Fortinbras as a Foil for Shakespeare's Hamlet

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 740 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 740|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Motivations and Ambitions
  2. Actions and Decision-Making
  3. Outcomes and Reflection
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

William Shakespeare's play Hamlet is a complex exploration of themes such as revenge, morality, and the nature of human existence. One of the key characters in the play, Prince Fortinbras of Norway, serves as a foil to the protagonist, Hamlet. A foil is a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight their differences. In this essay, we will examine how Fortinbras serves as a foil to Hamlet, emphasizing their contrasting traits and actions. By analyzing their motivations, actions, and outcomes, we can gain a deeper understanding of the themes and messages in Shakespeare's masterpiece.

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Motivations and Ambitions

Fortinbras and Hamlet share a common motivation: the desire for revenge. However, their motivations differ significantly in terms of their scope and intensity. While Hamlet seeks revenge for his father's murder, Fortinbras seeks revenge for the lands his father lost in a battle against Denmark. Hamlet's revenge is personal and introspective, leading him to question his own morality and the nature of revenge itself. On the other hand, Fortinbras' revenge is driven by a sense of duty and honor, as he seeks to restore his family's lost honor and regain the lands that were rightfully theirs. This contrast in motivations highlights the difference between Hamlet's internal struggle and Fortinbras' external drive.

In addition to revenge, Fortinbras possesses a strong ambition for power and conquest. He is willing to risk the lives of his soldiers and engage in wars to achieve his goals. This ambitious nature is evident in his willingness to invade Denmark, despite the potential repercussions. In contrast, Hamlet is introspective and contemplative, often hesitating to take action. He questions the consequences of his actions and the morality of violence. This contrast in ambition emphasizes the differences in their characters and their approaches to achieving their goals.

Actions and Decision-Making

The actions of Fortinbras and Hamlet further highlight their contrasting personalities and approaches. Fortinbras is a man of action, constantly on the move and actively pursuing his goals. He is quick to make decisions and does not hesitate to act upon them. For instance, when he learns of his uncle's death, he immediately takes control of the situation and assumes the throne of Norway. This decisive and proactive nature is in stark contrast to Hamlet's indecisiveness and inaction. Hamlet is often paralyzed by his own thoughts and doubts, unable to take action even when presented with opportunities for revenge. This contrast in their actions underscores the difference between Fortinbras' assertiveness and Hamlet's contemplative nature.

Furthermore, their different approaches to leadership and governance shed light on their characters. Fortinbras is a capable and respected leader, commanding the loyalty and admiration of his soldiers. He is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good of his country, as seen in his willingness to send his soldiers to fight for a seemingly trivial piece of land. In contrast, Hamlet is more concerned with his personal struggles and moral dilemmas, often neglecting his responsibilities as the Prince of Denmark. This juxtaposition of leadership styles highlights the difference between Fortinbras' pragmatic approach and Hamlet's introspective nature.

Outcomes and Reflection

The contrasting outcomes for Fortinbras and Hamlet further emphasize their divergent paths. Fortinbras achieves his goal of regaining the lost lands for his kingdom, while also gaining the respect and admiration of his people. He is portrayed as a strong and capable leader, ready to take on new challenges. In contrast, Hamlet's journey ends in tragedy, with the deaths of several key characters, including himself. His hesitation and indecisiveness ultimately lead to his downfall.

Reflecting on the contrasting outcomes, we can see that Shakespeare uses Fortinbras as a foil to Hamlet to convey a message about the importance of action and decisiveness. While Hamlet is paralyzed by his own thoughts and doubts, Fortinbras takes action and achieves his goals. This serves as a reminder that inaction can have dire consequences, and that sometimes, it is necessary to act even in the face of uncertainty.


In conclusion, Fortinbras serves as a foil to Hamlet in Shakespeare's play. Through their contrasting motivations, actions, and outcomes, we gain a deeper understanding of the themes and messages in Hamlet. Fortinbras' assertiveness, ambition, and decisiveness highlight Hamlet's introspection, hesitance, and inaction. By juxtaposing these two characters, Shakespeare emphasizes the importance of action and decisiveness in the face of adversity. Hamlet remains a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences today.

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Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 3rd ed., Simon & Schuster, 2003.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Fortinbras as a Foil for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“Fortinbras as a Foil for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Fortinbras as a Foil for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jul. 2024].
Fortinbras as a Foil for Shakespeare’s Hamlet [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 20]. Available from:
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