Internet Shakespeare Editions


The ending: Fortinbras

Who is Fortinbras, and why does he take over so suddenly (if smoothly) at the end of the play? Some modern productions--notably both Olivier's (1948) and Zeffirelli's (1991) filmed versions of the play--have cut his final entrance entirely, leaving Horatio with the last words (and Denmark without a ruler).

Is there a conflict between what is most effective dramatically, and what is required to make the play seem politically complete to Shakespeare's audience? Is Fortinbras so minor a character that his role is close to that of the deus ex machina of late Greek tragedy, brought in from the outside to solve what those within the play cannot?

Is Hamlet right in thinking that Fortinbras is a model for honour? Is the ideal ruler one who will "find quarrel in a straw/When honour's at the stake*?" ("Fortinbras" means "strong arm.")


  1. The real Hamlet?

    The soliloquy in which Hamlet speaks these words (4.4.54-55), after seeing the army of Fortinbras cross the stage, was omitted from the later (Folio) edition of the play. Was it perhaps a revision by Shakespeare, finding the ideas out of character for Hamlet?