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HEREDITARY KINGDOMS

AND SHAKESPEARE’S
CONCEPT OF KINGSHIP
J.K.

INTRODUCTION (1)

Many, if not most, kingdoms were officially elective historically. An
elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected rather than
hereditary monarch. The Saxon and Norman kings did not succeed each
other by divine right or even by the principle of inheritance. On the death
of the king, the throne stood vacant until his successor could be named
by the witan, or lords of the council. But the natural preference of
Englishman for an eldest son and a direct lineal descent gradually
brought them to regard the crown as an inheritance. The right to rule
over England had come to be acknowledged as an absolute property in
one or other family, and the only way to settle whose it was was for the
families to fight it out.
However, there is a number of instances in the English history which
show that some factors other than birth right were taken into
consideration in the accession to the throne as no claimant could hold
the throne without the acceptance of the governing elites (ei’li:ts), which
raised questions about the location and limits of monarchical power in
England. William Rufus, Henry I, Stephen of Blois (a grandson of William
the Conqueror), John II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry
VII had all reigned in defiance of the strict rule of descent.

Its aim was to demolish the argument that rebellion can be justified in certain circumstances. Their only remedy lies in a prayer. George Buchanon (1506-82) argued that kings were obliged to serve the people and if they failed in their duties could be overthrown by any of their subjects without further ado. Since man occupies such a crucial position in the Chain of Beign. than the subjects' duty is to submit themselves to what God has ordained. This doctrine is known as the Divine Rights of Kings. The first significant attack upon the doctrine of passive obedience appeared in John Ponet Shorte Treatise of Politicke Power. he must not rebel against anointed of the Lord. or in „sighs and tears“ as James I was later to suggest.the king is responsible to the community and the community is responsible to God. . Kings got their right to rule directly from God rather than from the consent or wish of their people. Numerous political treatises written in the 1590s argued that monarchy was a divinely ordained institution and that it was the duty of subjects to obey the monarch without question because everyone and everything had its place in the natural order of things.INTRODUCTION (2) • At the heart of the institution of kingship was an assumption inherited from biblical times: that kings were set over men by God. If the sovereign should happen to be a tyrant. For such theorists of government the worst of all possible evils was rebellion: this was clearly expressed in the Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion (1570/71) published in the aftermath of the 1569 Northern Rebellion and ordered to be read out in church services at key intervals throughout the year. The Tudors adopted the theory of the Divine Right of Kings in the attempt to maintain a strong government. and to counter the Papal authority as the state attempted to break away from the church. printed in 1556 .

. Eight out of ten plays Shakespeare wrote on the subject of English history make up the first and the second tetralogies. Samuel Daniel and Ben Jonson. Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre families of Lancaster and York (1548). often involving additions and the reconfiguration of the text. most of them complaints spoken by unfortunate or wicked princes and nobles.We know some 70 English history plays that were written over the stratch of some 15 years – between the Armada and the death of Elizabeth I. Shak's main sources were. A Mirror for Magistrates was one of the most popular works of the 16th century. The Mirror consists of a series of poetic narratives. (but only 35 texts have survived) George Chapman. and the acquisition of and retention of the power. Respublica. Health and Wealth. Scotland and Ireland. who have come to a bad end. Gentleness and Nobility. going through six editions.INTRODUCTION (3) • It is no exaggeration to claim that nearly all of Shakespeare's plays that deal with the question of kingship are centred on problems of legitimacy and the succession. A powerful recent interpretation of the history plays argue that Shakespeare was in favour of a strong leader to unite the factions struggling for political control throughout Britain. Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville -Writers became fascinated in and after 1591 by the themes of kingship. placing little stress on the legitimate claim of the monarch in question and emphasizing instead the ruler's personal abilities and charisma. It had a considerable impact on Shak's history plays. the role of counsel and the possibility of popular rebellion. Raphale Hollinshed's Chronicles of England. Shakespeare did not invent drama concerned with political matters. Gorboduc and Jack Straw _ these are but a handful of the many plays on the sixteenth-century stage that dealt with right rule. Fulgens and Lucrece. authority.

