A foil is a minor character that helps the audience better understand a major character. A foil may exist as a comparison character, with similarities between the two, as well as differences that bring to light an important contrast between the foil and the main character. A foil may also just be someone for the main character to talk to, so we can know and understand their thoughts and feelings. Foils help us understand the obvious as well as the arcane. In the classic tragedy Hamlet, we see William Shakespeare employ foils to illustrate both examples. They become important literary tools that help the reader rationalize the concurrent theme of the play - deceit.
Of the four young men who occupy a place in the life of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear, at least initially, to be his closest friends. They are schoolmates at Wittenburg, and Hamlet greets them both amicably, remarking, " My excellent good friends! How dost thou,....." Queen Gertrude affirms the status of their relationship when she says, "And sure I am two men there is not living to whom he more adheres." Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unaware, however, of the real story behind the death of Hamlet’s Father. They do not have the benefit of seeing his ghost, as Hamlet has. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are very loyal to the new King. Unlike Hamlet, they initially have no reason not to trust Claudius. But they become unwitting and unknowing pawns for both factions. Their relationship with Hamlet begins to sour. Hamlet realizes what the King is up to, and he becomes distrustful of the two. "’Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?...
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...e story. Indeed, if Hamlet acts quickly, there would be only one act of Hamlet. Laertes, upon hearing of his father’s demise wants swift and fervent justice. Although he is the more impassioned of the two, it is this incisiveness that leads to Laertes’ demise. He allows himself to be manipulated, enamored by the king’s rhetoric. Laertes, suddenly realizing the plot at hand, repents for his killing of Hamlet, true to his character even in the face of death. Hamlet seeks to blame his "madness" for the death of Polonius, and never admits fault for the fate of his schoolmates.
The deaths of Laertes and Hamlet in the final act are a juxtaposition of their respective characters. Throughout the play we are reminded of Hamlet’s egocentricism, but it is not until this final scene that we can reach this conclusion unequivocally.
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