Many authors will utilized the technique of introducing a character that is seemingly unrelated to the protagonist in order to form a basis of comparison. Shakespeare uses the scenes with Prince Fortinbras of Norway in this very manner. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character of Fortinbras serves to further define and illuminate the character Hamlet. Fortinbras is introduced in the first act as Claudius reminds the people that an old act of aggression is breeding new conflict. Fortinbras intends to regain his father’s lands that were taken when Hamlet’s father, the king at the time, killed Fortinbras’ father.
young Fortinbras, Holding a weak supposal of our worth, Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death Our state to be disjoint and out of frame, Colleagued with the dream of his advantage, He hath not fail’d to pester us with message, Importing the surrender of those lands Lost by his father, with all bonds of law, To our most valiant brother (I, ii). Here, Fortinbras becomes a foil for Hamlet. Both have lost a father; both are involved in attempting to avenge their father’s death. Fortinbras is aggressive and forthcoming in his activities to this end, while Hamlet is hesitant and reluctant.
Later in the play, as the domestic issues consume the action, the reader gets another glimpse of Fortinbras as Hamlet notices the troops as they march across Denmark. Here, Hamlet cannot help but notice and comment upon the determination of his rival. He notes the similarities between his situation and that of Fortinbras; however, he is leaving his home, moving further away from his purpose while Fortinbras is marching ever closer. This makes him admire the young prince and further desecrate himself. Finally, upon the final scene, Hamlet seems resigned to his death.
Even after Horatio asserts that he will “lose this wager,” Hamlet has found peace. Upon his death at the hands of Laertes and the King, Fortinbras enters to find not a battle, but a bloodbath already concluded. He notes the dead prince, and feeling the same kinship that Hamlet had felt, perhaps, in the earlier scene, he orders his noble funeral: Let four captains Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage; For he was likely, had he been put on, To have proved most royally (V, ii) Fortinbras too feels the kinship with Hamlet gives him his credit while moving to take control of Denmark.
The message seems to be that the country will be in stable hands with Fortinbras. Shakespeare did not insert the scenes about Fortinbras for extra padding for his play. Instead the scenes serve to provide a basis of comparison for the two young princes. It also served to show the mutual respect that both Hamlet and Fortinbras developed for the other. The hatred between the two families is over. While both did avenge the death of their fathers; one assumed the role of ruler while the other joined his father in death.