What Shakespeare and his contemporaries probably feared most when the Lancastrian plays were being written was the accession of a weak king.INTRODUCTION (4) • The first tetralogy (1589-94?) deals with dynastic struggles known as the Wars of the Roses. and Richard III. and culminates in the glorious victories of Henry V. Out of Richard's deposition immediately proceeds. and order is restored. And then. one incapable of maintaining order. then follow the conscience-stricken Henry IV’s attempts to preserve his realm. followed by the endless rebellions during Henry VI’s reign which culminate in the tyranny of Richard III. It consists of the plays Henry VI part 1. continues with the reign of Henry IV. not the cruelest of England's tyrants. and God’s curse falls upon England. . According to this myth. The concept of „inherited sin“ is alien to Shakespeare. at the end of the cycle. God’s curse is removed. Henry of Richmond appears.2 and 3. under whose reign powerful noble factions would again wage civil war in England. at the beginning prosperity is destroyed by the deposition of Richard II. but the greatest of English kings. The notion that the whole nation was doomed to suffer for the sin of its monarch is even more alien to Shakespeare. Those who support the providential view of history believe that Shakespeare was influenced by so-called Tudor myth. The second tetralogy begins with the deposition of Richard II. who is so profound a realist to subscribe to the metaphysics so characteristic of feudalism. the brief victory of Henry V.

who has united and pacified Britain. from Gonzalo's pious meditation on governing the island. Measure for Measure (1602-3) imagines the issues presented when the legitimate ruler of a city state hands over the reins of power to a deputy in order to study his realm as a secret observer. King Lear (1605-6) concerns the disastrous attempt of one of Shakespeare's most powerful kings. Shakespeare investigates various issues such as: Who has the right to be king? Can a king do wrong? What is the nature of kingship? What values are essential in a ruler? Are all who have power susceptible to abuse of that power and to what extent? Hamlet (1600-1) is set at the court of an elective monarchy at war with its neighbours. Macbeth (1605-6) deals with the problems of reestablishing legitimate government after the reign of a bloody usurper.INTRODUCTION (5) • • Not only in his history plays. and directly confronts the question of what gives a monarch his authority. The Tempest stages a series of issues relating to the question of the monarch's authority. Macbeth. to Prospero's transfer of power at the end of the play. to secure the succession on his own terms. Measure for Measure. King Lear. . The Tempest and so on. but also in the Roman plays and plays such as Hamlet. where the current king has murdered his predecessor.

warns him not to seize the lands of the recently deceased John of Gaunt for his own benefit because he only holds the throne by „fair sequence and succession“. Although in his conversation with the Dutchess of Gloucester John of Gaunt stresses the importance of the Divine Right of Kings. of separation from the commons. The king. the Duke of York. and foresees additional disasters resulting from the reckless conduct of the young king. and of using the lands and goods of the realm for the king's benefit rather than the commonwealth's. These are the sins with which Richard is charged throughout the play: of being ruled by "favorites" rather than by truth and justice.RICHARD II • Richard is the only monarch represented in the cycle of eight plays that make up the first and second tetralogies who actually has a strong claim to be king of England. . Richard's uncle. and England with him. and Green on the other. In leasing out his realm. throughout the history plays Shak makes it clear that rulers depend either on popular support or on the good will of their mighty subjects. However. he condemns the present misgovernment of England. An inherited title which is not bolstered by more substantial support will never be an adequate basis for government. Bagot. Richard has become a landlord of England. is placed between John of Gaunt on the one hand and Bushy. rather than on inherited titles for their survival in office. not king.

