Here we finally meet Fortinbras. We've been talking about him since the beginning of the play, how he's thinking of attacking Denmark, then he's agreeing not to attack Denmark, then he's asking to march through Denmark to attack Poland. Kind of a restless boy, methinks. Lots of energy and desire to go punch people or something. He only gets a few lines, and exits before Hamlet enters.
I've talked a little before about Hamlet's foils in the play, 'foil' meaning "a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character" (Wikipedia). Prince Hamlet has several foils, namely Horatio, Laertes, and Fortinbras. (Some argue that Claudius is also a foil, but I think that's a bit of a stretch, so I'll be discussing the three others here.) Horatio is like Hamlet in being a student, but he isn't royal or even necessarily noble, doesn't seem to have any issues with his parents. He's Hamlet as he used to be, kind of carefree and able to do what he wants most of the time. Then there's Laertes, who is like Hamlet in that his father gets murdered, and we'll see how he reacts to that before long. And then we have Fortinbras. Fortinbras's father was killed by Hamlet's father in a battle, and he wanted to attack Denmark in revenge, but gets persuaded not to by his uncle, the king of Norway. By comparing the actions, attitudes, and reactions of these three with Hamlet, we can kind of sharpen our understanding of Hamlet in some ways. See the choices he has made in a new light, when contrasted with the choices of others like him, that sort of thing. Just some stuff for you to mull over if you feel like it!
Okay, anyway, the rest of this scene is about Hamlet and a captain in Fortinbras' army discussing how stupid this war is going to be, that all these men will die because someone wants a little scrap of unprofitable ground. Hamlet then launches into his seventh and final soliloquy. He considers the point of being alive -- is it just to eat and sleep? No, he thinks that when God gave men understanding and reason, he expected them to use it. And I think Hamlet doesn't want to waste those abilities that he has -- waste them by killing Claudius and thereby throwing his life away. But he sees this "delicate and tender prince" (45) Fortinbras (and he's being deliciously sarcastic there, isn't he?) leading all these men to their death for no real reason at all, and he thinks, "I have so many actual good reasons to fight and kill, why don't I go ahead and do it?" So he decides "from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!" (63) Whether he sticks to that resolution or not remains to be seen.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Why might Shakespeare have had Fortinbras exit before Hamlet enters? What might they have said to each other if they had met here?