The Role of Minor Characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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The Role of Minor Characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Minor characters play a very crucial role in Shakespear's Hamlet. They serve as narrators for events that occurred outside the immediate play: the Dane's ghost. Distinct contrasts are created through the usage of the play's minor characters. The reader gains new perspective on Hamlet's character when he is compared with Laertes. The presence of these minor characters can also have a direct effect on the action of the play. The actors in the play within the play are used to expose the guilt of Claudius; Hamlet then has proof of the King's crimes. The expertise use of these characters - either to exemplify good and purity, or to spread the vile corruption which permeates Elsinore - is one of the main reasons for Hamlet's success as one of the greatest plays ever written.

Some events in Hamlet must be narrated to the reader, and to the major characters, through minor characters which have a direct link to the events. Shakespear builds the entire play around information which was narrated to Hamlet by his father's ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet of events which the reader would otherwise never know about: the murder of the former Dane by Claudius. When Horatio reads the letter that he has received from Hamlet the reader is informed of how Hamlet has evaded Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Also, the events occurring in Norway reach the court by means of an emissary, Voltimand, sent to check on Fortinbras. These events have a strong and direct relevancy to the plot and movement of the play.

Shakespear uses contrast to highlight the qualities of the characters in Hamlet; this contrast shows up in the minor characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, false friends of Hamlet who succumb to Claudius' corruptness, serve as a distinct contrast to the loyal friendship that Horatio shares with Hamlet. Voltimand is used to contrast Polonius' often comic verbosity. While Polonius dresses up all his speeches with the language of the court, Voltimand is able to give his entire report on Fortinbras in a matter of seconds. The most powerful foil in the play is between Laertes and Hamlet. Upon hearing of the death of his father, Laertes becomes enraged, and seeks immediate vengeance; he does not delay, and acts instantaneously. When the ghost tells Hamlet of Claudius' crimes, Hamlet is unable to act. He procrastinates, missing many opportunities to avenge his father, and acts when it is already too late.
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