Prince of Denmark

David Brooks


At the very end of Hamlet Fortinbras pronounces the following epitaph on the hero:
Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage,
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal; and for his passage
The soldier's music and the rite of war
Speak loudly for him.
What are we to think of this? Do we think it is true? Does it matter whether we think it is true or not? Shakespeare has been thought to be rather cavalier in ending his plays. Once the protagonist is dead, the play has to be wound up as quickly as possible, and someone must say the necessary things that will allow the remaining characters to get off the stage. In this case Fortinbras says what a Renaissance prince might be expected to say of another Renaissance prince. So, is the speech merely perfunctory? Or does Hamlet's princeliness matter? Does it rightly receive the final emphasis of the play?

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