based on collisions between Germanic peoples and the Huns; there may be some real substance there, but it is rarely to be taken literally.

We have no good evidence of the existence of a kingdom called "Denmark" until around 900 AD, when it is mentioned on a rune-stone. It is known, however, that a language called "Danish Tongue" was spread across all of Scandinavia and further still (Greenland, western Russia), several centuries earlier. At that time, people of the region were culturally united by language, but not by geographical borders. They were composed of many groups with each their local kings. The German historian Adam of Bremen (whom I don't know if Shakespeare had access to, but I doubt it), writing in the 11th century, tells that Denmark was invaded in the 800s by kings from Sweden and "Nortmannia" - whether the latter is Normandy (current France) or Norway is not known. If it is Norway, it does begin to look a little like the situation in Hamlet! :-)

But, the story of Hamlet (Amleth), in Saxo, takes place in the 7th century, under this king: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hr%C3%A6re ... ngvanbaugi
Since he is mentioned in six separate accounts (some of which are probably based off each other, though), he may actually have lived, but he is still considered a king of legend; of historical evidence have we none. So the tale of Hamlet is apocryphal at best.

As for Shakespeare's version of the geo-political lay of the land in Hamlet; he presents Denmark as an imperial nation that has England (and, lest we forget, that moiety of Norway) under its dominance! What's more, Sweden was conquered by Denmark in 1389, and remained under Danish rule until less than a century before Shakespeare's time! So, since Shakespeare and his audience were used, from their own history lessons, to regarding Sweden as part of Denmark, it's quite safe to assume that the Denmark of the play has long since conquered Sweden. So in the play Denmark controls what is now Sweden (since capitols are usually located in the middle of a kingdom, this also fits in with the location of Elsinore, as you can see if you check a map), and this is why Fortinbras has to go through Denmark to get to Poland. Sweden, here, would simply be part of Denmark.
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1842

sorensonian wrote:
Young Fortinbras only raises an army after Claudius has taken over the Danish throne, because Fortinbras does not consider Claudius a rightful king. (Italics added.)
I'm sorry, but the above along with several other valuations of Fortinbras' character, circumstance, and motivation seem more a matter of inference, 'conjecture, expectation, and surmise', than textual reference.

It would appear that the quality of Fortinbras' character is in sincere question at the beginning of the play - certainly he seems to be errant in his disregard for his uncle's authority as well as his nation's security given his reckless rush to war that surely he has no rightful means to wage. It is only later, after Norway suppresses his levies and rebukes his militancy, that Fortinbras seems to improve his character. I say seems given the Captain's and Hamlet's somewhat prejudicial comments of his Polish foray and willingness to let so many die for so little.

I'm certainly not saying that more cannot be read into his role, but I think we should qualify our interpretations more specifically when we can.

Regards, Charles
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Fortinbras's arrival 6 years 6 months ago #1846

Well, I think I did amply qualify it by mentioning multiple times that it's what *I* think, .i.e. my interpretation. You can't get a wholesome impression of what goes on in Hamlet without *some* element of interpretation. My shtick is to hold up Hamlet and Fortinbras as mirror images, with the difference that Fortinbras is what Hamlet *should* and *would* have been. Hamlet, for a looong time, *considers* rebelling against his uncle; Fortinbras goes ahead and *does* it. Hamlet's entire speech about how all occasions do inform against him is entirely about what a great role model for Hamlet's own resolve Fortinbras is. As for Fortinbras' uncle; well, by the time Fortinbras and his army reach Denmark, his uncle - an ally of Claudius - is clearly not in charge anymore. So what has Fortinbras done? The same thing that Hamlet wants to do to Claudius - and without getting himself poisoned in the process.
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