moreover.1. and. The breath of worldly men cannot depose The deputy elected by the Lord. The issue the nobles are faced with is what to do with a monarch who has committed serious and habitual offenses. When he returns from Ireland and finds out that Bolingbroke is in arms against him. in Richard II some evidence that Shakepeare had come to regard the very notion of the divinity of kings with some degree of skepticism.2. Carlisle and Aumerle encourage him to collect his strength and take action against his enemies. the sole protection he calls upon is the divinity of his kingship— “Is not the king’s name twenty thousand names?” or: Not all the water in the rough rude sea Can wash the balm off from an anointed king. (3.100). on whose crown. complacency. “A thousand flatterers sit” (2. leaves himself vulnerable to plots and attacks. subsequently. Richard repeats the basic doctrines of Tudor absolutism as accurately and as often as perhaps any other character in the whole range of Elizabethan drama. God will aid the lawful king if he knows how to fend for himself.53-56) There is. But Richard will not assert his power. Richard loses the support of the people and incurs their contempt. . and naivete.RICHARD II (2) • • • • • • • Through greed.

Had not an ear to hear my true time broke: I wasted time. and now doth time waste me. obscene a deed” (4. and when York arrives to announce that Richard has agreed to step down. If “the figure of God’s majesty” (4. Henry promptly announces. he warns: • The blood of England shall manure the ground • And future ages groan for this foul act.42-49) . he never shows real awareness of the causes of his downfall. “In God’s name. (V. In order to maintain the illusion of an unbroken succession. In the drama. What Richard has learned by now is that there can be no king without community. he prophesies that England shall pay dearly for crowning Henry.125) is deposed. Although Richard acquires a new strength through suffering. black. I’ll ascend the regal throne”. the alternative to Gaunt’s passive obedience is a backing of “a banished traitor”.1. Carlisle does not only oppose Henry’s assent to the throne. Bolingbroke does his best to present Richard’s deposition as an abdication.RICHARD II (3) • • If the anointed king has demonstrated his unfitness to rule.131). the Bishop of Carlisle steps forward to deplore “so heinous.v.1.

“I am Richard II. Henry IV’s deathbed speech to his heir.RICHARD III (4) • • Henry IV displays the specific qualities of leadership which Richard lacks. to proclaim the king unjust and proceed to challenge the king’s authority to rule. Bolingbroke is a better king for England than Richard can ever be.iii. describes how Henry IV usurped the throne from Richard rather than be appointed to the throne by God. which. That Richard's downfall was the inevitable result of his own conduct is one of the surest political lessons of the play. In putting down the rebellion. One interesting thing about this play is that the deposition scene was never staged during Elizabeth’s lifetime. It is presumably the play performed on the eve of the Essex rebellion. Prince Henry. Know ye not that?”It was a very difficult problem for Shakespeare to portray the ineffectiveness of Richard as a king and illustrate that England was better ruled by Bolingbroke without seeming to support rebellion. Richard’s fall and the usurpation of Bolingbroke emphasize between them the necessity of the political qualities for the successful exercise of kingship. of any bloodline. of any status. in turn. By his possession of these qualities Bolingbroke justifies his otherwise indefensible seizure of the crown.319-323). Henry describes his ascension to the kingship “But as an honor snatched with boist’rous hand/And I had many living to upbraid/My gain of it by their assistances/Which daily grew to quarrel and to bloodshed” (2H. IV. . His type of rule would mean justice and mercy (note his pardon of Aumerle who will live to be the gallant Duke of York of Henry V) and the preservation of civil order in England. he gives evidence of political sagacity the lack of which costs Richard his crown and life. Crucial to the two Henry IV plays is the fact that Henry IV openly rejects any connection his kingship has with the divine. Henry IV’s overthrow of Richard makes it possible for any person. reportedly prompted Elizabeth to say.

