The oxford dictionary describes an avenger as a person who sets out to punish or hurt somebody in return for something bad or wrong that has been done to them, their family or friends. Such a motive can be argued as the fuel for Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras. In the play Hamlet, by William F. Shakespeare; Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes are all noble young men avenging the deaths of their fathers. However, the ways these characters went about with their revenge were in complete contrast with each other. While hamlet waits and analyzes the death of his father before seeking revenge, Laertes hears of his father’s death and immediately seeks vengeance on Polonius’ murderer and Fortinbras strives to regain the land lost from the success of King Hamlet. Laertes and Fortinbras are essentially foils to Hamlet for they are everything Hamlet is not.
Hamlet at first is in too deep of grief and despair to act on the revenge against his father’s murderer. He holds back from acting off of these feelings until his emotions overcome his procrastination. When hamlets emotions get the best of him, he unknowingly kills Polonius who is the father of Laertes and Ophelia believing that it was indeed King Claudius. This action later causes Laertes to go after Hamlet. Hamlet wants to kill Claudius but doesn’t kill him in the scene because Claudius was praying and he does not want to kill Claudius while he is repenting his sins less he gets a chance to go to heaven. Hamlet wants to catch Claudius in an act of sin, drunkenness, anger or lust. Such thoughts show great and deep thinking unlike Laertes. Hamlet does not want to risk the chance that Claudius has an opportunity to confess. Unfortunately such a delay was in vain because Claudius could not pray, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (III.iii.96).
One would think the act of Claudius praying was enough proof for Hamlet to now know that it was indeed him that killed King Hamlet however Hamlet is still unsure, “how his audit stands, who knows, save heaven?”(III.iv.82). Hamlet is now wondering about the afterlife. He knows his life is soon coming to an end when he realizes that he has been poisoned. Hamlet says, “…sleep of death what dreams may come” (III.i.66) Unlike Laertes, Hamlet looked into every circumstance. Laertes was so engulfed with anger and a spirit of revenge that he did not realize Claudius was using him. Upon Hamlets death he wanted everyone to know that it was indeed Claudius who killed his father and told Horatio to tell all people of his story. Hamlet tried to apologize before the duel to Laertes but he refused to accept. I am satisfied in nature, in this case, should stir me most/ To my revenge: but in my terms of honour
I stand aloof, and will no reconcilement/
Till by some elder master, of known honour,
I have a voice and precedent of peace/
To keep my name ungored. But till that time,
I do receive your offer’d love like love /And will this not wrong it.(V.ii.235-243) Unlike Hamlet, Laertes dies due to being pressured to act by Claudius while Hamlet comes to accept the fact that he was truly not himself.
When Laertes hears of the murder of his father he is quick to act. In Laertes case, He was revenging the death of Polonius and Ophelia. The way Laertes deals with grief is the complete opposite and in complete contrast with the way Hamlet does. King Claudius uses Laertes weakness to draw him into the conspiracies. Now must your conscience my acquittance seal/
And you must put me in your heart for a friend/
Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear/
That he which hath your noble father slain/
pursued my life. (IV.vii. 1-5)
Claudius realizes the state in which Laertes is in and uses it for his own use. Claudius in this passage is convincing Laertes that it was Hamlet who killed his father. He also convinces Laertes that he should kill Hamlet and also that he should not put a boundary on the revenge for his father. Laertes essentially turns into a tyrant when he rushes into the castle demanding the murderer to come forth while threatening King Claudius with Gertrude observing. The death and quick burial of his father had him in extreme suspense. Laertes is so angry he essentially strips himself of his faith and expresses that he is willing to be dammed to hell in order to kill the murderer of his father in a church! He says that he’s willing, “..to cut Hamlet’s throat i’ th’ church” (IV.vii.140)
Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel even though he is not as great as a swordsman. With the first plan to kill Hamlet had failed, Claudius and Laertes scheme to poison the drink and sword in which either should kill him. Laertes indeed injures hamlet but hamlet does the deed twice. Throughout all of this Laertes dies in vain for when Laertes dies, he does not get to see his father’s murderer perish however he finally realizes that because of his short temper he has allowed himself to be used as a test rat for Claudius’ scheme.
Fortinbras is completely different from the rest of the pack. Fortinbras honourably swears to gain back the land that was taken away from his father. Although Fortinbras is not as active in the play then others, he is still spoken of on numerous accounts. Fortinbras is a complete and utter opposite in character compared to Hamlet and Laertes. However the one thing they all have in common is that they were well educated scholars and swordsmen. Fortinbras is the son of the older Fortinbras who was killed by Hamlets father. The land in which he wants back is all that Norway surrendered to Denmark. Fortinbras is a man of honour for even Hamlet too admired his status. “Witness this army of such mass and charge/ Led by a delicate and tender prince”(4.4.47).
Fortinbras looks into what he has before him before he goes out and seeks the revenge of his father’s killer and the land. Unlike Laertes and Hamlet, Fortinbras acts with reason instead of emotion. His ability to do so is why he was able to get the land in which he longed for and the throne. When he comes in to claim his position, Denmark is in complete corruption which was already foreseen, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.iv.90). Fortinbras now rightfully gains his position and all the corrupt evil minds are dead. He realizes that what he has longed for is now finally right before his eyes. Fortinbras essentially has no trajic flaw throughout the play unlike Hamlet and Laertes.
Observing the lives of all three characters, Fortinbras and Laertes can be seen as foils to Hamlet because they are practically everything hamlet is not. It is fair to state that all three young men were avenging the deaths of their fathers. As stated before, Fortinbras’ father being killed by King Hamlet, Laertes father being killed by Hamlet and Hamlets father being killed by Claudius. Hamlet himself refers to Fortinbras and Laertes as people he regards, as well, foils for himself. In the soliloquy in act IV, Hamlet swears to be more like Fortinbras. All in all characters were alike in many ways but different when it mattered.
In conclusion although these characters can be seen as strong in the public eye, two out of the three feel short because of their emotional tardiness when there should have been a stronger hold on it. The mere difference between these characters is plainly how they went about completing their tasks. Fortinbras is the only out of the three to realize that he could not let his emotions get the best of him. This lack of self control was the downfall of both Laertes and Hamlet.