Laertes, Claudius, and Fortinbras as Foils of Hamlet
In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, the young Prince Hamlet must deal with murder, corruption and incest. The foils to Prince Hamlet, give the reader a basis to summarize his character within the play. Such foils include Laertes, son of Polonius, Claudius, current king of Denmark and stepfather of Hamlet, and Fortinbras
, the prince of Norway.
The first foil or character that sets off Hamlet, in the play is Laertes
. After King Hamlet's death, he, along with Prince Hamlet, return to Denmark for the funeral services. That is the first sign that Laertes will become a foil to Hamlet in the play. Both Laertes and Hamlet are very fond of Laertes' sister, Ophelia, which is the second similarity of the two. Another similarity of Laertes and Hamlet is the father figure of each, Polonius to Laertes and Claudius to Hamlet, has someone to watch them to see if they are acting accordingly. [accordingly?] In act two, scene one, Polonius instructs Reynaldo to go to Paris to give Laertes money and messages, and to find other Danes that will give him gossip about Laertes. In act two, scene two, Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out why Hamlet is acting so strangely. The next similarity of Laertes and Hamlet is that they both grieve over a death in the play. Laertes grieves the death of Ophelia, while Hamlet grieves over his father, King Hamlet's death. The final similarity of Laertes and Hamlet is that both seek revenge for the death of their fathers. Laertes wishes to kill Hamlet after Hamlet murders Polonius and Hamlet wants to kill Claudius for the murder of King Hamlet. Both succeed in their quest for revenge.
A major difference between Laertes and Hamlet is that Laertes didn't procrastinate in his attempt at revenge. He went right to it with the encouragement of Claudius. His hastiness is what gets him killed in the end. Because Laertes doesn't think long about getting his revenge gives the reader reason to compare Laertes to and think about Hamlets' struggle to decide weather [H-50] revenge is the right thing to do. [SS -1] He contemplates through the whole play on weather [H-50] to kill Claudius or not, leaving the reader with the sense that Hamlet is very careful when making decisions. [Doesn't this point deserve more discussion? Perhaps Hamlet is too indecisive?]
The next foil of Hamlet in the play is the King Claudius. The first similarity of Claudius and Hamlet is that they each ask why someone grieves a death so much. In Act one, scene two, Claudius asks Hamlet why he still grieves his father's death. In act five, scene one, Hamlet demands Laertes to tell him why he is emphasizing his grievance of the death of Ophelia. The second and final similarity of Claudius and Hamlet is the fact that both men kill a king in the play. Claudius kills King Hamlet and Hamlet kills Claudius, who is the current king of Denmark.
The differences between Claudius and Hamlet provide the reader with a basis of comparison and provide insight into the essence of the character of Hamlet. The first difference is that Claudius asks about Hamlet's grieving because he is afraid Hamlet will take revenge on him. Hamlet asks the question to Laertes because he is angry about Laertes' emphasis about his grievance. The second difference is that Claudius murdered King Hamlet so he could take over the throne of Denmark, while Hamlet kills Claudius to uphold the honor of his family and the ghost's request of revenge. These differences show the reader that Hamlet is more interested with the honor of his father than the throne he held and is very straightforward when angry.
The final foil to Hamlet is Prince Fortinbras of Norway. The reason he is included, as a foil of Hamlet, is he also seeks revenge for the death of his father, the king. Fortinbras goes about his revenge is a different way than Laertes and Hamlet though. Fortinbras goes to war over a useless piece of territory simply to uphold the honor of his father. The honor of his family is as important to him as it is to Hamlet. The single difference about the revenge of both is that Fortinbras doesn't procrastinate like Hamlet did. Again, this shows the reader Hamlet's careful approach to decision making. [The inclusion of Fortinbras is very good, but could you have explained more of the implications -- Fortinbras doesn't procrastinate, and Fortinbras lives; Hamlet procrastinates, and Hamlet not only dies, but causes the deaths of many others]
The foils of Hamlet
are very important to understanding the character of Hamlet in the play. Shakespeare used Laertes, Claudius, and Fortinbras to reveal plots of the play and to expose the true nature of the character of Hamlet.