anger. Duke of Clarence. reinforced by God's ordinating fiat. human kindness.3. In his great soliloquy in the preceding play. Henry VI is the regulating principle of traditional society. Richard being one of them. yet more sincere in his self-awareness than those he ruins and deceives.27). Richard's skill at manipulation can be seen at once. Richard is the logical outcome of his society. Both the Duchess and the Queen have felt."advancing through villainy after villainy until he seized the crown. and utterly distrusting Richard of Gloucester. says one of these citizens. a hypocrite. pity. “O! full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester!” (2. Shakespeare shows that men. In the Wars of the Roses. are governed by their passions—by ambition. animosity and revenge. The dynastic issue is left behind. regretting the extreme youth of the new monarch. The conflict about the throne has been conducted as a dynastic rivalry. Right up to Henry's murder Richard has been a typical member of the Yorkist group. A reflection of the same presentiment is given in the conversation of the three citizens who are lamenting the king’s death. He is mercy. a villain who is also the hero of the chronicle-cycle. 41 he had already established himself as the cynical villain-hero who would "set the murderous Machiavel to school. He then wooes Lady Ann over the corpse of her father-in-law (Henry VI).RICHARD III (1) • The entire play is dominated by the single figure of Richard of Gloucester. love. and it is now a question of Richard's personal ambition. It is this which Richard kills. . The killing of the King marks the transcendence of this code. as he maneuvers his brother George. and recognize Richard’s demonic nature which will bring about the annihilation of their house. to the Tower.

If Richard cannot be made king by popular acclaim. Furthermore. hardly an auspicious sign for the prospect of the new reign. it indicates that without a wider basis of support he will not be able to rule for any length of time. The commoners may at times warrant contempt. He knows that the power of the people should not be ignored by someone who seeks to exercise power of his own. Richard still needs mass support. Richard has created an atmosphere of mistrust in which everyone is suspect. have been taken prisoner to Pomfret Castle.RICHARD III (2) • • The dangers of that society become apparent when we learn that Lord Rivers (brother) and Lord Grey (son). have died. as the play subsequently demonstrates. he must be presented in a different light— the devout man reluctant to accept the proffered throne . showing that he can succeed in outmanoeuvring corrupt and naive nobles but cannot deceive the people. where many others. Hastings: I'll have this crown of mine cut from my shoulders Before I'll see the crown so foul misplac'd. as well as Sir Thomas Vaughan. and °look'd deadly pale“. including Richard II. England's royal King“. the people „like dumb statues or breathing stones / Star'd each on other. but never should they be overlooked. This fact exposes the limits of his political skill.The king-making strategy that Richard and Buckingham masterfully design and then implement is a brilliant example of political manoeuvring and manipulation. Buckingham records that he is faced with silence when he proclaims „God save Richard. .

his last challenge to the throne. Richmond as well as Richard is trying to strengthen his title to the throne by marriage with the only living representative of the first Yorkist king. Having exalted Richard. For the sake of becoming an absolute monarch. .RICHARD III (3) • Everything which has befallen the House of York is a picture of what it did to the House of Lancaster. and he. and thus increasing the opposition on all sides. Richmond has come from France to claim the crown. Richmond’s army is morally unwavering in its quest to overthrown him. has asked for and has been promised the “virtuous and fair” Elizabeth. as a result. Margaret's curse has been fulfilled in every particular. Only if he manages to secure her mother’s consent will his reign be secure. As a plotting usurper. indeed. However. he destroyed all his near relatives. he was. he seems to have shown far less ability. thoroughly successful. The death of his wife Anne has opened the opportunity for Richard to marry Edward’s daughter Elizabeth. but as a sovereign. as the audience will later learn. Shakespeare judhed and condemned him according to his basic political beliefs. The short speeches of those in Richmond’s party revolve around the idea that Richard has been a murderous and oppressive king who deserves to be overthrown and that. forcing them to join his enemies. alienated his chief adherents. daughter of Edward IV.

