The Foils of Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet


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The Foils of Hamlet      

Many playwrights utilize foils to assist the audience in understanding the meaning of a play or the motivations of the characters .  Foils are minor characters that have similarities or differences with a major character.  Sometime the minor character is in the play so the major character has someone to speak with.  The similarities between the foil and the major may include gender, same social class, or may be in the same situation.  The differences between the two may be an important aspect in their character.  The foils in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet are the Ghost, Laertes, and Ophelia. 

     The Ghost of Hamlet's father is a foil for Hamlet.  The ghost is in the play so Hamlet has someone to speak with.  The ghost gives the information of how he died and who committed the murder.  While Hamlet is talking with the ghost, he becomes very angry with his mother and uncle.  He decides he wants revenge from Claudius for the murder of his father.  Both Hamlet and the ghost think Claudius should pay for what he has done.  Another similarity between the ghost and Hamlet is that they are from the same social class.  Those were a few examples of the similarities between Hamlet and his father.

     Along with similarities, Hamlet and the ghost have a few differences.  The ghost was murdered before the beginning of the play.  The audience finds out about the death when the ghost is talking to Hamlet.  Hamlet dies at the end of the play while he was fighting with Laertes.  When Hamlet and his father talked about his mother, he said he wanted to punish her for what she has done.  The ghost told him to leave his mother alone and that she would eventually be punished.  The ghost said it was fine for Hamlet to go after Claudius.  Hamlet was mad at his mother for marrying his uncle and the fact that she did not wait long enough after her husband's death.  The ghost helps to explain why Hamlet wants revenge.

     Laertes is another foil for Hamlet.  Laertes was in the play so Hamlet would have someone to fight at the end of the play.  Both Hamlet and Laertes want revenge for their father's death.  But Laertes want revenge from Hamlet. [SV Agr -1]  Hamlet killed Polonius by accident when he was in his mother's bedroom because he thought it was the king.

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  Hamlet and Laertes loved Laertes['] sister Ophelia.  Both were very distraught over her death.  When Laertes found out, he was mad and really wanted to kill Hamlet.  Laertes blamed Hamlet for the death.  Hamlet did not want anything to happen to her because he told her they could not be together. [I do not understand the causal reasoning here.] He was afraid he would turn out to be just like the rest of his family. [This needs more explanation -- what was wrong with his family at the time he talked to Ophelia?]

     Laertes and Hamlet have a few differences between them.  Their disposition throughout the play was very different.  Once Hamlet found out who murdered his father he started to act very strange.  He wanted everyone to believe he was going crazy so they would not know what he was up to.  Everyone began to believe that there was something wrong with him.  Laertes did not hide his true feelings.  When he found out about his father, he was very angry.  He wanted Hamlet to pay for what he had done.  Another difference between the two was their locations during the play.  Hamlet was in the play from the beginning.  Laertes was in Paris and did not show up until after his father's death.  Laertes and Hamlet had a few differences between them.

     Another foil in the play is Ophelia. Ophelia is the foil for Queen Gertrude.  She is someone for the queen to talk to.  The queen and Ophelia loved Hamlet very much.  The queen wanted nothing more than her son to be happy.  Ophelia would have done anything for Hamlet.  When Hamlet started acting very strange, they were both worried about him.  Both wanted to do anything to make him happy again.  Ophelia was hoping for a future with Hamlet.  They could not believe he was acting so strange.

Along with similarities, the queen and Ophelia have a few differences.  When Ophelia died, a few people believed that she drowned herself because of everything that had happened to her.  The queen drank out of a cup of wine that was poisoned.  Claudius put the poison in the cup but it was meant for Hamlet.  The queen and Ophelia did not die at the same time.  Ophelia died after her father was killed.  The queen was killed at the end of the play during Hamlet's fight with Laertes.  The queen and Ophelia had many similarities and differences.

The foils in the play all helped the main characters in some way.  The ghost and Laertes helped Hamlet with outcome of the play. [I don't understand -- what, specifically, did the ghost and Laertes do with or for the outcome of the play?]  Both were in the play so Hamlet would have had someone to interact with.  Ophelia was in the play so the queen had someone to talk to.  All of the foils worked together with the major characters to add more to the outcome of the play.

[This is a solid, organized job of showing some of the similarities and differences. Could you have explained a little more about why these foils are important? For example, if you say that Ophelia is a foil for the Queen, then you are making the Queen the more important character. Might this not suggest that Hamlet kills Claudius in revenge for his mother's, not his father's death? On the other hand, if you try to show that the Queen is a foil for Ophelia, then you might be suggesting that Ophelia's death -- caused by Hamlet killing her father -- is more important than the Queen's. This might add to the reader's sense of Hamlet as a villain, rather than a hero.]


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