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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Fortinbras
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0884  Friday, 21 April 2000.

From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Apr 2000 15:19:32 -0700
Subject: 11.0836 Re: Oxymora
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0836 Re: Oxymora

I don't know quite how "oxymora" became a discussion of the
Hamlet/Fortinbras revenge theme; someone seems to have towed the line
all the way over to a new topic.  But let me point out some real
difficulties with the H/F parallel.  Fortinbras lost two things: first,
a father and, second, his anticipated inheritance (lost in his father's
wager).  So, too, did Hamlet, although his inheritance-whatever it
was-may well be in the control of Claudius.  Now, in Shakespeare's day,
"revenge" and "justice" were synonyms-Honor Matthews's "Primal Curse"
establishes the matter of usage in a very interesting discussion.  Old
Fortinbras's killer is not Hamlet but Hamlet's father, now dead and
beyond earthly vengeance/justice.  Where, then, is the "justice" of his
cause?  Not to kill Hamlet, who was just being born when old Fortinbras
lost the fatal wager; no, it makes more sense (but bad sense) for him to
wish to kill Claudius.  Revenge killing may be suggested by the
Hamlet/Laertes and Claudius/Hamlet parallels because Claudius and Hamlet
are the killers, but it does not apply to Fortinbras and it is a gross
mistake to assume that it should.

Following the death of his father, all that Fortinbras may hope to
recover is his lost inheritance, which is ambiguously under the control
of either Hamlet or Claudius.  Having been open to reason (plus a comfy
cash allowance from his uncle), he chose to honor the international
rules of law that governed the original wager between the dead kings.
In reward, in the last act unfolding of what Hamlet suggests to be the
workings of Providence, he gets his share of justice/revenge, i.e., his
diverted but not forgotten inheritance, and with Hamlet's blessing to
boot.  It is the only form of "justice" to him that would not work an
injustice on another victim-and require a Hamlet, Part II.

I recognize that this does not address the arguments based on character
and psychology, which concern themselves with why Fortinbras would be
justified in seeking blood vengeance, if he declared that to be his
purpose.  And indeed he might, what with his strong arm and all.
However, the language of the text and the specific clues it provides do
not point convincingly in that direction.  They leave any such
interpretation to those in the audience inclined to assume that the lex
talionis governs all cases of injustice.   But if "the rarer action is
in virtue than in vengeance", there must be another path.  Perhaps
Denmark has something to be optimistic about in its new ruler.

Yes, this too is an echo of journal publication in the works.

Tony B
 

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