. 212) holds. Immediately after his seizure of the throne. that Richard III. in explanation. or the nation at large. The violation of the tradition of succession to the throne. Tillyard (p. but were all products of his boundless ambition and egoism. but Richard was forced to rely on his mercenaries and on those lords who were attached to him for reasons of their own. Bolingbroke had at least maintained his usurpation through the support of the masses. Although there is no sign of it in Henry VI. in Richard III we have an important distinction between lawful king and tyrant. in Shak's days. change sin the law of succession were constantly being formulated and accepted. so dear to the heart of Hastings. None of Richard's actions had been dictated by concern for the welfare of the nation. for the rebellion against Richard had to be justified. new wars are imminent. such man is not fit to control the reins of state. and his victory had ushered in the great age which God had granted to England after her atonement for her sins. is of no importance. as we shall see. whose hearts he succeeded in winning.RICHARD III (4) • Richard is a scoundrel. and the implicit doctrine that a tyrant--a usurper who rules for his own aggrandizement rather than the good of his people and who is destructive of the commonwealth--is not entitled to the rights and privileges of a lawful king. violence and usurpation undermines its own roots. Shakespeare was to develop further in Macbeth. Henry of Richmond was the ancestor of Elizabeth. and against an authentic tyrant it was lawful to rebel. This doctrine. Richard's allies demand an accounting. Power based on villainy. That such man could have ever ruled the English nobility. "was so clearly both a usurper and a murderer that he had qualified as a tyrant. Shakespeare's condemnation of Richard indicates a definite political view."But orthodox Tudor doctrine had never endorsed rebellion against a tyrant. was surely impossible. Shakespeare was not opposed to such changes. in Richard III the doctrine of passive obedience had to be somewhat modified. New revolts.

too. of course. and a King-slayer. . He has the machiavel's cunning (the 'witchcraft of his wits'). and like Richard III he can persuade his victim's wife to marry him. It is a machiavel-King. His problem is to devise a strategy that will circumvent the machiavel's. Hamlet's mother certainly thinks so. of course. Like Richard. he uses a pair of toolvillains. is that Shakespeare is treating the killing of a King as a merely private murder. Hamlet sees himself opposed to. Hamlet's role requires him to be the man entrusted with the task of killing the King. The rightful King has thus been slain and the throne is occupied by a machiavel. Whatever might be rotten in the state of Denmark there are no obvious repercussions in the sphere of public life or of the general weal. To everyone except Hamlet Claudius is as good as his predecessor. This strategy is. that of feigned madness. to restore righteousness to the order of things as well as to revenge his father. What has happened. the same ability to simulate the appearance of virtue.HAMLET (1) • As in Julius Caesar and Macbeth the stage is set by the murder of a good King.

young Fortinbras. and the fact that the kingdom was at that time threatened by an invasion of the Norwegians under young Fortinbras. By this victory the lands that were in dispute fell to Denmark. Although the son of a king was the prime candidate for the throne. However.1. Claudius. The royal councillors believed that Claudius was better able to cope with the affairs of the state. court officials selected the new king by vote. Under King Hamlet the kingdom of Denmark had been respected abroad. . and so long as King Hamlet lived they remained his without question.HAMLET (2) • The Danish throne itself was not subject to the same rules of kingship as the English throne. has scraped together an army of desperadoes with which to attack Denmark. desiring to avenge his father’s death and regain the lost properties. And that was what precisely happened in Elsinore. When Fortinbras of Norway challenged him to war. the voting nobles had the right to choose another candidate if they considered him a better choice. “For so this side of our known world esteem’d him” (1. It is evident from the speech of Hamlet’s school-fellow Horatio that Hamlet’s father was a valiant king. The nobles approved the king's brother.85). he took up the challenge. In an elective monarchy. The reason why these lords preferred Claudius over Hamlet might be the comparative youth of Hamlet and his mental state. and very speedily overcame and slew him.

.5. old enough to ascend the throne at the time of King Fortinbras' death. The official version of his father’s death was that he was stung by a serpent while sleeping in the palace gardens.37). Hamlet's father claims to have been betrayed by his “most seeming-virtuous queen” and murdered by “that adulterate beast” (1. His chief thought. Interestingly. it appears that young Fortinbras thinks the weakness of Denmark affords him a good opportunity to make war on it. is the degradation of the kingdom. had gained the crown. and knows exactly what he has to do to strengthen his position on the throne. and a fitting time to seize lands that his father had lost to King Hamlet.HAMLET(3) • Young Fortinbras was not. On the confession of Claudius himself. stressed at the beginning and at the end of his first soliloquy. Claudius is clearly a wise politician. The swift marriage of his mother to his uncle rounded and perfected his outrage by its complete disregard of his father's memory. great orator. uncle to the delicate and tender prince. and by the stability it gave to his uncle's position on the throne. It is now enslaved by what he will later call “damned custom” (3. 42) his brother Claudius. Hamlet seems unaware of the Norwegian threat.46. thus the brother of King Fortinbras. In both Norway and Denmark there is an uncle on the throne to thwart the impulses of a headstrong nephew who is the royal heir in direct line.4. at any rate.

