Hamlet: parallels, right angles, and a glimpse into the future?

Some random thoughts of character parallels and the seeming quantum situations of being both parallel and at odds in Hamlet

Both Claudius and Polonius have no qualms about using spies to get the information they want.

Fortinbras, according to Claudius, thinks Denmark “to be disjoint and out of frame” (I.ii.20), while Hamlet feels that “time is out of joint” (I.v.191). Not sure if that makes Hamlet a parallel to Claudius (who uses the words) or Fortinbras who is perceived as thinking that way.

More obvious is the Hamlet-Fortinbras parallel. Sons. Named for their father. Both have that father dead, and are now ruled by their uncles. Each, as the play begins, is “of unimproved mettle” (I.i.96), untested–though, to be honest, Fortinbras is doing a better job of testing that mettle with his “list of lawless resolutes” (I.i.98). [and as a side-note, I see that phrase as almost a subliminal call-out to Prince Hal, the boy who would be (a great) king… something Hamlet is simply not fated to be]

By the end of the play, however, they could not be more different. One alive, the other dead. One on the throne of both nations, the other never to reach that height (destined to be only the prince). One described by the other–ironically, for the audience–as “a delicate and tender prince” (IV.iv.48) as he leads an army off to war; the other described by the one–again, ironically for the audience–as one who would have, as a king, “proved most royal” (V.ii.381).

Hamlet and Laretes, too, offer a study in parallels in situation and opposing responses to those situations. Both lose a father through murder, and each vows revenge. While Hamlet is concerned that the Ghost that prompts him to revenge “may be a devil (who) abuses (Hamlet) to damn (him)” (II.ii.538, 542), Laertes doesn’t care:

To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation.
  • IV.v.131-3

If Laertes had been Hamlet, the play would be a short one, ending sometime early in Act Two.

When Hamlet finds Claudius alone after the play, the prince is about to exact his revenge when he realizes that Claudius is praying, and thus Hamlet would “this same villain send // To heaven” (III.iii.77-8). Again, Laertes is not concerned with this as he is willing “to cut (Hamlet’s) throat i’ th’ church!” (IV.vii.124).

Each is willing to be buried under a mountain to show his devotion to Ophelia–Laertes under “Pelion or … Olympus” (V.i.243-4), Hamlet under so many “millions of acres (of dirt until)… Ossa (looks) like a wart” (V.i.271,273).

[Fun fact: Ossa is 6490 feet high, and is located in Greece between Pelion (5280 feet) and Olympus (9570 feet). That and a quarter will buy you… well, not much. Would a mountain tall enough to make Ossa like a wart be taller than Olympus? Or is Hamlet’s “mountain” not big enough? Just askin’…]

I’m wondering if these parallels in Hamlet are just a warm up for the fully realized parallel subplots in King Lear. It will be interesting to compare when we get to that behemoth.

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