5. Conventional morality. relations. bonds. by killing him. except Horatio. Hamlet would commit high treason and dispatch an emissary from God at the same time. is aware of the murder Claudius has committed. as the Ghost said.105) person because she is. “What justice required was a regular impeachment and trial of the usurper. but Hamlet is tied to the primitive code under which only a son's sword could wreak sufficient retribution. virtuous smile. King Claudius is.91) seem to require from Hamlet the wiping out of all other memories. of the very sense of his own identity. but because he has concealed all his wickedness with a genial. Hamlet's situation is made worse by the fact that no one else in the court. Hamlet cannot trust anyone. backed by religion. disparaged his mother. . Claudius is damned. and usurped his throne. Professor Khan says that Hamlet's picture of Claudius does not correspond to the reality.5. He has to forget himself. He must erase all ties.” Apart from Horatio. Hamlet has the most powerful motives which can urge the human breast to kill the king. remember me” (1. Moreover. was against any private revenging. “seeming-virtuous” (46). Claudius seems to be a popular ruler. Claudius has already showed his political capabilities by saving the country from the war and it is clear by now what the reasons were for such urgent royal marriage. which makes Hamlet's position more dangerous. not chiefly because of his adultery and murder. The queen is a “most pernicious” (1.HAMLET (4) • The Ghost's words “Hamlet. in the eyes of his subjects. a legitimate monarch and. Hypocrisy and dishonesty now rule in Denmark. his struggle is with one who has murdered his father. which further aggravates his sense of isolation. He swears to become a new person. a revenger.

A peculiar type of espionage permeates the court of Elsinore. boyhood friends may be used as spies. a subject spying on his Queen and her son. They are faceless courtiers easily manipulated by Claudius and deceived by Hamlet. doubt of the Ghost. Polonius suggests to the king to arrange a meeting between two young people. He has learned that mankind has a terrifying capacity to reject reason. doubt of his own sanity and judgment. former schoolmates of Hamlet's. brother may kill brother. to probe his nephew's threatening transformation. Hamlet is in the hell of doubt. with two of them spying behind the arras.7-8) Gertrude is convinced that her son's transformation is due to his father's death and her hasty marriage to Claudius. Thus Ophelia becomes an instrument against Hamlet through her father.2. to descend to the bestial level: subjects may murder kings. and the tormented prince who sets the actors on as his decoys to spy out the King's guilt. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern believe that Hamlet's behaviour is the result of Hamlet's not succeeding his father on the throne. wondering broodingly “What it should be / More than his father's death” (2. doubt of Ophelia. Convinced that Hamlet's madness is caused by Ophelia's rejection of his advances. . friends spying on friend. There is father spying on son. a lover used as decoy by those who spy on her loved one. Claudius engages Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He hopes this play will strike Claudius to the soul. Hamlet will have the players reenact the murder of his father and observe Claudius’s reaction.HAMLET (5) • Claudius is extraordinarily disturbed by Hamlet's transformation. wives and mothers may rush to incestuous sheets. When the professional players arrive at Elsinore.

He attempts prayer. Repentance means an entire turning away of his soul from his sin.3. such sentiments distress Claudius. his hatred of the accomplished and charming king. who knows that he has gained the throne through regicide and fratricide. formerly alluded to by Claudius in general terms is now very specific: “I like him not. his idealistic dislike of the quick wedding. Claudius.55). like a gulf doth draw What's near it with it.36). Unable to repent. Instead of providing comfort. Claudius commences plotting against the life of Hamlet.3. But the internal pressure caused by his guilt is now beginning to work on him. and my queen” (3. He is not a Devine Right King. through the Gonzago play he has aroused a conscience in him. and therefore involves penance and restitution. has learned the fine art of deceit. nor stands it safe with us” (3. mine own ambition. it smells to heaven” (3. a giving up of the effects for which he did the murder. it is a massy wheel. however. and. above all. Hamlet has done something more than murder Claudius. but a usurper and bloody murderer. “O! my offence is rank.HAMLET (6) • • • • • For the courtiers the Play scene has meant merely a crucial outbreak of Hamlet's initial unrestrained importunity: his unmastered emotionalism. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unintentionally increase the King's anguish when they remind him how much the health of the nation is dependent upon his own state: The cease of majesty Dies not alone. The danger..1). . his bitter ambition for the throne.. primarily a diplomat. “My crown. Fix’d on the summit of the highest mount. but.3.

. like Richard II. Hamlet meets the Norwegian army which is to attack some part of Poland. takes refuge behind divine right as if he had forgotten that the same right was of no avail to King Hamlet. Unlike Hamlet. the brother he has killed. He has a father murdered. a mother stained. Laertes is willing to overthrow the political structure of Denmark in his pursuit of revenge. (4. to the blackest devil! Conscience ad grace to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. The popular discontent is turned not against Hamlet who slew Polonius. Fortinbras is the man of action. a throne despoiled – and still he does not act. but upon Claudius who was himself nearly the victim. and this element is brought into greater prominence by the small value of its object.5. allegiance! vows. The prize is a worthless patch of ground. The contrast strikes Hamlet in the most forcible manner.130-31) Claudius. To Hell. marching unmolested across Denmark as promised by King Claudius.HAMLET (7) • • • • • • On his way to the ship in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking him to England and death. yet here is a youth who defies fortune to the utmost for its possession.

but he returns to it but as a changed man. Laertes openly and uncompromisingly demands justice.HAMLET (8) • • • • • There's such divinity doth hedge a king That treason can but peep to what it would. without a plan. Denmark being one of the worst. . For Hamlet the world is a prison with many dungeons. . His actions illustrate what Hamlet ought to have done to fulfil the Ghost's demand. and rejects feudal duty and other laws and norms. (4. . Claudius continues to exert his political skills as he persuades Laertes to follow another route to revenge. 232.2. Hamlet goes back to Elsinore alone. . fearlessly challenges the king in public.10. For all his external confidence in Laertes. who agrees to arrange that the tip of one of his weapons be poisoned.123-25) In seeking revenge for his father. and conspires to have a poisoned drink in preparation. for him.5. “There's a divinity that shapes our ends . reasserts his filial duty. there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow . the readiness is all” (5. Acts little of his will. 237). Claudius has another plan in reserve. Laertes has no conscience. Professor Khan observes that Hamlet has reached his spiritual maturity. no inner conflict. . He explains his scheme to draw Hamlet into a sword fight with Laertes.

as the man of action.HAMLET (9) • • • “He now can view the death of Claudius not as a sinful act of private vengeance which must be his own damnation.. both Laertes and Fortinbras are men of prompt action. at the close. and made him triumphant. his activity is the frame in which the whole movement is set. His countrymen have earned and deserved much less. making him a man for all ages. Kiernan. They all acted on emotion. Hamlet endures as the object of universal identification because his central moral dilemma transcends the Elizabethan period. but as lawful act of public duty. Laertes.”The play begins with Fortinbras. and this led to the downfall of two. wise. Hamlet ultimately reflects the fate of all human beings. but courteous. and just if only he had not fallen victim to his uncle’s scheming. martial and commanding. 87 . Hamlet was a prince who.” Young Fortinbras. “The Prince of Denmark has earned his rest. according to Fortinbras. that of a minister of God and not of a scourge. and Hamlet were all looking to avenge the deaths of their fathers. and the rise to power of one. has reached an impasse. would have become a great king. cit. p. In his difficult struggle to somehow act within a corrupt world and yet maintain his moral integrity. Thus the poet has portrayed him as the absolute contrast to Hamlet. and monarchical rule in Denmark. which can only be rescued from itself by the killing of the man on the throne. and ends with Fortinbras. op. Unlike Hamlet. V.